'Alphabet of Errors' Poem

This poem was presented by Inge Otto from the Leiden University Centre of Linguistics at the Bridging the Unbridgeable usage guide conference in Cambridge that I attended back in June. The poem is called “The Alphabet of Errors” and was written by Boston schoolgirls in 1921 and submitted to the The English Journal by Elizabeth M. Richardson.

It appears that each girl wrote a 4-line poem about an error that people make with a word that starts with a specific letter. 

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read

Alphabet of Errors poem

"Alphabet of Errors"


A is for and,
  Overused till 'tis faint.
The letter stands, also,
  You must see, for ain't.


B is for bring,
  The converse of take;
Unless you are careful,
  An exchange you will make.


C is for cute.
  With an a, it's in place,
For then it means shrewd,
  But of charm there's no trace.


D stands for don't
  And that scalawag done;
She and he shun the first,
  Have takes the last one.


E is for er,
  Which is all tired out,
For when folk are embarrassed
  'Tis never left out.


F is for fine,
  Which is sadly abused,
For in place of an adverb
  'Tis many times used.


G is for get
  Also getting and got;
But never say git,
  For right it is not.


H is the letter
  In what, why, and where 
An easy omission,
  Pronounce it with care.


I is for ing.
  Now don't drop the g;
'Tis a slovenly ending,
  You all ought to see.


J is the letter,
  For jest, jist, and just;
When choosing your vowel,
  Pronounce it as must.


K is for kind-a
  That takes rather's place.
Now isn't such slurring
  Of words a disgrace?


L is for lie
  Used often for lay 
An easy mistake,
  But cast it away.


M is for may,
  Twin sister of can;
Using one for the other
  Is under a ban.


N is for no,
  Which often we say
Together with not 
  Beware, it means yea.


O stands for off,
  When for from it is used,
And also for of,
  Which with have is confused.


P is for p'raps.
  For perhaps it must stand,
While lazy young people
  Abound in the land.


Q is for quite,
  Which for somewhat is used;
Its sense of completely
  Is thus much abused.


R stands for the letter
  That some say in law;
It's often in drawing 
  Keep watch for this flaw.


S stands for seen,
  Misused for I saw;
If you don't look out,
  You'll be breaking a law.


T stands for an error
  Most easily made;
When kept is pronounced
  And t is mislaid.


U is for 'um 
  A wrong sound indeed;
Pronounce it as them,
  Although there is speed.


V is for very,
  But when there is hurry,
'Tis often pronounced
  As if it were vurry.


W is for was you 
  A shocking mistake.
If you'd study grammar,
  More care would you take.


X is for extry,
  The newsboy's loud cry;
But you must say extra
  Lest critics say "Fie."


Y is for ya
  And for yep too, as well;
Why not say yes
  And with Good English dwell?


Z is for "zat so?"
  May such clippings be few;
Let us honor our language,
  Americans true.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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