Pitman Shorthand Consonants And Vowels

Pitman English Shorthand Basic For beginners- English Shorthand Consonants - Vowels - Vowels & Following Strokes - Vowels & Position - First chapter - Sign for R & H Grammalogue - Vowels explained in Simple method - Phraseography - Second chapter - of English shorthand - to use Initial hooks in english shorthand - Circle of SW and SS or SZ - to. Pitman Shorthand course is designed to learn Shorthand Language in short time. Compound Consonants & Omission of Consonants. Prefixes, suffixes and word endings. Outlines to represent double vowels, vowel indicators for word endings, simple word groupings.

In addition to the strokes, the sounds of S and Z are also represented by circles and loops. This page also describes how to write these sounds when the circles cannot be used. Loops are on separate page but are shown in the quick reference tables below.

– Anticlockwise to straight strokes

– Inside curves

– Outside an angle

– With hooks

– With R Hook and N Hook to straight strokes

– S versus Z sound

– Why Circle S and Ses include the Z sound

– With hooks

– When not to use

– Vowels

– Adding a third S

– Other uses

– With hooks

– When not to use

Circle S Initially=S
Elsewhere=S or Z

Z initially uses stroke

Use Ess if no other stroke






Circle Ses S-S, S-Z, Z-Z -



Circle Sway Sw

Use Way if no other stroke, or medially or finally







Stee Loop St

Use Tee if no other stroke



Please note this outline has been corrected to show circle anticlockwise 23.7.14


Ster Loop Ster

Never initially, use other strokes


sterling starry



Ses and Sway are mutually exclusive as regards position on the stroke, therefore they will never clash with each other.

NameR hookL hookN hookF/V hook
Circle S
spray supper

suffer summer

supple splay


pens moons

paves puffs
Circle Ses- -
Circle Sway
Stee Loop
Ster Loop--

See Theory Vowels page for vowel placement against strokes that have these circles and loops.

  • Only Circle Ses can be vocalised, the others cannot. Other than Circle Ses, it is the stroke that is vocalised.

  • There are no thick versions of circle or loops.

  • They must be written in the correct circular motion i.e. anti-clockwise (left motion) or clockwise (right motion), according to the rules below.

  • They are read first and last in the outline, or that section of the outline, with the stroke and its various vowels, hooks, halving, etc coming in the middle.

  • If the word starts or ends with a vowel, strokes must be used instead.

  • May be added to short forms and contractions.

  • May form part of phrases.

  • Ensure to close the circle or loop so that it does not look like a hook.

  • Ensure to take the circles right round so they do not look like loops. When used medially, circles will not always be exactly circular, they will take on distortions, see adjustment and chisel below as examples of this. When this occurs, do not mistake them for loops – medial loops are always followed by a sharp change of direction, see masterpiece in table above, something circles never do.

A vowel may come between the Circle S and the stroke (e.g. sap, pass), or the two may be run together (e.g. spa, apse). The outline gives no indication of this, unless vocalised. In this respect the Circle S differs from the R and L hooks which generally represent a compound consonant e.g. PL and PR.

Circle S is written:

  • Anticlockwise to straight strokes
  • Inside curves
  • Outside an angle

Anti-clockwise to straight strokes:

sap spa apse pass sub bus abs sit stay eats teas

sad ads days such choose sage juice

sack sky axe case sag guess eggs hose (=upward Hay) ways yes

Between two similar straight strokes, still anti-clockwise, the same as you would write it if the first stroke was the only one:

decide disdain tacit testy precept exact cask bespoke Busby

Inside curves:

safe face sphere save voice Seth thaws seethe this

size cease sash shows sign snow nice inns

same maze aims smile simile songs sir ears

passer passive possess basin bosom design flotsam

cousin chasm chosen adjacent adjustment reason resume

Between two curves that have thesame motion, follow that motion:

evasive fasten lissom listen unsafe muscle nicely noiseless

If the curves have opposite motions, the circle generally goes clockwise, often (but not always) resulting in the circle being outside the angle:

mason massive season unsolved arising

facile but facility, vacillate but vacillated, insulate but insulated

What you should NOT do with Circle S is make a sudden change of direction; this somewhat awkward joining is used very sparingly, being reserved for indicating:

  • An R Hook on a following straight stroke, where the hook cannot be shown in any other way; however, after P and B the R hook is omitted for convenience (if it were shown, it would look too much like a Stee loop):

    describe discretion disagree discourage R omitted in: prescribe subscribe
  • Stroke Hay medially, in order to differentiate between Hay and Circle S:

    anyhow, any such, upheld passer-by

Between M-N and N-M, in derivative words, the circle should remain with its original curve:

miss missing, seemly unseemly, mince mincemeat

some noisome (=annoy+some), noise noise-maker

Outside an angle:

passage beseech basic task dosage tassel chisel respond

Where the circle and hook would individually be written on the same side of the stroke, when you wish to show both, the circle must be written INSIDE the hook. Theoretically, circle is extra small and the hook remains its normal size; in practice the hook generally needs to be ever so slightly larger to avoid ink blobbing, and the circle can be flattened into a tiny loop (it is not a Stee loop which are never used inside hooks). Do not let your small hooks grow in size and get confused with the larger hooks (Shun, and L Hook on curves).

