The History of the Crossword Puzzle

The music composer Stephen Sondheim said, “The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution.”

And it’s true. Doing crossword puzzles have a way of taking away your worries. They are not unsolvable puzzles, and they are not meant to be.

But they can be quite challenging. In fact, crossword puzzles have evolved quite a lot over time in order to keep puzzlers interested.

If you’re a crossword fan, you might be interested to learn the history of these puzzles.
Read on to find out where the crossword puzzle began, and how it has changed over time…

Childish beginnings

It turns out that despite the crossword puzzles immense popularity as a pastime, it hasn’t been around for very long. The first known crossword puzzles appeared in England in the nineteenth century.

And they weren’t what you see in newspapers and crossword puzzle books today. Instead, these early English crosswords were published in children’s puzzle books and some periodicals, and they were much simpler than today’s complex puzzles.

The early version of the game was derived from the word square, which is a group of words arranged such that they read the same both vertically and horizontally.

Unlike crossword puzzles, word squares actually do have ancient roots, being traceable as far back as the ancient Roman ruins at Pompeii.

You can see an example of a word square here.

The first newspaper crossword puzzle

After progressing from children’s puzzles to more complex varieties, crossword puzzles made their first appearance in a newspaper in America, New York World, on December 21, 1913. The puzzle published in this newspaper was created by journalist Arthur Wynne, a man from Liverpool in England.

But he didn’t call it a crossword puzzle at the time. Instead, it was called a word-cross. Later, the name was switched to crossword. And eventually (because of a typo), the hyphen was dropped, and it was just crossword, as we see the word written today.

Wynne’s puzzle was shaped like a diamond rather than a square, and it did not have the black squares found in today’s crossword puzzles. You can find a picture of this original crossword puzzle here.
The main difference between word squares and the crossword puzzle that Wynne invented is that word squares provide the player only with words to arrange, and crossword puzzles provide the player with clues to which words to fill in.

The popularity of the puzzle picked up, and crosswords were soon published in the majority of American newspapers during the 1920s. The shape of the puzzles evolved and became similar to the shape people are most familiar with today.

The New York Times picks up the trend

Of special note, The New York Times was a crossword holdout and didn’t publish their first crossword puzzle until February 15, 1942. The editors at this paper at first held the belief that crosswords frivolous. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they decided that a puzzle might provide readers with some relief from the serious news.

Of course, true to their high quality standards, the crossword puzzle editor at The New York Times, Margaret Farrar, worked for 27 years on raising the quality of the puzzles constructions and making them more challenging for readers to solve.

Moving back to its birthplace

Around the time that crossword puzzles were picking up in popularity in the United States, the idea got picked up in England again. Its first published appearance in Britain was in Pearson’s Magazine in February of 1922.

Of course, British puzzle creators were not content to leave the puzzle without further evolutions. Their puzzles developed their own style and became much more difficult than American crosswords.
In Britain, a type of crossword puzzle called the cryptic crossword became quite popular. Generally accepted rules for cryptic crosswords were developed by A.F. Ritchie and D.S. Macnutt.
Famous crossword puzzlers

A.F. Ritchie and D.S. Macnutt were crossword puzzle geniuses. They created millions of puzzles by hand, each developing his own style and amassing puzzle fans.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, each of these men were educators.

Ritchie was an ordained priest who eventually became headmaster of the Cathedral School at Wells, England. He designed and published crosswords under the pseudonym Afrit.

Macnutt also used a pseudonym when publishing his crossword puzzles, Ximenes. He was the headmaster of the classics department at Christ’s Hospital School in West Sussex, England.

Crossword puzzle books

Although they started as simple entertainment for Sunday newspapers, crossword puzzles eventually became so popular that whole books of crosswords were published. The first collection, in fact, was published by Simon & Schuster in 1924 in the US. That publishing company still publishes crossword puzzle books today.

The first crossword tournament

In 1978, the first American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held in Stamford, Connecticut. The tournament in Stamford is still held annually, and it is the oldest and largest crossword tournament in the US.

It was founded by Will Shortz, who became the crossword puzzle editor at The New York Times in 1993. He still hosts the event.

The shift to digital crossword puzzles

Despite being an early holdout, The New York Times really became a champion of these puzzles. In 1996, they offered the first electronic version of their crossword puzzle on the internet.

