Words Spelled with AE

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Words with the AE digraph (two letters written together to express one sound) are often misspelled by reversing the letters, for example, writing “Ceasar” for Caesar.

Once I had a high school student who spelled his name Micheal. The first time he turned in a paper, I corrected his name. When I understood that it was the spelling on his birth certificate, I learned (with difficulty) to control the impulse to correct it.

Here are five proper names that are spelled with the AE digraph:

An ae proper noun often misspelled is Israel. Here the ae is not a digraph, but two separate letters representing two distinct sounds: Is-ra-el.

Most of the ae words remaining in English have variant spellings, but a few are spelled only with the ae, even in American usage:

Some ae words have variant spellings:

The word faerie, can be used as variant spelling of fairy, but more often it refers to fairies collectively. With the variant spelling faery, it refers to the realm where fairies live, a land of enchantment:

Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. –J. R. R. Tolkien On Fairy Stories in Tree & Leaf 11, 1964


The entry for the word daemon in Merriam-Webster states flatly, “variant spelling of demon.”

The OED entry for daemon gives this definition:

A [computing] program (or part of a program), esp. within a Unix system, which runs in the background without intervention by the user, either continuously or only when automatically activated by a particular event or condition.

As any fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials can tell you, neither dictionary has done an adequate job of defining daemon:

A dæmon is a type of fictional character in the Philip Pullman fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. Humans in every universe are said to have dæmons, although in some universes they are visible as entities physically separate from their humans, and take the form of animals, while in other universes they are not. –Wikipedia, “Daemon (His Dark Materials)”

The different pronunciations of the ae spelling must be left to another post.

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7 thoughts on “Words Spelled with AE”

  1. Hello!

    I enjoy your work, but I can’t resist the correction here:

    You are discussing also diphthongs, and not just digraphs. A diphthong refers to two vowels pronounced together, sometimes with a sliding sound change (coin). A digraph is an instance where they are (or can be) written together, as they often were (and are) in French oeuvre (œ) and British aesthetics (æ).


    Brian Poole

  2. Regarding “Micheal” – it may have been that the person’s parents were Irish. The name “Michael” in English is “Micheal” in Irish (Gaelic) and is pronounced differently (Meehawl).

  3. The “ae” combination is just about dead in American English.
    Here are some American words that are spelled differently elsewhere, with Canadians usually following the American practice:
    pediatrician, gynecologist, anesthesiologist, orthopedic surgeon, esophagus, eon (and not “aeon”). Other people want to spell these words with extra “a”, “e”, or “o”, and sometimes with three vowels in a row!
    Here are some of the rare exceptions in American English:
    aerodynamics, aeronautics, aeronautical engineer, aerospace engineer – all of which begin with the same root.
    Faeroes Islands, which is actually a Danish name, and which can probably be spelled several ways in English.

  4. Excellent topic, Maeve. The AE digraph’s 2 most common origins are in the spellings of Greco-Latin words and to represent the Old English letter commonly called *ash*which also comes ultimately from the Latin alphabet. It has been used to represent an assortment of vowel sounds and combinations over the centuries, but I think the rules for English pronunciation today of the AE, at least as it applies to Latin words, is that it is pronounced as EE. So, to another discussion where it was pointed out that the spine has no vertaBRAY and doubtfully any vertaBRYE. It does have vertaBREE. Likewise antennEE, novEE, encycolpEEdia, EEsop’s Fables, larvEE (which also came up on a post here I think), archEEology, dEEmon, etc. That is why most of the AEs in American have been changed to simply Es—not to As or Is. This is a general rule, of course there are exceptions, most of which occur at the beginnings of word: aero-, aesthetic, e.g. where a short E is present. The American pronunciation of pEdophile, rather than pEEdophile, is probably an exception as well. It is MEEv, yes? The history of the ash is bit different. Today in IPA for English, AE signifies a short A sound as in sat, hat, apple. That may be a legacy of how it was pronounced in Old English.

  5. When I said “The ‘ae’ combination is just about dead in American English,” I had forgotten about the words adopted from Latin (in the first declension), that end in “ae” as their plurals. This makes them irregular plurals in English: e.g. alumnae (from a women’s school).

    The word “formulae” is obsolete in American English. Everybody writes “formulas”. There is an important word from astronomy, “nebula”, and its Latin plural “nebulae” is just about dead. Nearly everybody writes “nebulas” – if they have even heard of the concept.

    Now, here is a tricky one that is messed up even in certain science magazines, such as ASTRONOMY. In engineering and physics, the plural of “antenna” is “antennas”, and it has been that way ever since World War II. An esteemed textbook on the subject, ANTENNAS, was published by Dr. John D. Kraus in 1950, and he explained this plural in detail on page one.
    Insects and certain kinds of crustaceans have “antennae”, but that is in the field of zoology.

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