L Hook: supple splay settle saddle satchel sickle safflower soufflé civil

R & N Hooks to curves: suffer sever summer mains signer nines fines vines

F/V Hook: puff puffs cuff cuffs tough toughs

Kway (Gway): square squash squeal squeeze consequence
(Gway could take Circle S but no examples found)

Way: use Circle S with Way for those words when Circle Sway is not possible:

way sway persuade
but swerve swayed

Wel: does not take Circle S, instead discard the hook and use Sway Circle on stroke Ell:

well swell

Whay Whel Yay: do not take an initial Circle S

Where there is a vowel between a final F/V and S, this is generally a plural of an outline that is already written with full strokes:

cave caves, cavy cavies, buff buffs, bevy bevies

tiff tiffs, toffee toffees, Dave Dave's, Davey Davey's

A medial Circle S does not indicate a hook purely by its direction, because the direction of the circle is used only for convenience. In many cases a medial hook can be shown as well, with the circle following the motion of the hook:

bicycle express listener display miscreant unschooled inscrutable

Small Shun Hook: Circle S, and Circle S following N hook, can both be followed by the small shun hook

composition compensation decision condensation transition

With R Hook and N Hook to straight strokes:

On a straight stroke, the R or N Hook is closed up to make a circle. Both are thus indicated, because that is not the usual side/direction for an initial or final circle:

R: spay spray, sub sobriety, stay stray, sky screw

N: pays pains, toes tones, choose chance, Joe's John's

N: guess gains, rays rains, ways wanes, yes yens

Medial circles Between two straight strokes the hook should be shown, the circle following the direction of the hook. Medial circles use the direction that is most convenient, so the direction cannot be reversed to indicate any hooks, unlike at the beginning and ends of strokes (apart from the necessity to choose the direction for legibility, it would also not be clear whether the plain circle, if so used, meant an N Hook on the first stroke, or an R Hook on the second stroke):

prosper destroy district excursion corkscrew

If there is a vowel after the N sound, use stroke En so that it can be vocalised. The presence of the stroke N lets you know there is a vowel, so vocalisation is normally unnecessary:

bones bonus, tens tennis, chines Chinese, mines minus

The combination S-CH-R is not found standing alone in any English word, therefore this outline is used for the stroke downward Hay. Should such a combination appear in a new word or name, it would be have to be written with stroke Ar after the S-CH, or stroke Ess plus Cher if the word began with a vowel. However, this sequence of sounds can be written in the middle of a word, providing the S is shown inside the hook, thus avoiding clashing with the downward Hay:

beseech beseecher Abraham

Circle S can be added to final Stee and Ster loops and Circle SES:

posts posters exercises

In case of difficulty, mentally remove the circle and then read the outline correctly, before mentally adding the S back in:

pray spray, upper supper, play splay, apple supply, pint pints, dove doves, roof roofs

fund funds, amount amounts, nine nines, inner sooner, ever sever

Dot 'con-' dot '-ing' and dash '-ings' are read first and last, if present:

strict constrict, strain constrain, some consume, dance dancing, rinsing rinsings

Use the stroke Ess or Zee when:

(a) there is an initial vowel before the S, or a final vowel after it. The stroke can then be vocalised, although its presence lets you know there is a vowel involved:

sack ask, mess messy, seed acid, sense essence

boss bossy, noise noisy, haze hazy, slate isolate

(b) the S is the only consonant sound in the word (because you need somewhere to put the vowel); retain the stroke in derivatives:

ice sigh sighing sighs/size, sea sea-level but sleeve, sea-kale but sickle

(c) the vowel between the S sound and the stroke is a triphone, and in other places to distinguish from plurals:

signs science, virtues virtuous, heirs heiress, Jews Jewess, dangers dangerous

Initially, the sound is S; medially and finally the sound can be S or Z:

seep piece/peas same mace/maze

Final NS and NZ sound after a curve are differentiated by using:

  • Hook N for NZ – generally a plural, but not always
  • Stroke En for NS – generally a word that can be used as a verb, and therefore needs to have easy derivatives

NZ: fen fens NS: fence – fences fenced fencing fencer

NZ: vine vines NS: evince – evinces evinced evincing evincible

NZ: mean means NS: mince – minces mincedmincing mincer

NZ: nine nines NS: announce – announces announced announcing announcer

NZ: line lines NS: lance - lances lanced lancing lancer lancet

Note: lens lenses As lens is singular, despite its Z sound, stroke N and Circle Ses have to be used for the plural, and there is no such word as 'lences' for the plural to clash with.

