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Theory 3 Forming Outlines

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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


Yellow Teddy's page

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PAGE DATE 7 June 2011

Pitman's New Era: facility legibility lineality

Pitman's Shorthand is based on geometric forms, using straight lines and quarters of a circle at various angles. This allows precise and readable outlines to be formed, but does not prevent the shorthand also being easy and flowing to write.

Diagram: Pitman's Shorthand based on circles and straight lines

The direction and angle of the strokes is meaningful and cannot be changed, i.e. there is no such thing as sloping handwriting in Pitman's Shorthand. Different writers' shorthand will always vary in appearance, just as handwriting does, but such variations must not impinge on the meaning, and one soon learns what one can and cannot do. Written shorthand will never look like the textbook shorthand. The textbook outlines have been very carefully drawn and they are the standard from which written shorthand should never stray too far.

Some of the items such as Intersections, Proximity, Prefixes and Phrasing are introductory, and will be covered on future theory pages.

The strokes and diagram are available in the folded booklet PDF and as JPGs (suitable for phone/Ipod etc) from the Downloads page.

Stroke combinations
Adding vowels
Rules of the system

Position writing is described on the Theory 2 Vowels page


This is a single straight or curved line that represents a consonant sound. All the horizontal and downstrokes are paired, thick and thin, to match the related sounds of voiced and unvoiced. No thick stroke is ever written upwards,

Thick and thin refers to the width of the line and not the lightness or darkness of the colour, although the thick lines may end up being darker in colour because it takes pressure to form them. The outlines here were written with blue ink in a shorthand pen with flexible nib, and therefore the thick strokes appear darker because of the pooling of the ink. Pencil outlines may also show variation between grey and black. Black ink should produce much less variation in shade. Some older books refer to shading which should not be taken literally but is a description of the overall appearance of the marks.

No basic stroke represents more than one sound.

A stroke can have other consonants added to it by various means e.g. halving, doubling, thickening or addition of hooks or loops.

A vertical dash vowel, e.g. against a horizontal stroke, should always be written downwards, whether it is above or beneath the stroke. The only time the pen writes upwards is while completing a circle or hook. Some dash vowels may sometimes have an upward slant when written to curves. Excess pressure with a sharp or unbending nib/fragile pencil tip/low grade paper at those points could be detrimental.

There is no stroke or sign that is written straight upwards in its basic form; however, the halved Ess is written upwards in certain situations (being a halved stroke and therefore similar to writing half of a Circle Ses, part of which would necessarily have to be written upwards):

Pitman's New Era: educationist expressionist impressionist

educationist expressionist impressionist


This is the shorthand form for a word, before the unattached vowel signs are added. Write the strokes one after the other, joining them end to end, without stopping at the angles, lifting the pen or going back to thicken or correct any part. All the strokes must be completed before inserting any further dots, dashes, vowel signs or intersections. Each stroke must be written in its correct direction. A few strokes have alternative directions in which they may be written, in certain circumstances.

An outline may consist of:

(a) One or more strokes forming a continuous ink line, including any attached vowels, hooks, circles and, optionally, unattached non-vowel marks:

Pitman's New Era: fee form few manner stationery completed scrapings

fee form few manner stationery completed scrapings

(b) Two parts written close together, used where certain joins are awkward, impossible or illegible the outline is called "disjoined":

Pitman's New Era: attitude hesitatingly friendly

attitude hesitatingly friendly

Disjoining is also used for some abbreviating devices:

Pitman's New Era: principality acceptability archaeological magnificent accommodate recognise

principality acceptability archaeological magnificent accommodate recognise

hesitatingly friendly see Theory 19 Suffixes
principality acceptability archaeological See Theory 20 Suffixes

magnificent accommodate recognise - See Theory 18 Prefixes

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Two outlines may be written close together, called proximity, as an abbreviating device to indicate the "con" syllable at the beginning of the second word, to replace the "con" dot (see Theory 18 Prefixes/Con page). Advanced writers often find other uses for proximity in their phrases, enabling them to leave out obvious words:

Pitman's New Era: I am confident, in control

I am confident, in control

Packing your shorthand outlines tightly together along the line is not a good idea, as proximity is meaningful in certain circumstances. The only time to do that is when you are running out of paper in an emergency or writing that time-honoured secret shorthand postcard that the postman cannot read!


A stroke may be written through an outline, as an abbreviating device for common words. There is a wide choice here, and every shorthand writer is free to create their own intersections to reflect their own needs:

Pitman's New Era: political party, service department, application form, at the beginning

political party, service department, application form, at the beginning

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In any combination of strokes, it should be clear which strokes are involved and where each one starts and stops. Alternative methods are used in the following combinations:

(a) Three similar straight strokes in succession break up the outline, use the hyphen sign if it helps:

Pitman's New Era: pop-up cake-cutter
pop-up cake-cutter

Where a halved or doubled straight stroke would not make an angle with other strokes in the outline:

Pitman's New Era: popped Babette judged cooked dotted
popped Babette judged cooked dotted

Pitman's New Era: fact factor liked bonnet

fact factor liked bonnet

A succession of all up- or downstrokes: 3 is maximum, 4 should be avoided to prevent the outline invading the line below or above, causing delays and interference.

Pitman's New Era: door doorstep rarer tiptop sheepfold

door doorstep rarer tiptop* sheepfold*

Dictionary gives 4 downstrokes for tiptop and sheepfold, which goes against most textbook advice and lets the outlines invade two lines below. One might get away with 4 downstrokes if it started above the line, but these start already through the line. I would suggest breaking the words up this gives the advantage that you can place both parts in position to indicate the vowel. This is also relevant for many words where it is not settled in usage whether it is one word, hyphenated or two words. You should write a reliable and convenient outline, and make a separate decision on how it should be transcribed.

