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Theory 1 Strokes

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Theory Intro

 1   Strokes

 2   Vowels

 3   Forming Outlines

 4   Circles

 5   Loops

 6   Hooks Intro

 7   Hooks R L

 8   Hooks N F V

 9   Shun Hook

10  Halving

11  Doubling

12  Hay Aspirate

13  W Forms

14  L Forms

15  R Forms

16  Imp/Imb

17  Ish

18  Prefixes

19  Suffixes General

20  Suffixes Contracted

Short Forms

SF Intro

SF List 1

SF List 2

SF List 3

SF List 4


Contractions Intro

Contractions Main

Contractions Optional


1 Phrasing Intro & Contents list

2 Theory

3 Theory

4 Omission Part words

5 Omission Whole words

6 Miscellaneous

7 Miscellaneous

8 Intersections

Distinguishing Outlines

DO Intro

DO List 1 A-C

DO List 2 D-H

DO List 3 I-P

DO List 4 Q-Y


Vocab Intro



Word Lists

Text Lists from PDFs


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PAGE DATE 1 August 2016

A stroke is a shorthand sign that represents one consonant sound. Strokes do not correspond to the letters of the normal longhand alphabet, although some of them may appear to do so. The angle, relative size and thickness of the strokes, and position relative to the line on the notepad, are all meaningful in Pitman's Shorthand, and cannot be changed, ignored or elaborated upon, as you can with normal handwriting or printing fonts.

Reference Table complete list of all the strokes

Position writing is described on the Theory 2 Vowels page


There are 26 strokes and each has a name, based on the sound it represents. You should use these names consistently when talking about them.


Strokes are described as: upstrokes, downstrokes and horizontal strokes. With curves, or strokes that have initial hooks or circles, such as Way, Hay, Kway, Wel, the description refers to the general direction of the main part of the stroke.

  • Ell and Ish are the only strokes that can be written both up and downwards using the same form. A final halved Ess is occasionally written upwards.

  • Hay has a choice of two strokes, for ease of joining.

  • Ar and Ray both represent the R sound, but in different circumstances.

  • Eff Vee Ith Thee can be flipped when they have an initial hook

  • Horizontal stroke are always written from left to right

Where there there is a choice of direction, one direction is taken as the norm, to be used when the stroke is standing alone; then the rules describe when the opposite direction should be used. Such pairs allow ease of joining (i.e. making a legible angle) or vowel indication.

The notes column gives hints of other choices, and is not definitive further theory pages describe in more detail.


The average height of a line on a shorthand pad is 8mm*. I suggest you make the stroke length approximately 5mm, i.e. just over half the line height, so that the outlines fit well. Very old textbooks have quite small outlines, drawn carefully with very fine pens and lithographed to perfection; this would have been a reasonable size to emulate when shorthand was written with fine-nibbed dip pens, for personal writings done at leisure. The modern textbooks have a more practical size of outline at 5mm and these are ideal to copy (measured from Longman's New Era Anniversary Edition).

*See Downloads page to print your own pad

Your choice of outline size will depend on your paper, writing instrument and eyesight.  Your eyes may be further away from the pad during transcription than when writing. Blunt or over-inky writing instruments do not help you form small neat outlines. Pencil will encourage large outlines over time, as you strain to transcribe the shiny grey lines. All the above provide reasons enough to start your endeavours with a good-quality fine flexible-tipped fountain pen, as you will have difficulty changing your shorthand style later on. You will never regret the expense. See my review of the Noodler's Flex Pen.

You should avoid large spaced-out outlines which take a lot longer to write. Under pressure of writing at speed, outlines tend to become bigger and more sprawling, and you do not want to start off with this disadvantage. Some outlines have three downstrokes in succession, which large shorthand would have difficulty in fitting on the notepad line.

Written shorthand never resembles the drawn outlines in the textbook, and there is a certain amount of leeway when writing, but it is quite limited. You should continue to aspire to the textbook outlines in order to prevent sloppiness creeping in. It is important to have your writing hand and notepad at the same angle to each other, so the writing does not acquire any slant.

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Pitman's Shorthand relies on thick and thin strokes to differentiate between sounds. The thick outline is a voiced version of the thin outline - voiced means the vocal chords are being vibrated, which you can detect by placing your hand on your throat while saying the sound.

Without the thicks and thins, there would be double the number of strokes, an unnecessary burden which Sir Isaac Pitman has kindly spared us.

It has been said one should think in terms of thin and very thin. Write the thins as lightly as you can, and then form the thicks just enough to make the difference. The important thing is that you can see the difference between them, while retaining a light-handed manner of writing.