More examples of NS verses NZ:

thins thence, shines conscience, salines silence

Pauline's opulence, vines Venice, Essenes essence

Those with a linguistic interest may notice that words like mince/mints are pronounced identically, but perceived differently. 'Mints' is halved to indicate the T, as the T sound is part of the original word; the T sound in 'mince' is the first part of the S sound (if you removed it the word would sound like 'minz'):

mint mints mince, fent fents fence, silent silents silence

comment comments commence, dent dents dense

assistant assistants assistance, chant chants chance

This is a timely reminder that (a) shorthand dictation must be undertaken intelligently, and the meaning followed while writing, and (b) Pitman's Shorthand is not designed to be entirely phonetic, it only needs to indicate which word was spoken.

The S sound can change into the Z sound in plurals and genitives, but when it does, it is not changing the word into a different word. The circle is used to represent both in order to preserve the general shape of the outline and to allow its consistent use for plurals and genitives:

house (noun) = 'hous'

houses (plural) = 'houziz'

house (verb), hows (plural noun) = 'houz'

Android multi tools 1.02b. house's (genitive) = 'housiz'

Consistent and easy outlines are achieved, but at the expense of some words such as mace/maze peace/peas where the S and Z sounds signify different words. The longhand has solved the problem, in only using the letter Z and sometimes letter C, to show the difference. The shorthand has partly solved this problem in a similar manner, with the aim of writing words briefly and reliably, rather than strictly phonetically. Shorthand does not always preserve the basic outline when forming derivatives, but as plurals and genitives cover so many words, the advantages of allowing Circles S to do duty for both S and Z sounds outweigh the disadvantages.

An initial Z sound has to use the stroke, even though no vowel comes before it:

zeal zebra zenith zero zest zinc zip zone zoologist

This is a large circle, used in middle or at the end of an outline, placed in the same way as Circle S, to represent:

S-S: basis necessary necessity insist thesis

S-Z: bases paces busses faces voices losses masses taxes fixes

Z-S: possessive exhaust exist resist

opposes dazes fuses cruises muses mazes noses raises/razes

S-S sound at the beginning: Circle Ses is never used at the beginning of an outline, as that place is taken by Circle Sway. Two initial S sounds should be shown with the full stroke Ess followed by Circle S. This makes an easier outline and logical derivatives, as the formation of an angle is avoided, its place being taken by the circle.

sauce sauces, cease ceases ceasing, sighs/size sizes sizing sizeable, scissors secede

Do not follow longhand: Do not be misled by words like those below, which do not contain the sounds of s-vowel-s, they merely appear at first glance to do so in longhand; they are in fact Circle S followed by Shun Hook:

Pitman shorthand consonants and vowels digraphs

decision possession accession incision cessation secession

Differentiation: Where the SeS or SeZ (with short E) is part of the basic word (e.g. not a plural or a verb S-ending) or if a diphthong or diphone is involved, Circle S plus stroke Ess is generally preferred; this is because there is such a large number of this type of word that a regular means of differentiation is needed between them and plurals of shorter words. The derivatives will generally keep the stroke Ess, but Circle Ses is sometimes used where it is more convenient e.g. to avoid an awkward joining or to shorten the outline. This is an example of speed/ease of writing being more important that having 'tidy' rules:

pose poses but possess possesses possessed possessing possessive possessor

axe axes but access accesses accessed accessing, excess excessive

boss bosses/boss's but abscess abscesses, obsess obsesses obsessive

raise raises, recess recesses recessed recession recessive

gas gases but gaseous (this word is sometimes pronounced 'gayshus')

Exceptions have been made for the following very common words for the sake of convenience. The outlines are distinctive with Circle Ses, and therefore they do not need to use the stroke S:

exercise exercising, success successful, emphasise emphasised

Top of page

Basic words with vowel other than short E can use the Circle Ses:

crisis analysis hypothesis

Words like those above form their plural by a change of vowel. It would be good practice to omit the singular vowel, and always insert the plural one:

crises hypotheses

Some of these types of words have identical plurals and verb endings in longhand, although pronounced differently, so vocalising the Circle Ses may be helpful:

diagnosis diagnoses Verb: diagnose diagnoses

Noun: analysis
analyses Verb: analyse analyses

If the accent falls in different places, you can indicate this by adding a small cross next to the vowel. This method is useful for many pairs of words where the nouns and verbs have different syllables accented. Ensure that the cross does not look like a diphthong or diphone:

Plural noun analyses Verb analyses

Circle Ses can be combined with N hook to straight strokes, in the same way as Circle S:

bounces dances expenses experiences

It cannot be combined with F/V hooks, or any hooks on curved strokes.

When written medially it is impractical for it to be followed by a hooked stroke.

