Lingo Game Show: How the 5-Letter Word Battle Made Its Mark

LINGO contestants game board

Adapted from Getty Images

The Lingo game show combines elements of a word guessing game with the classic game of bingo. Contestants must correctly guess a series of five-letter words. Then, they try to complete their bingo cards and win big prizes. The game show has been so popular over the past four decades that it has spawned many international versions. Word games are a serious hit all around the world!

Playing Lingo: The Basics

There have been several versions of the Lingo game show over the years, both in the United States and abroad. The specific rules and game mechanics vary between versions. How the bonus rounds work, for example, is a bit different from season to season, version to version. Even so, the core Lingo game usually has these two components in common: 5-letter words and Lingo cards.

Guessing the 5 Letter Word

The word guessing aspect plays a central role in Lingo.

  1. Each team of two players has five chances to guess a mystery five letter word correctly. 

  2. They’re shown the first letter of the word to start. 

  3. Players guess with a five letter word.

  4. Red squares surround correct letters in the correct position. 

  5. Yellow circles surround correct letters in the wrong position. 

For example, say the mystery word is WORDS. 

  • If the contestant guesses WRAPS, a red square would surround the S and a yellow circle would surround the R. 

  • With this new information, the player then guesses a second five letter word. 

  • If the team does not correctly guess the word within five guesses, they lose their turn to the other team. 

Filling the Lingo Card

The other main part of how the show works is the Lingo game card. This card is identical to a standard 5 x 5 bingo card, except the center space is not “free.” The exact rules vary between versions of the Lingo game show. In all cases, players receive a number of spaces for free. 

When they correctly guess a mystery word, they can pull one or more balls out of a hopper. The number on the ball corresponds to a space on their Lingo card. Depending on the version of the show, player teams win the game or earn points when they complete a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line, like in a traditional game of bingo. 

Beyond numbered balls, the hopper also contains red balls and prize balls. If a player draws a red ball, they lose their turn. If a player draws a prize ball, they win a special prize.

Lingo in the US

The Lingo US game show has had three separate runs on television.

Original Series (1987-1988)

Michael Reagan, adopted son of President Ronald Reagan, hosted the first Lingo game show series. They taped the show at BCTV studios near Vancouver, British Columbia. Toward the end of this first run, executive producer Ralph Andrews replaced Reagan as the show’s host. This first season ran from September 28, 1987 to March 25, 1988. 

GSN Version (2002-2007)

LINGO with Chuck WooleryLINGO with Chuck Woolery

The original 1987 series spawned several international versions. But, it wasn’t until August 5, 2002 that Lingo returned to American television. Chuck Woolery hosted the new program on Game Show Network. Co-hosts and announcers during this run included Stacey Hayes, Shandi Finnessey, Paula Cobb and Randy Thomas. 

The show was recorded at Hilversum in the Netherlands for the first 20 episodes in 2002. For the remaining five seasons, it moved first to Burbank Studios in Burbank, California and later to Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood, California. Each of these seasons consisted of 65 episodes.

New GSN Show (2011)

After another four-year break, Game Show Network revived the Lingo game show again in 2011. For the duration of the single 40 episode season, comedian Bill Engvall served as the show’s host. GSN filmed the program at Tribune Studios in Hollywood, California. 

One notable difference with the third iteration of the Lingo US game show is the inclusion of a “clue” before each mystery word. Two teams won $100,000 over the course of the season. This second Lingo GSN program ran from June 6 to August 1, 2011. 

New Lingo British Game Show in 2021

After having a go in 1987 with host Martin Walker and 1998 with Martin Daniels, Lingo returned to British airwaves in 2021. 

The 2021 Lingo UK game show retains the word guessing aspect of the original show, but loses the bingo card. Hosted by Adil Ray, this version consists of three rounds of play, including both four- and five-letter words. There are also 10-letter puzzle words for bonus money. The team with the most money after three rounds participates in the final round.

In the final round, teams have 90 seconds to solve up to three lingos. If they solve the first four-letter lingo, they keep half their banked money. If they also solve the second five-letter lingo, they keep all their banked money. And if they solve the third six-letter lingo, they double their banked money. 

Between January 1 and February 12, 2021, a total of 30 episodes of the Lingo UK game show aired on ITV. The network renewed the show for another run on February 8, 2021. 

Lingo Around the World

The versions in the United States and the United Kingdom aren’t the only versions of the Lingo game show. In fact, the show has been adapted in over a dozen countries around the globe.

  • Canada (1987-1988 in English; 1998-2001 in French)

  • France (1990-2019)

  • Germany (as 5 mal 5, 1993-1994)

  • Indonesia (as Cocok - Coba-Coba Kata, 1996-1998)

  • Israel (1994-1996, 1997-1998)

  • Italy (1992-1993)

  • Jordan (2019-present)

  • Netherlands (1989-2014, 2019-present)

  • Norway (1992-1993)

  • Poland (as 5x5 - wygrajmy razem, 1995-1999; as Lingo, 2007)

  • Portugal (2006-2007)

  • Slovenia (1990s)

  • Spain (1993-1997, 2002)

  • Sweden (as Lingo, 1993-1997 and 2003; as PostkodLingo, 2013)

  • United Kingdom (1987, 1988, 2021)

Five Letters, Endless Possibilities

Word games and game shows go together like word guessing and bingo cards. One of the best known and longest running game shows with a strong word game element is Wheel of Fortune. Co-hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been household names for years. If you’re playing the game yourself, keep these Wheel of Fortune rules in mind to boost your chances of winning. Are you ready for the bonus round? 


Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 15 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.

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