In 1997, a company called Variety Games Inc. patented the first computer program that generated crossword puzzles. The software is called Crossword Weaver, and you can still download it via their website to generate your own printable puzzles.

Today, you can find crossword puzzles available on many websites in both electronic and printable formats.

Crossword puzzle fans

Crossword puzzles have amassed many types of fans throughout the decades. The famous puzzle makers Ritchie and Macnutt both had followers, with Macnutt’s followers calling themselves Ximeneans, after his pseudonym.

The Ximeneans had dinner parties to celebrate the publishing of Ximenes’s new puzzles and even wore black ties with white crosses, specially designed to designate themselves as part of the group.
In 2006, a documentary film was released, called Wordplay. It helped to refuel the fandom of crossword puzzles, which continue to be popular.

One of the things that hasn't changed about crosswords over all this time is that you never know which words will end up solving the puzzle. So although, as Stephen Sondheim quipped, you always know there is a solution to any given crossword puzzle, these word games continue to challenge and intrigue wordplay fans of all ages.

The Best Words Games of 2019

If you love word games, there’s a host of absolutely fun games to play on your phone. There are so many challenging word game apps out there that are meant for adults to play (and play again)

This is a list of the best word games in 2019. Boost your vocabulary with these awesome games.


Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Anagram lovers will absolutely love TYPESHIFT. Usually, you’ll want to look for new combinations of words within just one word, but Typeshift presents three to five words stacked together at a time.

You’ll be shifting columns of letters around to find new combinations of words to spell out and you should use every letter at least once before moving on to the next puzzle.

Typeshift goes beyond the normal “find word repeat” type of word game app, it is beautiful to play and quite challenging.

This game includes a good amount of puzzles for free, but you’ll want to unlock more through in-app purchases. Each puzzle pack also comes with its own color theme that looks just as tasty as it sounds.


Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

The goal in Alphabear 2 is to spell out words using letters on a puzzle grid.

Alphabear 2 is a fresh and unique word game that’s full of cute, squishy bears. It is a sequel to the original Alphabear that came out in 2015 which proved to be a success.

You spell out words using letters on a puzzle grid. As you use letter tiles that are adjacent to each other, bears appear on the grid.

The more you use, the bigger the bears get, thus earning you more points at the end of the round. You need to get creative with the words that you spell out to be successful in this game.


Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Like all word game apps, Four Letters starts out simple but quickly progresses to harder and harder puzzles to solve. With only four letters, you have to make a word as quickly as possible. Smooth and easy to play in small pockets of downtime to improve your vocabulary.


Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

This is the highly-popular word game that you’ve probably already played. However, it’s still one of the best word game apps for straight fun and multiplayer functionality.

You can take part in weekly challenges to showcase your skill and win a lot of themed badges as rewards. There is also a solo mode to let you play the game secretly.

Moreover, you will be able to play this game in multiple languages like Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and British English.


Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free

WordWhizzle Search offers hundreds of themed levels to play. The game starts slowly with simple puzzles, but as you go ahead, it increases difficulty levels. So, even if you’re not good at solving puzzles, you will like having a go at the game.

Challenge your friends to beat your high score. Don’t forget to collect a lot of rewards to enhance your reputation as a player.

7 reasons why you should try WordWhizzle Search:

  • Free, it costs nothing to play 
  • It has over 2700 fun challenging levels 
  • The difficulty level increases along with your skill as you play
  • It sharpens your vocabulary and tests your puzzle prowess
  • Solving WordWhizzle Daily Puzzles gives you free hints
  • You can show off your skills and play WordWhizzle with friends on Facebook
  • It is easy to play but hard to beat.

Help the WordWhizzle Professor and become the top word search expert by finding hidden words in a grid of letters… Swipe letters up, down, diagonally and across to build words as you and the professor tackle the ultimate vocabulary challenge.


Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free with in-app purchase

It’s basically a modified word search game, but the fun in it is in the little extras. With a nice and clean interface, it’s simple to play. And you’re making cookies so win-win.

It has enjoyable graphics with easy controls and simple premise, it also stimulates the brain and it is highly entertaining and educational for everyone. There is no time limit or penalties for incorrect answers and you can use hints if you’re stumped on a word.

Simply swipe to connect each alphabet cookie on the baking pan to form a word or fill up Jack’s cookie jar with additional words to earn extra coins.