See Theory Vowels page for how to vocalise Circle Ses. In brief, the short vowel sound as in 'pen' is not indicated in Circle Ses, as it is the most common, but any other vowel between the S-S may be written inside the circle.

Circle S can be added onto the big Circle Ses by continuing the motion, writing the small circle on the other side of the stroke:

emphasises successes exercises censuses

The large circle can represent two circles:

  • In a few compound words it can represent two S's that belong to separate parts of the compound, even though only one S is sounded, to make the outline more readable:

    house-sparrow house-surgeon flaxseed gas-stove bus-stop

  • In a few words with diss- and miss- to provide distinction or improve readability, see Theory 18 Prefixes/Dis and Mis

  • Circle S followed by the stroke Hay circle, see Theory 12 Hay/Large medial circle page.

This is a large circle, used at the beginning of an outline, placed and read in the same way as Circle S, to represent the sound of SW.

  • Never used medially or finally.

  • No vowel comes before the 'SW-' and not vowel comes between the S and the W.

  • Never vocalised, as there is no vowel to show. The vowel that follows it is placed against the stroke.

  • The name 'Sway' is for convenience – any vowel may come after it.

sweep swab sweat swayed/suede Swedish switch swag

swivel swath swathe Swiss Swaziland swish swim swamp swan swing

swear swirl swarm swarthy swerve swerved

*Special outline, see Distinguishing Outlines 2 Rule/served swerved

It can be placed on a halved or doubled stroke:

swept sweated swathed swooned swelter

Circle Sway can be combined with R hook to straight strokes, just like Circle S:

sweeper swabber sweater switcher swagger

It is not combined with any other hooks.

When used with stroke Ell, it replaces the hook of the Wel stroke:

ell well swell, low wallow swallow

It never combines with the hook on stroke Yay or Way.

Use Circle S on stroke Way:

(a) if the SW is the only consonant in the outline, retaining it in derivatives:

sway sways swayer swaying
but swayed/suède for convenience, swayback

(b) In the middle of a word or outline:

dissuade persuade persuasion persuasive
(suasion and suasive retain this form)

In a derivative, the SW may end up in the middle:

sweetened but unsweetened, swerving but unswerving

(e) before stroke Hay:


In some words the S and W, although together, are parts of separate words:

crosswise passway password
(word=short form) glassware (but ware/wear)

If a vowel comes before the SW, use stroke Ess and medial semicircle W:

assuage a-swirl aswarm
* Not in shorthand dictionary

Use Circle S and medial semicircle W where it is not convenient to use stroke Way:

Homeswell Harmsworth

Do not be misled by longhand spelling:

has the W sound but sword does not.

Do not be tempted, in a confused moment, to use Circle Sway for these types of words where the sound is SKW:

square squash squiggle

Face shorthand learning square on, squash the problems and master the squiggles!

Vowels are indicated by dots, dashes and small signs placed in various positions against the sides of the strokes, and sometimes joined to strokes. The shape, thickness and position against the stroke are all meaningful pieces of information that identify which vowel is meant, i.e. you cannot vary these. Some angles may be varied, some not. Joining to a stroke is not meaningful, just convenient.

They represent the spoken sound and not the longhand written form. Some short forms use just a vowel sign on its own for certain short words (see 2nd half of List4 for short forms derived from vowel signs).

They do not follow exactly the variations in vowel sounds spoken by different regional accents, or even variations within the same accent. Shorthand textbooks and dictionaries follow what is termed Standard English/Queen's English/BBC English/Oxford English/Received Pronunciation which approximates to English spoken in the mid-to-south of the UK. Examples given here will adhere to that and you should make adjustments to suit your own situation.

Substituting other vowels to accommodate your own variety of English does seem reasonable and not likely to cause problems if done thoughtfully and sparingly, bearing in mind that you may be taking dictation from speakers with a variety of accents. This may result in a change of outline position, as you will not generally be writing in all the vowels. It may also throw up a new set of clashing outlines, different from those listed on the Distinguishing Outlines page. You should keep notes of your variations and be totally consistent in their use. It does not seem advisable to attempt learn the system and revise it all at the same time!

If your shorthand becomes highly personalised as regards pronunciation, you will create difficulties for yourself when the speaker does not sound like you. At the lower examination speeds you may be marked on your shorthand outlines, so caution is needed, and if you wished to teach Pitman's Shorthand, then you cannot deviate from the vowel values and signs given in the textbooks and dictionaries.

When taking from dictation, you are not expected to reflect the speaker's accent which may vary from your own. If you had to read it back to the speaker, it would be insulting if you read it in his/her accent! If you came across a dialect word for the first time, you would of course write it exactly as pronounced, as you would have nothing else to compare it with.

On this page I have written in all the vowels, although you will not do this during normal note-taking.

