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orthography definition


This page has 8 definitions of orthography in English. Orthography is a noun and verb. Also define these 0 related words and terms: .



A diagram showing how orthography (sense 1) or orthographic projection is used to create two-dimensional projections of three different angles of a three-dimensional object (arrows). All the projection lines (dotted) are orthogonal or perpendicular to the projection planes on which the projections appear.
A shop sign evidencing poor orthography (sense 2.4).

The noun is derived from Late Middle English ortografie, ortographie (spelling) [and other forms],[1] and then either:[2]

The English word is analysable as ortho- (prefix meaning ‘proper, right; straight’) +‎ -graphy (suffix denoting something written or otherwise represented in a specified manner, or about a specified subject).

The verb is derived from the noun.



orthography (countable and uncountable, plural orthographies)

  1. (countable, architecture) A form of projection used to represent three-dimensional objects in two dimensions, in which all the projection lines are orthogonal or perpendicular to the projection plane; an orthographic projection, especially when used to draw an elevation, vertical projection, etc., of a building; also (obsolete) a drawing made in this way.
    Antonym: oblique projection
    • 1664, John Evelyn, “An Account of Architects & Architecture, together with an Historical, and Etymological Explanation of Certain Tearms Particularly Affected by Architects”, in Roland Freart [i.e., Roland Fréart de Chambray], translated by John Evelyn, A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern, [], London: [] Tho[mas] Roycroft, for John Place, [], →OCLC, part, page 122:
      Ichnography, by vvhich vve are to underſtand the very firſt Deſign and Ordinance of a VVork or Edifice, [] To this ſucceeds Orthography, or the erect elevation of the ſame in face or front deſcrib'd in meaſure upon the former Idea []
  2. (linguistics)
    1. (countable) A method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling.
      • 1645 March 14 (Gregorian calendar), J[ohn] M[ilton], Colasterion: A Reply to a Nameles Answer against The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. [], [London?: s.n.], →OCLC, page 3:
        The Licencer indeed, as his autority novv ſtands, may licence much; but if theſe Greek Orthographies vvere of his licencing; the boyes at School might reck'n vvith him at his Grammar.
      • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “The Author Sets out as Captain of a Ship. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [], volume II, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part IV (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms), page 170:
        Then the Bay tried me vvith a ſecond VVord, much harder to be pronounced; but reducing it to the Engliſh Orthography, may be ſpelt thus, Houyhnhnms.
      • 1829, John Jones, A Defence of the Reformed System of Welsh Orthography: [], Oxford, Oxfordshire: [] S. Collingwood, printer to the University, for the author, →OCLC, page 4:
        The Eisteddvod has not, however, been altogether inactive,—we are indebted to it for presenting us with several excellent prize compositions, both in poetry and prose; and as the subject of one of its essays, viz. that on Welsh orthography, is of peculiar interest to the Welsh writers of the present day, I have thought proper to select it for my present treatise, that I might offer a few observations upon it, and so become instrumental, if possible, in establishing the orthography of our language.
      • 2018, James Lambert, “Setting the Record Straight: An In-depth Examination of Hobson-Jobson”, in International Journal of Lexicography[1], volume 31, number 4, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, →DOI, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 491:
        In the colonial era there were two major competing orthographies for rendering words from Indian languages, the ‘Jones system,’ based on the spelling in the original language and requiring a substantial application of diacritics, and the ‘Gilchrist system,’ based on pronunciation and requiring less diacritics.
    2. (countable, more broadly) A set of conventions for writing a language, including norms of spelling, capitalization, emphasis, hyphenation, punctuation, and word breaks.
    3. (uncountable) The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words; the study of spelling.
      • 1712 March 4 (date written; Gregorian calendar), J[onathan] Swift, A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue; [], 2nd edition, London: [] Benj[amin] Tooke, [], published 1712, →OCLC, page 23:
        Not only the ſeveral Towns and Countries[sic – meaning Counties] of England, have a different way of pronouncing, but even here in London they clip their Words after one Manner about the Court, another in the City, and a third in the Suburbs; and in a few Years, it is probable, will all differ from themſelves, as Fancy or Faſhion ſhall direct: All which, reduced to Writing, would entirely confound Orthography.
    4. (uncountable) Correct spelling according to established usage; also (obsolete) pronunciation according to the spelling of a word.
      Antonym: cacography
      • c. 1595–1596 (date written), William Shakespeare, “Loues Labour’s Lost”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i], page 136, column 1:
        I abhor ſuch phanaticall phantaſms, ſuch inſociable and poynt deuiſe companions, ſuch rackers of ortagriphie, as to ſpeake dout fine, vvhen he ſhould ſay doubt; []
        Used to refer to pronunciation according to the spelling of a word.
      • 1604 (date written), Iohn Marston [i.e., John Marston], Parasitaster, or The Fawne, [], London: [] T[homas] P[urfoot] for W[illiam] C[otton], published 1606, →OCLC, Act IV, scene i:
        [A]nother [critic] has vovvde to get the conſumption of the lungues, or to leue to poſteritie the true orthography and pronunciation of laughing: []
      • 1621 May 15 (Gregorian calendar), James Howell, “XXVII. To My Brother Dr. Howel, from a Shipboard before Venice.”, in Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ. Familiar Letters Domestic and Forren. [], 3rd edition, volume I, London: [] Humphrey Mos[e]ley, [], published 1655, →OCLC, section I, page 37:
        If this Letter fail either in point of Orthography or Style, you muſt impute the firſt to the tumbling potſure my Body vvas in at the vvriting hereof, being a Shipboard, the ſecond the muddineſs of my Brain, vvhich like Lees in a narrovv Veſſel, hath been ſhaken at Sea in divers Tempeſts near upon forty days, []
      • 1742, [Daniel Defoe], “Letter VI. Containing a Description of the County of Dorset, Part of Somersetshire, Devonshire, Cornwall, &c.”, in A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. [], 3rd edition, volume I, London: [] J. Osborn, [], →OCLC, page 303:
        As this VVay of booriſh Speech is in Ireland called the Brogue upon the Tongue, ſo here 'tis named Jouring, It is not poſſible to explain this fully by VVriting, becauſe the Difference is not ſo much in the Orthography, as in the Tone and Accent; []
      • 1807, George Gordon, Lord Byron, “[Fugitive Pieces.] Lachin y. Gair.”, in Hours of Idleness, a Series of Poems, Original and Translated, Newark [Nottinghamshire?]: [] S. and J. Ridge;  [], →OCLC, footnote *, page 130:
        This word [plaid] is erroneously pronounced plad, the proper pronunciation (according to the Scotch) is shewn by the Orthography.
  3. (countable, obsolete) Synonym of orthographer (someone knowledgeable in spelling rules)