Price: $2.99

Spelltower is considered one of the classic word games, and it’s from the same guy who gave us Typeshift. Think of Spelltower like Tetris, but with words. You’ll want to select adjacent letter tiles to spell out as many words as possible before one column reaches the top.

Otherwise, it’s game over. The more complex the word, the more points you earn! There are a ton of different game modes available in Spelltower, and each one is just as frantic and challenging as the last, except for maybe Zen mode if you just want to relax.


Price: Free

Another classic that should be on every word game lover’s device is Letterpress. In Letterpress, two players must capture the board by spelling words with the letters on the grid.

You can use the tiles freely, so they don’t have to be adjacent, but you can’t reuse a word that the opponent has spelled out. And once all of the letters have been captured, the player who has the most tiles wins.


Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

If you love the TV show, this game gives you the ability to take your own turn at the wheel and guess the show’s puzzles. Play with friends and family, compete for prizes, and play lighting quick rounds for a fast brain workout.

Thinking of making your own word game? Check out WordsAPI!

Words Whose Meanings Have Changed Over the Centuries

The English language, while the most widely-spoken Germanic language, is also one of the most complex. Full of contradictions, synonyms, homophones, and idioms, it certainly takes some practice to pick up its context. It stands to reason that as words are commonly used out of their normal context, their meanings start to shift over time. Here are some commonly-used words whose meanings are completely different today than many years ago.


Centuries ago, the word “nice” was used to refer to someone ignorant (derived from the Latin word nescius. The meaning started to shift in the 1600s, with definitions including cowardly, lazy, sluggish, and even elegant. In the 16th century, the definition evolved again to mean “attentive or meticulous.” Finally, by the 18th century, “nice” settled on its modern-day definition of “agreeable or pleasant.”


In the 1300s, the word “naughty” referred to someone who had nothing or naught. In the 17th century, the word was associated with the innocent misbehavior or mischief of children. Although that meaning is still commonly used, the word “naughty” has shifted even further to mean someone who is “promiscuous or provocative.”


Today’s usage of the word “merry” is meant to convey a feeling of cheerfulness or joyousness. Originally, the word meant “short.” Centuries ago, it was synonymous with the word “brief,” in reference to something pleasant happening in a brief moment. Oddly enough, the old English word for short meant “sliced off,” so “merry” meant “short” as we know the meaning today.


The modern-day meaning of “dinner” is one that nearly everyone can appreciate. It refers to an evening meal or the main meal of the day. The earliest meaning of the word came from the French word “disner” that referred to the Latin word for breakfast, disjejunare. The meaning naturally shifted in part, because breakfast used to be the main meal of the day or the meal in which the overnight “fast” was broken. In many English-speaking countries, dinner is now the largest meal of the day.


“Awful,” just like the word “awesome” is derived from the word “awe,” which refers to a feeling of terror or reverential fear. Prior to the 19th century, “awful” and “awesome” meant the same thing--a respectful fear of or wonderment about something. In the 19th century, the two synonyms parted ways, with “awful” assuming its modern meaning of something “bad.” Awesome has shape-shifted over the years to mean everything from “perfectly acceptable” to “amazing.”


“Fine” is one of the peculiar words in the English Language that means several different things, depending on the context. For example, it is used as a reply to the question “how are you?” as well as a noun meaning a “payment for an infraction.” In its origins, “fine” was derived from the French word “fin,” which means “end.” Today, the original meaning has shifted over time to mean something that is the “ultimate” or of the highest quality, indicating that the item has reached the highest end of the quality spectrum.


Long ago, young knights were called “bachelors.” They were still apprentice knights and the lowest rank in knighthood. As time went on, the word came to mean the lowest level of student or degree at a college or university and is still used to refer to Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Its other common meaning of “an unmarried man” still holds true today and has been a well-known definition for centuries.


A flirt, as is commonly understood today, is someone who toys with or teases someone in a romantic way. Over five centuries ago, “flirting” was making a quick or sudden movement with a fan to draw attention.


While “meat” generally refers to the flesh of an animal, generally for eating, it used to mean something else. Centuries ago, “meat” referred to anything that could be consumed but that wasn’t in the category of “drink.” To put it in modern terms: vegetables, fruits, cheese, and bread-- all considered “meat.”


The word “guy” is an eponym--or a word that is named after a person, place or thing. It draws its original meaning from the name of Guy Fawkes, who tried (unsuccessfully) to blow up Parliament in the early 1600s. He was hated by the general public, so his name became a synonym for someone terrible or nefarious. It was a true insult. Today, the term refers to men in general--nefarious or not.


