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6 Wheel of Fortune Rules You Shouldn't Overlook

Wheel of Fortune game 2007
Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been household names since they debuted on Wheel of Fortune in the early 1980s. Decades later, the iconic game show is as popular as ever with fans tuning in from across the country. If you have the opportunity to be a contestant on the TV show yourself, you’ll want to keep these Wheel of Fortune rules in mind. They could be the keys to a big win!

Rule 1: Call Common Letters

This may sound obvious, but it’s not as straightforward as you might think. Wheel of Fortune contestants typically gravitate toward consonants they think are most likely. That only makes sense. And given that the “free” letters in the bonus round are RSTLNE, you’d assume these are the most common.

That’s only partly true. Those six letters are among the most common, but they’re not necessarily the most common nor are they in the right order. Depending on the source, the most common letters in the English language, in order, are ETAOINSRHL or EARIOTNSLC. This roughly aligns with Words With Friends letter values. In that game, the most common letters are worth the least points.

Rule 2: Buy a Vowel

If the goal is to win as much money as possible, why would you want to “spend” any of your potential winnings on buying vowels? That’s because the goal isn’t (just) to win money; it’s to solve the puzzle. And to solve the puzzle, filling in the blanks with correct vowels is infinitely helpful.

You might also notice that even though the dollar values on the wheel have gone up over the years, the cost for buying a vowel has remained the same: $250. In all likelihood, either E or A (or both) will appear in nearly every puzzle. This will make solving the puzzle far easier.

Vanna White Wheel of Fortune 2017Vanna White Wheel of Fortune 2017

Rule 3: Learn Your Categories

The categories aren’t just a clue for what you might expect the puzzle to be. They can also tell you about common words or letters you’ll find in those puzzles. 

  • If the category is “Things,” the puzzle is probably a plural. Thus, there’s probably an S at the end of a word. 

  • If the category is “Same Name,” the puzzle is bound to have an “and” in it (if it doesn’t already have an ampersand). 

  • You can probably expect an “-ing” suffix if the category is “What Are You Doing?”

Outside of the categories, you should also be on the lookout for common short words in general. Words like THE and AND come up frequently. If you see a T at the beginning of a three-letter word, buy an E to confirm, then call out an H.

Rule 4: Play the Express Wedge

Naturally, one of the keys to winning Scrabble is getting a good handle on the rules and the bonuses. The same is true with Wheel of Fortune rules and winning on the game show. In addition to the regular wedges on the wheel, you’ll find a variety of bonus wedges. One of these is the Express wedge.

With the Express wedge, you have the opportunity to keep playing without having to spin the wheel again. Consonants are worth $1,000 each and you can continue to buy vowels for $250 each. The downside is that if you call an incorrect letter, you get bankrupt. It is absolutely worth the risk, because you get to control the board without passing your turn onto your opponents. 

Rule 5: Answer the Puzzle Exactly

Just like calling out common letters first, adhering to this rule sounds obvious enough. If you’re going to solve the puzzle, you should state the correct answer exactly right. However, there was at least one well-known instance in 2019 where a contestant lost out because she mistakenly added an extra word.

The puzzle was a crossword consisting of four words: right, football, left, Sally. When Kristen Shaw went to solve the puzzle, she said, “Right, football, left, and Sally.” Did you catch that? Shaw added an extra “and” in there. Based on this technicality, she lost $1,950, plus a trip worth over $8,000. Host Pat Sajak even warned her before she answered, “Say everything, don't add anything, go ahead.”

It may be a technicality, but it’s definitely one of those Wheel of Fortune rules you mustn’t forget. The show may be more forgiving with “um” or “uh,” but “and” is definitely a “real word.” 

Rule 6: Don’t Solve With No Money

When it comes around to your turn, you may feel tempted to solve the puzzle even if you have no money. The Wheel of Fortune rules state that contestants get $1,000 if they have less than that in the current round. By solving with no money, you’re preventing your opponents from solving, right? The goal is to make it to the bonus round, isn’t it?

Not exactly. Remember that you actually need money to advance to the bonus round. If you take that $1,000, your opponent could solve one of the later rounds and easily surpass you. Instead, it’s worth giving the wheel a spin for the opportunity to grow your winnings. 

The possible exception here is if you’re in the third and final round before the bonus round. If you have the overall lead, but one of your opponents is sitting on a lot of cash in round 3, you should solve so you can win the overall game.

Winning Big Prizes

Even if you never get to experience the thrill of appearing on national television, you can still enjoy the rush of competition. Every weekend, you can participate in Wordscapes tournaments to earn virtual crowns and coins. Test your word knowledge and anagram-solving skills, and rise to the top of the standings!


Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 14 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.

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