Name & PlaceExamplesAdditional vowelMnemonic
SHORT VOWELVowel plus one = diphone
1batsahib THAT
2bet PEN
3bit IS
1tock NOT
2tuck MUCH
3took GOOD
1pabaa-ing PA
2paypayer MAY
3peaprevious WE
1sawsawing ALL
2sosower GO
3suebluer TOO
DIPHTHONGDiphthong plus one = triphone
1bybuyer I
1boyloyal ENJOY
3outpower LOUD
3fewfewer MUSIC

Short vowels = light dot or dash

Long vowels = heavy dot or dash

The mnemonics contain short forms so those particular outlines cannot be used to illustrate all the vowels, but the simplicity of the sentences has served generations of shorthanders very well over the years and they are worth preserving as our 'shorthand heritage'.

The dashes are written at 90° to straight strokes, therefore they change their angle as the stroke changes its angle. The dash is generally written from the stroke outwards and about a quarter of the length of a normal stroke; a dash should not be written straight up or straight backwards, in order to maintain smooth writing and avoiding catching the nib against the paper. Against horizontal strokes the dash is always written downwards. For curved strokes, the angle of 90° changes along the length of the stroke. The angle of a dash vowel is therefore not meaningful when used in an outline, but is only meaningful when used alone as a short form – See Short Forms List 4 page Short forms from vowel marks:

toe gnaw know noose maw mow moon bought

Some dash vowels end up being written with an upward slant and this is the only time that any thick mark is written upwards, as in the outline 'bought' above. The angle of the dash may be adjusted slightly in places where there is limited room between strokes:

droll dhurrie roach

Heavy dots and dashes must be written with one stroke of the pen, not moved around on to thicken them up.

Students of phonetics will notice that in Queen's English 'pay' 'sew' and similar words are not simple vowels but diphthongs, despite all the shorthand books describing them otherwise. They and the diphthongs below are, however, single phonemes (meaningful units of sound) in English, and generally found within one syllable, which is why they are perceived as one sound. I suspect that such words are pronounced with simple vowels in English accents other than the present Queen's English standard. This is borne out by a teachers' textbook that I have which advises south of England teachers to place extra emphasis on the 'pure long vowel' of 'lake', which to southern English ears does sound more like an accent from further north of the country.

DIPHTHONGS (pronounced dif-thong **note** )

Two vowels sounded in quick succession, glided together and producing one syllable.


  • There are 4 diphthong signs - two first place, two third place.

  • There are no second place diphthong signs.

  • No heavy versions.

  • The first three never change angle, the last may be rotated when joined.

First place

pie tie china lie rye my nice

fine vie thigh sigh shy sky wise high I/eye

Joined at the beginning of some downstrokes and in phrases:

ice eyes idea item Ivan ire, I have, I think, I say, I shall

For convenience, joined finally to stroke En (despite being a first place vowel) when no other stroke or ending follows:

night nigh deny downright fortnight finite Anno Domini but nights denies

Contracted to a tick on upward Ell:

isle/aisle island islander Eileen/Aileen (but Aileen if so pronounced)

As short form for 'I', contracted in phrases where convenient:

I believe, I propose, I regret, I can, I am, I will have

First place

The top half of the sign is written horizontally:

poise toy joy coy coil moist noise foible voice hoist

Joined only to upward Ell. The angle is adjusted slightly but this does not clash with the third place vowel 'owl' because of the outline's position. Not joined to other strokes because not convenient and could be confused with 'of the':

oil oiled oil-field oil-tanker oil-well

Third place

out ouch joust cow mouth noun found shout loud how (short form)

Joined initially to upward Ell, despite being a third place vowel, for convenience:

owl owlet owlish owl-like

Joined as short form in phrases:

how many, how long

Joined finally where convenient:

bow prow pout brow browed dhow/Dow doubt vow thou sow Howe

Contracted after stroke N, when nothing else follows in the outline:

now Lucknow but nous

Third place

puma tune tuna tube cube suitable fume music Hume you (short form)
(the surname 'Hume' is sometimes pronounced 'home')

Joined finally where convenient, when nothing else follows in the outline. Rotated when joined finally to horizontal strokes or upward ell. Do not rotate when free-standing, because this clashes with the W series of signs:

few pew cue/queue/Kew due/dew mew new continue pursue value

As short form, joined where convenient:

thank you, if you will, for you are, you should, can you, may you

A simple vowel followed immediately by another separately sounded vowel, thus forming 2 syllables.