Years ago, a clue (also spelled “clew”) was a ball of yarn. The modern-day meaning of a hint or guide to help solve a puzzle may have come from the idea of unraveling a ball of yarn bit by bit, much as one would unravel a mystery clue by clue.


A fathom used to be a measurement that was classed by encircling one’s arms around something. It is still related to a unit of nautical measurement for the depth of a body of water, but its more common meaning is to “fully understand after much thought.” The sea has always been a bit of a mystery, so perhaps the idea of measuring how many fathoms deep the sea may be is what spurred the idea of understanding the depths of a complicated subject or concept.


The word “fizzle” used to be a polite way to refer to the act of creating quiet flatulence. Over time, college students in the United States shifted the meaning to the act of failing at things.


Originally, the word “cute” was a shortened version of “acute” and referred to something or someone who was sharp or quick-witted. In the 1830s, Americans started using the word as a synonym for “pretty” or “attractive.” It also reflects a hint of its former meaning in phrases like “stop being cute” or “don’t play cute with me,” implying that someone is attempting to be sharp-witted at an inappropriate time.


Derived from the French word “fantastique,” the word “fantastic” used to convey something that wasn’t real--only contrived in imagination or fantasy. In the early 1930s, the word evolved a bit to include the now-common meaning of something “wonderful” or “exceptional.”


One of the most misused words in the English language, “literally” used to mean something that was “true” or “actually happening.” Today, it is used as a form of hyperbole, with phrases like “literally starving to death” when someone just needs a small snack or “literally raining cats and dogs” during a heavy downpour. Because the word has suffered so much misuse, the Oxford English Dictionary has amended its definition of it to include the hyperbolic version.


“Nervous”  is derived from the Latin word nervosus, which means “sinewy or vigorous.” It used to refer specifically to someone who suffered from a nervous-system disorder and was under the care of a physician. Today, it describes anyone who is easily startled or experiencing a feeling of anxiety.

As society continues to take liberties with the English language (intentionally and by accident), it will be interesting to see how these, and other commonly-used words change form over the centuries to come.

The Most Commonly Misspelled Words in the English Language

Its common knowledge that English is a strange language. It has a lot of rules that contradict themselves that also have a lot of exceptions. Grammar is all over the place and proper pronunciation often doesn’t make sense. If you are not a native English speaker it can be a difficult language to learn.

With all the rules and nuances, there are a lot of words that can be tricky to spell. Here are some of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language – and some tips to remember how to spell them!

This word is not pronounced exactly how it looks so spelling can be tricky. Just remember that it makes “sence” to spell it with an E!

The ending of words like “acceptable” are often confused with “ible” as it sounds similar when reading out loud. Just remember to “accept” the “table” that you are being offered.

Double consonants can be hard enough to remember, forget two in the same word! Just remember that this word is large enough to accommodate two C’s and two M’s.

Remember that both Ds are being delivered to the same address.

Having your own “ally” is a “basic” part of life.

Many learn from a young age to remember that I comes before E except after C. Believe is a word where this rule applies.

The confusion here often comes from the E. Remember that “change” keeps its E and thus makes the G soft rather than hard.

Column is not the only word of its kind in the English language, just remember that although it may not have an obvious purpose… a silent N after an M is common.

This one is simple – don’t let yourself be conned by a “science” nerd!

Often confused with defiantly. Remember that Definitely carries its silent E with it wherever it goes.

This is another long word – long enough to fit two Rs and two Ss without getting squished.

When adapting to a new environment, you may have to “iron” out some kinks.

Putting two A’s in the same word can be an exhilarating experience!

This word breaks the I before E except after C rule – what a foreign concept!

Take pity on the poor R in this word… it is so weak that it needs an O on either side of it in order to stay standing.

Don’t spell this word with an “ence,” that would be downright ignorant!

Remembering the two L’s and the “ence” ending are signs of great intelligence.

The confusion with this word often comes in the beginning, where the E and I are mixed up. Just remember that you do not have to tell a lie to experience some leisure.

Often confused with “loose.” Lose the extra O and spell this word right every time.

“Main” and “tenance” are the primary tenants of this word.

You will hear lots of neighing from next door if your neighbor has a horse farm.

The Es in this word are only able to persevere until the last syllable, where the A takes over.

