Ever wondered why we spell two with a 'w'?

A lot of my students (especially when they're in a hurry with their writing!) spell it 'tow'. This is a classic mistake. They know there's a 'w' in there and they know there's an 'o'...

But why is there a 'w' in two? And why is it silent and why don't we pronounce it like the other tw words like twice, twelve and twenty?

In my video on silent letters I mentioned how understanding the history of words will improve your spelling. I also talked about how most silent letters used to be pronounced but over time they became silent? This is probably the case with two.

In Old English they had a 'w' in the spelling, twā, can you see that, and originated from the Dutch twee and the German zwei (English developed from Dutch, German and Scandinavian) and so the Old English 2 was most likely pronounced like these. Then it became silent but we keep the 'w' to show the history and origins of the word.

Let's look at how we can remember the spelling for two

Two is linked to and has a relationship with some other tw- words like twelve, twenty, twice, twins, between.

Let's look at the members of the tw word family.

two - twice - twelve - twenty - between - twin or twins - twist two pieces of twine together- tweezers (two pieces of metal joined to make one)
Notice how these are all related to two in some way.

to, too, two

The pronunciation of two is different to the others. It's about the letter pattern and word family not the sound.

We can't rely on pronouncing or sounding out the word for most spellings so we need to develop our visual memory of what looks right, and using word families/ letter patterns is one way to develop our knowledge and confidence in spelling. I discuss this more in my word families video - click here to see it.

So to sum up:

a. two is part of a tw- word family that are all related to the number two in some way.

b. Two, twelve and twenty all originated from Dutch and German and spelt with a w.

Thanks to Johanna Stirling's book Teaching Spelling
Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries online.

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