  • Written in the correct place of the first vowel of the pair

  • Angle never changes

  • Never joined

  • No heavy versions

Arrowhead, at 45° angle pointing south west, is used for a dot vowel plus any other:

sayer layer weighing previous readmit create neon tiara Maria

Arrowhead, at 45° angle pointing north east, is used for a dash vowel plus any other:

sower snowy stoic poem gooey bluey jawing gnawing rawish

Diphones are often encountered as extensions to an original simple vowel, and so the vowels are perceived as two separate phonemes (meaningful units of sound):

pay payer mow mowing mower high higher but hire

Also used for these types of endings, although the vowels are barely sounded separately:

righteous question suggestion combustion pinion onion bunion but Bunyan

* tracheae*Separate dots are used for the plural to distinguish the outlines - the extra dot cannot be mistaken for Dot Hay, because Dot Hay is never used finally.

*pronounced track-ee-uh and track-ee-ee

Diphones are not used for:

(a) short forms that have stroke Ing added, because short forms are not vocalised, and the Ing needs only its own dot:

be being go going do doing

(b) when adding 'dot ing' because the dot represents the whole 'ing' extension:

paying toying trying but tryingly

Three vowels sounded in succession, normally a diphthong plus one other, producing two syllables. Shown by extending the diphthong sign with a tick.

  • Written in the correct position of the first vowel of the pair

  • Only joined finally

  • No heavy versions

diary dial briar trier diameter flyer denying ionise

loyal royal joyous soya boyish moiety annoyance sequoia

power tower flower/flour towel vowel

viewer duet continuous puerile steward skua skewer but secure

Some triphones consist of a simple vowel followed by a diphthong: write the diphthong next to the vowel (note the light dot is used):

radii genii denarii nuclei

As with 'tracheae' above, the dot cannot be mistaken for Dot Hay, because Dot Hay is never used finally

1. A vowel sign is placed to the side of the stroke, at the beginning, middle or end. The vowels are therefore described as first, second and third place vowels.

  • All the strokes of the outline or phrase must be completed before any unjoined vowel is written.

  • The beginning of a stroke is counted from where the pen starts writing it. With strokes that can be written in either direction, the vowel placement will vary, and care should be taken when the stroke stands alone, both in writing and in transcription.

  • Vowel before: place to left of up or downstrokes, upper side of horizontal strokes

  • Vowel after: place to right of up or downstrokes, lower side of horizontal strokes

ape pay, Abe bay, aid day, age jay, ache Kay

aim may, inn no, ingle swinger

if fee, Eve vie, either thought, thin

us so, owes zoo, ash show

ale low, air row, awake way, ayah yes, ahem high

2. Place outside of circle S, Sway, Stee and Ster loop:

bees beast swan star stock stopper poster blister

3. SES circle is deemed to include the vowel in 'pen'; if it is a different vowel, write it inside the circle:

success masses
(plural of base), basis, bases (pronounced baseez, plural of basis)
emphasise emphasis exercise

Dash vowel inside the circle – Books vary in showing at what angle it is written:

census Colossus exhaust

4. Shun hook – vocalise the stroke just as you would if the shun hook were not there, with the following exceptions:

(a) Third place dots written inside the shun hook:

fashion fission vision revision mission permission lesion

In most cases the dot inside the hook is the vowel immediately before the Shun, but sometimes it is the vowel before that:

remission television
compare initiation

(b) Third place dashes, diphones and diphthongs are written outside the shun hook when the hook is final (because they need more room) and inside when the hook is medial (to avoid the sign being read as belonging to the next stroke).

fusion solution ammunition revolution revolutionary education educational

radiation mediation pronunciation renunciation deviation deviationist

The vowel between the Sh and N of the 'shun' is not vocalised at all, and the fact of the vowel being written inside or outside the hook is coincidental to getting the dot or dash or other sign against its own stroke, i.e. it is not part of the 'shun' syllable.

Circle S + Small shun hook – the hook is deemed to include the vowel in 'much' and requires no vocalisation itself. The vowel that comes between circle S and the small shun hook:

  • Dash vowel: never occurs
  • First place dot: never occurs
  • Second place dot: omit
  • Third place dot: write outside the hook (underlined below)

possession position precision decision condensation physician
incision sensation musician recession recision

In these examples underlined above, the vowel sign is actually being written against the little hook and not against the stroke, i.e. it is sounded after the S and before hook, and not sounded before the stroke. A third place vowel before the stroke should be placed a little way inwards from the hook. The following illustrates two vowels on the hook side of stroke:

apposition opposition imposition

5. Ell is normally an upstroke, therefore:

ell ill ale eel isle oil owl* Eli Leah

*In 'owl' the third place vowel is joined to the beginning of the stroke for convenience, the only word that does this.