Don’t take it personally that this word needs two Ns!

This word is in possession of more S’s than most hissing snakes!

When something rhymes, it has a nice rhythm – these words go well together at times.

Remember that a secretary will always keep your secret!

You must write this word with an A after the E whether you like it or not.

This is one of the weirdest exceptions to the I before E except after C rule.

How to Make a Great Crossword Puzzle

If you’re a logophile, or word-lover, then you know that there are few greater joys than completing a crossword puzzle. The clever mix of clues and cunning use of simple and play-on-words answers mean you can spend hours lost in thought and word definitions. If you’re one of the millions of people who love spending Sundays with the New York Times’ Crossword Puzzle, the next time you want to flex that puzzle-solving muscle, consider making your own. Here are six steps to creating a great crossword puzzle.

Narrow Down Your Audience

The first step in making a crossword puzzle is choosing an audience. You’ll make a very different kind of puzzle if your audience is kids, college students, adults or industry-specific employees. The audience will influence the level of difficulty, theme, answers and clues. If you want to try and sell your puzzle to a specific publication, make sure you are familiar with the types of puzzles that publication usually includes.

Choose a Theme

With your audience in mind, choose a theme that will link the answers in the puzzle. It can be something as simple as “house.” This theme would then guide the creation of the puzzle, meaning the long answers in the puzzle would have to do with parts of a house. You can be more creative than this too, but when first starting out it’s easier to keep your theme simple. The best themes are narrow and consistently applied throughout the puzzle.

Another common way to choose a theme is to pose a question. The answer to the question would be made up of the longer answers in the puzzle. With this kind of theme, sometimes people are able to answer the thematic question before they can solve the individual clues.

You can draw inspiration for the theme from your favorite puzzle makers, everyday objects around you, subjects you’re passionate about or even your kids. As you brainstorm about your theme, list all related words that come to mind and their letter count. This will help later on with answers.

One caveat to this step is that not all crossword puzzles have a theme. However, picking a theme will make the other steps easier. Themes also make the puzzles easier and more enjoyable for your audience.

Design the Grid Layout

Once you select a theme, the next step is setting up the grid. The grid is the mix of black space and white boxes where your audience will fill out answers across and down. It’s best to start small and then work your way up to more complex grids. In general, grids are symmetrical, but some puzzle makers get creative and use grids that look like animals or other shapes.

To this day, the New York Times follows the same rules established by the paper’s first crossword editor, Margaret Farrar:

  • Use an odd number of squares on a side
  • The grid should have 180-degree symmetry
  • Black squares should make up no more than 1/6th of the grid
  • Word count should be between 72 (if no theme) and 78 (for a grid with 15 squares across)
  • The theme-based answers should be in symmetrical positions in the grid

Of course, you don’t have to follow the New York Times’ example. As you work on crosswords yourself, take note of the layouts of those puzzles. Try out different layouts and see which one you like working with or is most appropriate for your desired audience.

Fill in the Grid with Answers

The next step is creating the answers. Yes, you decide on the answers before you come up with the clues. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is how you ensure that all of the words will fit into the grid.

Here are some general rules of thumb for coming up with answers:

  • Start with the longest answers first
  • Then work across and down until you hit a corner
  • Do not repeat answers
  • When choosing answers for the words that go across, follow a pattern of “vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant” or vowel-heavy words since they will give you more flexibility for words that go down
  • If a word going across requires specialized or advanced knowledge, keep the words going down a little easier
  • Consonant-heavy works are more difficult to work into a puzzle
  • Theme-based answers should have the same letter count (contributes to the symmetry of the puzzle)

It can also be fun to try and work in a “marquee answer” or an answer that is a new phrase, something relevant to the news or pop culture, etc. You can also try to work in secret messages in your puzzles too for additional fun.

There are autofill programs that can fill in the grid for you, but it’s more fun to come up with the answers yourself.

Create Clues that Tie to the Answers

Writing clues is probably the hardest part of the puzzle. While you can put straightforward clues such as “equipment used in baseball” for a three letter answer of “bat”, the real fun of crosswords comes from making the person solving the puzzle really think. You want the person working on the puzzle to spend enough time solving the clues so that they feel clever and smart when they figure out the answer, but not so long that they get frustrated and abandon it.

