3 Quick Tricks to Unscramble Letters

Scrambled letters

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Ever hear of ETAOIN SHRDLU? No, it’s not a Star Wars character. It’s the 12 most common letters in English, in (approximate) order of frequency. If you’re old enough, you may have even seen it in print — back in the day, letters in typeset keyboards were in frequency order, and overworked printers sometimes inked the whole first line by accident. No shade. Let one who has never left a “teh” in a work email cast the first stone.

Who cares about that? You do, if you play Scrabble, Words With Friends, or any other game based on unscrambling letters. “Etaoin shrdlu” or more accurately “etaoin shrdlu cmfyw gpbvk xqjz” is the secret to turning a handful of gibberish into winning word plays. Here are three quick tricks to unscramble letters and make connections in the word jumble.

1. Buy a Vowel

Four of the English language’s five main vowels are in that first “etaoin.” Not every word has vowels in it, and the ones that don’t are powerful Scrabble words, but almost every word you play in a word game will have A, E, I or O. Start with whichever of those letters you have, then look at the other letters you have or at the board to see where it fits. At the very least, find one free consonant and play a two-letter word.

2. Find a Digraph

In case you haven’t gotten enough word nerd trivia after etaoin shrdlu, digraph basically means any combination of two letters that make a single sound. Courtesy of German, Greek, Latin, and the many other languages English followed down a dark alley and mugged for their vocabulary (to paraphrase a wise man), English has lots of distinctive digraphs to build words around.

Five common digraphs are AI, EA, OI, SH and TH. How common? Given a five-minute time limit, no Google, no dictionary, top of the head only, this word nerd came up with five words for each:

  • AI - gait, main, pain, plain, rain

  • EA - bean, feat, mean, neat, seat

  • OI - coin, groin, loin, loiter, void

  • SH - shade, share, shed, ship, shoulder

  • TH - that, thank, think, though, thus

And there were three minutes left over. Plenty of you noble words nerds could do better. Those digraphs are everywhere in English. If you can find one, you’ve got a word.

3. Pair Up

The English language loves its double letters, and the most common by far are EE, FF, LL, MM, OO, SS and TT. Whenever you have two of those letters in your hand, you have the basis of a strong Scrabble play. Examples of easy, high-scoring double-letter words:

  • Bee: An insect with a hairy body, feeding on pollen and nectar and storing honey

  • Effort: The use of physical or mental energy

  • Hall: A central room or a passageway between rooms

  • Lemma: A proposition proved or assumed to be true

  • Soon: In a short time

  • Tassel: An ornamental tuft of threads

  • Watt: A basic unit of power

Look for the Patterns

Learning to see patterns is the most important word solver in Scrabble, Words With Friends, Word Cookies, and just about every other word game. Think about the structure of words, the letters that most often go together, and go from there. If you’re having trouble finding a word, keep rearranging the letters you have, starting with different consonants, and look for those patterns. Follow these tips, practice unscrambling, and you’re bound to improve your score.

Of course, it’s always easier spotting patterns with a little help. WordFinder's search tool is a powerful starting point: just pop in up to 15 letters and it will show you all possible game-legal words. Alternatively, check out our curated word lists, with words split up by length, first letter, last letter and more. Find the word, you’ll see the pattern. See the pattern, you’ve won the game.

Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.


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