Thick straight strokes are uniform in thickness and this is easy to achieve. Thick curved strokes should be thickened towards the centre and then trailed off to a point at the end. This enables you to glide in and out of the various strokes without abrupt changes of pressure. There is no thick upstroke at all, as this is totally impractical to write.

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Reference Table

Below are all the strokes of the system in their basic form, shown resting on the line, for convenience. You want the images in your mind always to look like the real thing, so it is not helpful to learn from, or keep lists of, floating lineless illustrations, even if they are fully vocalised.

The additional strokes in the Notes column are not basic strokes, as they represent two or more sounds.

Strokes with attachments

Wel, Hwel and Hway are the only instances of a hook adding a sound BEFORE that of the main stroke, all other hooks add a sound after. It helps to think of the strokes below that have such permanent "attachments" as complete strokes in their own right, otherwise confusion may result when learning the R, L, F/V and N hooks.

The reason they have attachments is that, as the system developed in its early days, more strokes were required than were available from the straight lines at various angles and segments of a circle. Therefore various unused combinations were made use of, e.g. Ray was given initial hooks to make Way and Yay, which were originally shown by the small semi-circle and the downstrokes that we now use for Rer and Ler; the combination S-CHR, not occurring in English, was used instead for downward Hay, the H sound originally being represented by only the aspirate dot and the upstroke that is now used for Yay.

Stroke Name Direction Angle from
Notes Sound also represented by
Pitman's New Era: Pee Pee Down 45   Emp-Emb thickening of Em
Pitman's New Era: Bee Bee Down 45   Emp-Emb thickening of Em
Pitman's New Era: Tee Tee Down 0   Halving; doubling for
Pitman's New Era: Dee Dee Down 0   Halving
Pitman's New Era: Chay Chay Down 30    
Pitman's New Era: Jay Jay Down 30    
Pitman's New Era: Kay Kay Horizontal 0 Pitman's New Era: Kway Large initial hook for Kway Part of the con/com dot
Pitman's New Era: Gay Gay Horizontal 0 Pitman's New Era: Gway Large initial hook for Gway  
Pitman's New Era: Hay Hay Down 30 Down version for better joins and can be reduced to a downward tick before some strokes Aspirate dot
Pitman's New Era: Hay Hay Up 60 Upward Hay is most frequently used Aspirate dot
Pitman's New Era: Way Way Up 60 Pitman's New Era: HwayLarge initial hook for Hway The Way vowel sign, Sway circle
Pitman's New Era: Yay Yay Up 60   Sometimes U diphthong within a word
        Hay, Way, Whay, Yay:

Use 30% angle if a full downstroke follows, in order to keep the base of the 2nd stroke level with it

Pitman's New Era: Ell Ell Up 45 Sometimes down for better joinings. Sometimes choice is made for vowel indication.

Pitman's New Era: Wel Small initial hook on upward Ell makes Wel

Pitman's New Era: HwelLarge initial hook on upward Ell makes Hwel

Pitman's New Era: Ler Downward Ell thicken for Ler

Pitman's New Era: LdDownward Ell halve and thicken for Ld

Initial hook
Pitman's New Era: Ar Ar Down 45 Vowel before it; exceptions apply to obtain better joinings.

Pitman's New Era: Rer Thicken for Rer

Pitman's New Era: RdHalve and thicken for Rd

Final part of doubling
Pitman's New Era: Ray Ray Up 60 No vowel  before it; exceptions apply to obtain better joinings.

Use 30% angle if a full downstroke follows, in order to keep the base of the 2nd stroke level with it

Initial hook
Pitman's New Era: Eff Eff Down 45   Final hook
Pitman's New Era: Vee Vee Down 45   Final hook
Pitman's New Era: Ith Ith Down 0    
Pitman's New Era: Thee Thee Down 0   Doubling for "-ther"
Pitman's New Era: Ess Ess Down 0   Circle S, SES and Sway
Pitman's New Era: Zee Zee Down 0   Circle S, SES
Ish Ish Down 45 Sometimes upwards for better joinings.

Sher is always downwards
Shel is always upwards

Part of the Shun hook
Pitman's New Era: Zhee Zhee Down 45 Always down no thick stroke ever goes up. This is the sound in "measure" Part of the Shun hook
Pitman's New Era: Em Em Horizontal 90 Pitman's New Era: Emp Emb Thicken for Imp or Imb
Pitman's New Era: MdHalve and thicken for Md
Pitman's New Era: En En Horizontal 90 Pitman's New Era: NdHalve and thicken for Nd Final hook. Initial hook for "instr"
Pitman's New Era: Ing Ing Horizontal 90 This is a single sound. Derivative words may retain separate En and Gay, where the resemblance to "ing" is coincidental. The "ing" dot and the "ings" dash

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