When Ell is written downwards, the vowels follow suit:

like alike

6. Ish is normally a downstroke, therefore:

ash shy shah shot show shut she shoe/shoo shoot/chute sheet shout

When Ish is written upwards the vowels follow suit:

shaggy shagreen/chagrin, shack shackle, sham shammer

7. After a halved stroke, the vowel should be written against the second stroke, as it is sounded after the T or D:

Consonants And Vowels In English

cottage pottage bandage octopus potato written

8. All dots and dashes should be just far enough away to be distinguishable as separate marks, so that they do not interfere with the recognition of the strokes themselves. Only these instances have a dash vowel joined:

awl also; the short form 'all' may also be joined as in: almost already

Intervening means 'coming between'

(A) coming between two strokes

1st and 2nd place vowels: place against the preceding stroke:

pod paid bat boat dock duck tag take jag jug

mock make notch nape shadow shed lock lake

rag rug wad wed yak yoke hack hake hang hung

3rd place vowel: place before the following stroke. This is because a third place vowel written after the first stroke could end up in an angle between strokes and therefore be ambiguous – you would not know whether it was a third place vowel after the first stroke, or a first place vowel against the next stroke:

peel pull big beet book tick took

deep jig cheap fig food video meal nil

pip peep bib beep cook gig

If the two strokes are separated by a circle S or S-plus-hook, then the vowel must remain with the first stroke, it cannot 'jump' over the S, because it is sounded before. The presence of the S or S-plus-hook enables the vowel to be written in its correct third place with less ambiguity:

Dick disk, leap lisp, creep crisp, ping pinning

A compound word is one that is made up of two other words. In the outline for a compound word, the vowel often remains where it would be if the words were written separately, thus aiding legibility:

headache book-end steam-engine

Compound words are treated as one outline as regards to position (unlike phrases where the first word is written in position and the others tag along). Therefore the first up or down stroke might reside in the second of the two words, such as 'steam-engine' above.

The above does not apply to derivative words, where there is one word and one affix; these have the vowels placed normally according to the basic rules:

unable inorganic inactive fewness steamer

(B) coming between an initial hook and the stroke (e.g. PR and PL)

See also Theory 7 Hooks R L/Vocalisation and Theory 15 R Forms page/R Hook For Brevity for more examples.

Although the R and L hooks are primarily used to represent the two consonants together, sometimes the hooked form is used even though a vowel is present, in order to avoid an awkward outline or obtain a better outline for very common words. Most of such intervening vowels are only lightly or indistinctly sounded.

If the vowel is '-er' as in 'permit' it is not shown. It is however taken to be a second place light dot vowel (and is in fact shown as such in other outlines that are not using a hook) and so the outline takes second position, where this is the first vowel.

person permit perfect pearl girl term germ thermal

A dot vowel is written as a disjoined circle, in its correct place, generally after the stroke, unless that place is occupied by another vowel or there is no room to write the vowel.

challenge sharp carbon philosophy varnish flashily atmosphere

Note: Very many 'car+consonant' words use the R hook

questionnaire debonair concessionaire legionnaire doctrinaire doctrinaire*

*Optional contraction

disciplinarian veterinarian centenarian octogenarian*

* Thus in the dictionary, and all the '-genarian' words, with circle before the N stroke

A dash vowel is written across the beginning of the stroke, through the centre or through the end; it is not written across the end because that would look like the 'ings' suffix. Where a second place dash vowel is written through the stroke, the following vowel has to be written against the next stroke, as in 'courage' and 'occurrence' below:

tolerable correspondence church George shovelful fulfil courage occurrence

A diphone or diphthong may also be written through, or at the end of, a hooked stroke:

healthier junior loftier direct (2 pronunciations)

temperature mixture capture captures capturing

The above use of R or L hook plus intervening vowel is not generally used for words of one syllable:

pale pair tall tore jeer mare

Some short words use the intervening vowel to gain a brief outline, where clashes are unlikely:

nurse dark gnarl barm course Turk

NOTE: The prefixes 'self-' and 'self-con-' also use a circle (in this case representing the S sound), and the outline is always in second position to match the vowel in 'self'.

  • 'Self-' circle is written before the stroke in second position. It might therefore look identical to a 2nd position intervening vowel, but the rules state that the short E vowel between stroke and hook is not shown (whether accented or not), although all other vowels may be shown. Therefore no clash occurs.

    self-defence self-employed, Jersey shelf (2nd position vowel not written)

  • 'Self-con-' circle is written against the top end of the stroke, replacing the 'con-' dot, so this cannot be mistaken for an intervening vowel, which is always against the side of a stroke.

    self-confidence self-control

'self-' and 'self-con-' must always be written, unlike the vowels which are only written when needed (see Theory 18 Prefixes page).

Position writing is a great strength of the system, enabling vowels to be indicated without any extra writing. Position writing combined with the various choices of abbreviating methods combine to make it clear which word is signified, without guesswork, when the vowels are eventually omitted. Unlike omitting vowels, position writing is not optional and you should practise inserting vowels until you know their placement perfectly, for two reasons: you need to know what and where they go in order to write the outline in the correct position, and when you do need to insert them, you have to do it very rapidly.