Clues should be entertaining and witty and make liberal use of gimmicks and wordplay. If you are trying to come up with a new word or definition, check out WordsAPI. Our tool can help you find related words, definitions and more with our easy to use API for the English language. It’s a fun way to play with the English language – something that every great crossword puzzle maker does.

After you’ve developed a knack for writing clues, you can then advance to the New York Times’ standard of never repeating a word in the answers or the clues.

Review the Puzzle to See if You can Make it Better

With a draft of your theme, grid, answers and clues complete, take time to review your puzzle to see if anything can be tightened up or made more relevant to the theme. Let a friend test it out and ask for feedback.

Also, be sure to fact check your clues. Even if a clue and answer come from your area of expertise, it’s always good to double-check.

Get Started on Your First Crossword Puzzle Today

No matter your motivation – for fun or for publication – you can start working on designing a great crossword puzzle today. If you love the English language and playing with words, making puzzles is a fun and easy way to indulge in this passion. Making puzzles can also help you build skills to complete puzzles more quickly and easily. With a better understanding of how puzzle makers think, you’ll be better able to intuit answers and solve clues.

As with any new skill, it’s best to start small and gradually increase the complexity of your puzzles. As you make and complete more puzzles, you sure to become a cruciverbalist in no time.

Have you ever made a crossword puzzle? What tips and tricks can you share?

How to Build a Word Definition Widget with WordsAPI

One of the most common uses of WordsAPI is to let users look up definitions for words.  It's incredibly easy to accomplish - we'll do it in less than 100 lines of javascript.  If you want to see it in action, here it is.

We'll start by creating a simple form that will auto-suggest words as the user types. We'll add some simple styling using the Yahoo Pure css library.  We'll also add in an unordered list where the results will be displayed.

<form onsubmit="return false;" class="pure-form" style="border-top: 1px solid #eee;border-bottom:1px solid #eee;background:#fafafa;margin:30px 0;padding:20px 10px;text-align:center">
  <input id="user-input" autofocus type="text" placeholder="Type a word ..." style="width:100%;max-width:600px;outline:0" />
<ul id="definitions"></ul>

For the auto-complete functionality, we'll be including a small library from Pixabay. This library will handle populating the suggestion list that we get.  The library needs a function to call when the users types. We'll configure the library using the code below. The source attribute is a function that gets called when the user types. It sends in a term, and waits until a list of suggestions are provided.

new autoComplete({
  selector: "#user-input",
  minChars: 1,
  source: function(term, suggest) {
    getSuggestions(term).then(response => {
  onSelect: function(e, term, item) {


The getSuggestions function is where we'll link into WordsAPI. You'll need your own API key, which you can get from here. The function makes use of the WordsAPI search capabilities by providing a letterPattern that will match any words that start with the letters the user has provided, as well as restricting the results to only words that have definitions.

function getSuggestions(input) {
  const url = `^${input}.*&hasDetails=definitions`;
  return fetch(url, {
    method: "GET",
    headers: {
      "Content-Type": "application/json",
      "X-RapidAPI-Key": apiKey
  }).then(resp => resp.json());

When the users selects a word from the suggestions list, the onSelect attribute of the autoComplete library will get called.  This will pass the results to the getDefinitions function, defined below.  This function again calls out to WordsAPI, this time to get the definitions of the selected word.

function getDefinitions(term) {
  const url = `${term}`;
  return fetch(url, {
    method: "GET",
    headers: {
      "Content-Type": "application/json",
      "X-RapidAPI-Key": apiKey
    .then(resp => resp.json())
    .then(resp => {
      return resp.results;

Finally, we'll show the results in a list below the input field in our showDefinitions function.

function showDefinitions(definitions) {
  definitionList.innerHTML = "";
  definitions.forEach(definition => {
    const li = document.createElement("li");
    li.textContent = `${definition.partOfSpeech} - ${definition.definition}`;

And that's it! You can see a fully working version at this CodePen.

Why English is Weird

Approximately 1.5 billion people, roughly 20% of the world’s population, speak English. Only 350 million or so are native speakers, meaning the remaining 1.15 billion learned it as a foreign language. It’s the most widely studied second language and the default common language for many international businesses and travelers.

While these figures make it seem like it’s easy to pick up the language, many learners will probably beg to differ. English has many oddities that make it one of the harder languages to learn, despite how widely it is spoken.