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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Dictionary:Entry layout § Translations.


orthography (third-person singular simple present orthographies, present participle orthographying, simple past and past participle orthographied)

  1. (transitive, rare, archaic) To spell (words) or write (text) according to established usage.
    • 1778, William Shaw, “Introduction”, in An Analysis of the Galic Language, 2nd edition, Edinburgh: [] [[w:Walter Ruddiman|W[alter]] and T[homas] Ruddiman; for R. Jamieson, [], →OCLC, page x:
      [T]here have appeared three collections of ſongs and poems, all of vvhich, though there be merit in the compoſition, are, hovvever, vvretchedly orthographied.
    • 1809, Barnaby Sketchwell [probably a pseudonym], “Criticism Below-stairs”, in London Characters; or Fashions and Customs, of the Present Century. [], volume I, London: [] B. Crosby and Co. [], →OCLC, footnote *, page 330:
      As it would be unpleasant to the reader to see in print Mr. Dubois's English orthographied as he pronounced his words, we have followed the common way of spelling.
    • 1849 June, “Singing School Scene”, in The School Journal and Vermont Agriculturist, volume III, number 2, Windsor, Vt.: Bishop & Tracy, published 1849–1850, →OCLC, page 23, column 1:
      After this the whole class performed wonders in the spelling line, orthographying the different words, man, boy, cat, &c., with great precision, doing the whole, of course, in song. [From the Musical Gazette.]



  1. ^ ortografie, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ orthography, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2022; “orthography, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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