The first up or downstroke of the outline is placed in one of three positions in relation to the ruled line of the page, to match the place of the first vowel sound of the outline:

First position:
ABOVE the line
Second position:
ON the line
Third position:
THROUGH the line

Note: the vowel in the prefix dot 'con-' is ignored when deciding on the first vowel sound of the outline. As there is such a large number of con- & com- words, a means of vowel indication through position writing has to be maintained. Words beginning with the disjoined circle for 'self-' or 'self-con-' are always written in second position, to accord with the vowel in the word 'self'.

As the second and subsequent up or downstrokes in the outline simply follow on from the first one, their position with regard to the ruled line carries no meaning. An outline that is written as part of a phrase may end up out of position and may need a vowel inserted to keep it readable.

If the first up or downstroke is a doubled one, then the first half of it is placed in position:

father curvature alter latter letter litter

'Father' should be started at high up as possible, and the end of the stroke will probably run through the ruled line, unless your shorthand writing is very small. With 'latter' the end of the stroke may invade the ruled line above, but this is acceptable. You should not reduce the full double length in order to squeeze it within the ruled lines. You need the full length for clarity, so aim for longer rather than shorter. Inserting the vowel helps when there is only one stroke – the vowels are placed further apart on doubled strokes.

Only a full up or downstroke can be written through the line, so if the first up or downstroke is halved, or there are only horizontal strokes in the outline, third position is also ON the line, sharing it with second position.

Although horizontal strokes and halved up or downstrokes have no third position, vowels still have a third place against the stroke. For halved strokes, the three places are closer to each other along the shorter length:

fat fate fit

pit bed jade Mick moon noon cook

Vowels have a PLACE against a stroke
Outlines have a POSITION in relation to the ruled line

Inserting vowel signs in an outline is called vocalising. Although the beginner will write fully vocalised outlines, this is a temporary state of affairs while the vowels are being learned. At some point your textbook will encourage you to omit writing all the but the most necessary vowels. This does seem a great hurdle to the learner but once this step is taken, any perceived difficulties soon melt away. After a very short while this will become second nature, and you will recognise instantly when a vowel needs to be inserted.

Omitting vowels is the very first step in writing at speed, which is why it is introduced at an early stage. This transition resembles writing separate letters of the alphabet and then going on to 'joined-up' writing – you write lightly, flowingly and speedily, rather than slow drawing and pressing into the paper. This is the point in your learning when you realise that shorthand can be written fast, and eagerness takes over from frustration.

There are two reasons why omission of vowels is not a problem:

  • The varied ways in which the presence of a vowel can be indicated without extra writing i.e. position writing, choice of alternative strokes and the use of full strokes versus hooks, circles, semicircles, loops and halving.

  • The shorthand you read is generally what you have written yourself, therefore you are seeing it for the second time. Reading matter provided by others tends to have more vowels inserted.

  • The type of material you write will generally be repetitive and as you become more familiar with the subject matter, writing and reading back becomes much quicker.

It is advisable to vocalise the following:

  • Single stroke words, as there is no other stroke to reduce the possibilities.

  • Diphthongs joined to a stroke should not be omitted, they should remain with the outline and be considered part of it.

  • Unusual words and names of people and places, at least on their first occurrence in the dictation, as context does not give you help with those.

  • Words in phrases that end up out of position may need the help of a vowel.

  • One or both of pairs of Distinguishing Outlines.

  • If you know you have written an outline badly or wrongly, you may only have time to insert a vowel or two, rather than rewrite the outline.

  • Some scientific words are distinguished only by a change of vowel, as well as some non-English plurals:

sulphate sulphite antennae formulae larvae amoebae

It is absolutely essential to have a thorough knowledge of the vowels and their positions, as you will always be writing the outlines in position, and to do this you must know what vowel sign goes where, even if it is not being shown in ink. You also have to be able to insert them when necessary – i.e. during dictation, when you will not have time to mull over where to put the dots and dashes. Unfamiliar words, names and places will need their vowels inserted without hesitation.

When dictation speed is slow, you can use the extra time you have to insert vowels that will help your transcription, but you should not rely on always having the time to do so. Do not insert them for the sake of it, because this will get you in the habit of putting them in wherever possible and relying on having them there, which is a backward step.

Pitman Shorthand Consonants And Vowels Examples

You will be leaving out writing vowels, not leaving out learning them! It is helpful to occasionally write out a passage including ALL the vowels, so that you know where your weaknesses are – it is too easy to assume that you know, when you do not. Be surprised now, while the dictionary and textbooks are at hand, and not later during dictation or an exam.

Vocalising everything will hold your speed down to below useful levels. There are no prizes for how many helpful vowels you can do without, but there are prizes for getting a complete and correct transcript – speed certificates, salary and personal satisfaction!

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Pitman Shorthand Consonants And Vowels Anchor Chart

*** A Dip Thong is a sandal that you dip in your tea to stir it when there is no teaspoon handy – not recommended! back