Effective Ways to Learn English

There are many methods for learning languages. Classroom instruction tends to focus on learning grammar, spelling and pronunciation rules. As students learn one word, it’s only natural that they would apply the same rules to a similar looking word or similarly-structured sentence. This might work in some languages; English is not one of them.

This is often why many language learners report having better success picking up English from movies or TV. They get to hear how it is actually spoken and start to develop that native sense of when something “sounds right.”

No matter which method learners choose, they could benefit from keeping these quirks in mind.

Word Meanings

Consider these examples:

  • Pineapples do not contain any pine or any apples
  • Hamburgers are not made of ham
  • A pocketbook is not a book and it doesn’t fit into your pocket
  • Eggplants don’t have egg in them

These inconsistencies can make it harder to deduce the meaning of a word. While a new English speaker may understand part of the word, this does not necessarily mean that the speaker will grasp the meaning of the full word.

English also has a long list of homophones, homographs, homonyms, heterographs and multinyms. Most native English probably don’t know these terms, but they are familiar with the words.

  • Homophones: same sound, different meaning, ex: to, two, too
  • Homographs: same sound and spelling, different meaning, ex: bow (front of boat and to bend at waist)
  • Homonyms: same spelling, different meaning, ex: live, wound, wind
  • Heterographs: same sound, different spelling and meaning, ex: know, no
  • Multinyms: same sound, two or more different spellings and meanings, ex: raise, rays, raze, etc. 

How do you explain these differences, and so many more, to students? ESL students probably hear the phrase, “that’s just how it is” more times than they care to.

Spelling and Pronunciation

While English has some spelling rules such as “I before E except after C”, these are quickly violated as soon as a student learns the words science and weird. One grammarian says that only 44 words actually follow that rule while 923 don’t.

Another rule is that plurals are created by adding an s or es to the end of a word. But alas, mouths contain teeth not tooths, more than one mouse becomes mice and more than one moose becomes…moose.

In theory, spelling also affects pronunciation. However, English also has a lot of silent letters. In knife and gnome, for example, the first and the last letters are silent. There are also letter combinations that can lead to wildly different sounds. Take trough, rough, bough and through for example. In many situations, English is just not phonetically consistent.

Again, with these exceptions, learners are often told that they just need to memorize the different spellings and pronunciations.

Verb Tenses

Sometimes English verb conjugation is considered easy to learn because there generally aren’t different spellings depending on the subject. For example, I go, you go, he goes, we go, they go, and for past tense I/you/he/we/they went whereas the equivalent in French would have multiple spellings. In general, the past participle will be formed by adding -ed or -d to the end of the word. For example, to face becomes faced and to live becomes lived. But of course, there are irregular verbs and exceptions.

  • The past tense of fight is fought
  • The past tense of light is lit
  • The past tense of read is read
  • The past tense of feel is felt
  • The past tense of drive is drove
  • The past tense of wake is woke
  • The past tense of have is had

English also gets complicated when it comes to the future. There are many ways to talk about the future, each with their own subtleties. For example, here a few ways someone can say they are going to consume dinner at a later time:

  • I’ll get dinner
  • I’m going to have dinner
  • I was going to have dinner
  • I’m getting dinner

There may be general rules that learners can follow, but there are likely just as many, if not more, exceptions that they will have to remember as well.

Order of Words

English can also be a little peculiar when it comes to word order. In general, most sentences will follow a subject – verb – object order. However, depending on the word, adjectives and adverbials can fall in multiple locations in a sentence. For example, one can say I ate quickly or I quickly ate, but one can only say I stayed long not I long stayed.


A common grammar mistake even among native speakers is the use of apostrophes. They can be used as a contraction where he is going becomes he’s going. However, they can also be used to denote possession. Instead of saying the toys belonging to Sarah, speakers simply say Sarah’s toys. The exception to using an apostrophe to denote possession occurs with the word it.
It is warm becomes it’s warm
To describe the leaves of a tree falling off, one would say the tree lost its leaves

Native speakers will likely be forgiving of this error as non-grammar-lovers make this mistake frequently themselves.

Don’t Get Discouraged

English can be hard to learn. The rules all seem to have exceptions and there’s a lot about the language, its spelling, pronunciation, grammar and more that doesn’t quite make sense. But people who want to become fluent in this global language shouldn’t get discouraged. Its popularity also means that there are ample resources for helping students learn. WordsAPI, for example, is an online source to find definitions, synonyms, antonyms, word hierarchies and much, much more.