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Adding vowel signs to an outline is called vocalising. An outline without its vowels is not considered incomplete. Dictionaries always show all the vowels.

Dot "con-", dot "-ing" and dash "-ings" are considered part of the outline, in the same way as joined diphthongs, and, unlike the unattached vowel signs, they should never be left out, except when using proximity for "con-".

Adding or omitting unattached vowels is a choice that is left to the writer. You should always include those vowels that you think will help you read the shorthand. If you always write in all the vowels, your speed will be severely hampered, and you should endeavour to omit all but the essential ones.

When dictation slows right down or there is a breathing space, it is tempting to go back and put in all the vowels. It is up to you how much to vocalise, and whether the extra time taken is working for or against you. If you think you might have to read back, having extra vowels in will reduce the stress. Putting them in at every opportunity is not a helpful habit if you wish to attain good shorthand speed the two are incompatible. However, it is a good exercise to undertake periodically, so that you revise and consolidate your knowledge of them. Position writing is dependent on knowing your vowels thoroughly and you should not leave them out because you do not know what they are or where they go.

Vowels are advised for:

  • Short outlines, such as a single stroke, because there will be many words that one stroke could represent.

  • Unusual, non-English or technical words. Some scientific words are differentiated only by the vowel e.g. nitrite nitrate. You should make lists of such vocabularies in your line of work and decide where you need to consistently insert the vowels.

  • Single outlines that have little or no context, such as headings or lists.

  • Proper names i.e. people, places. Context does not help with proper names. Such outlines should also be as full as possible and not make use of short forms.

  • Clashing or very similar pairs (see Distinguishing Outlines page). If the outlines are the same, you can generally omit the vowel in the common one and always put the vowel in the less common one, thus reducing your overall writing. Compile your own lists as you come across them, and let none escape, considering the damage or embarrassment they are capable of.

  • When you have written an incorrect, doubtful or bad outline. In the heat of rapid dictation, you may have to create an outline in an instant. You know it is not the dictionary outline, but you must write something. The vowels will help you read it back, but the offending outline should be looked up and drilled to prevent a recurrence keep a notebook so that you can practise them.

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Outlines for words may be joined in succession, as convenient, in order to increase speed. Each pen lift approximates to writing a stroke, so avoiding a pen lift by phrasing saves time. Phrasing is generally for sets of words that are frequently found together, or is used to mirror the way words are naturally grouped in normal speech:

Pitman's New Era: Dear-Sirs Thank-you for-your-letter that-we-have-(re)ceived yesterday-evening

Dear-Sirs Thank-you for-your-letter that-we-have-(re)ceived yest(erday)-ev(en)ing

Tick "the" is always joined and therefore it always makes a mini-phrase. Phrasing is an extremely useful tool, with endless possibilities for time saving and many of its own abbreviation methods.

The ink line forming the phrase was called a "phraseogram" in the early days of shorthand, out of a desire to give every new concept its own terminology, allowing the systems to be described and taught with exactitude. It is normal nowadays to just use the word "outline" to cover any shorthand ink line, and "phrase" covers either the outline or the set of words being represented by it.


There are three overriding rules governing how an outline's form is chosen. I am referring to the choices made throughout the history of Pitman's Shorthand by its creator and by subsequent publishers (Pitman Publishing/Longman).

Facility = easy to write at all speeds, with no awkward pen movements

Legibility = can be read back reliably and correctly; this includes ensuring outlines do not clash

Lineality = keeping to the horizontal line of the notepad and not invading the line above or below

The basic rules are simple, but variations and exceptions arise because not all combinations of strokes produce good outlines. They are also necessary to insure the system against the inevitable distortion of handwritten outlines versus the drawn perfection on the textbook pages. The system is geared to having the best possible outlines for high-speed writing and reliability. Producing the minimum number of rules or the slimmest possible textbook is not a priority in New Era.

The basic outline-choice scenario:

  • Join the consonant outlines end to end, in the same order as the sounds occur in the word.

  • Incorporate any abbreviating devices available and suitable.

  • Insert the vowel signs.

  • If the resultant outline violates "facility, legibility, lineality" then decide on a better outline.

  • Some outlines depart from the normal rules because of the extreme convenience and brevity gained.

The rules are really just a way of describing how the outline choices were made, thus helping the student understand what is going on. Understanding requires intelligence but no great effort and is infinitely better than memorising, which is inefficient, painful and discouraging. As long as the initial understanding is followed by lots of writing practice, memorising is totally unnecessary and redundant.

Seeing a page thick with rules can be very daunting, but if you learn the example outlines thoroughly, they themselves will speak volumes to you and in far less time and space than the lengthy chapter they were presented in. They enable you to spot a bad combination simply by instant mental comparison with known good outlines. Every shorthand writer does this when correcting a dubious outline that has been dashed off.

If you have an understanding of why the choices of outline were originally made, you will be better informed to make your own choices when you need to decide on the outline for a new word without recourse to a dictionary either it is not in there, or you do not have access to the book. Until the publishers see fit to reprint Pitman's Shorthand dictionaries and bring them up to date, being able to do this is becoming ever more important for shorthand writers.

You do not need to know all the niceties of the theory when first learning, but the more you know, the better you will be able to write new words, either ones not in the dictionary or when no dictionary is available. To aspiring high-speeders they are a never-ending toolbox for further creative abbreviation.

Some textbooks advise knowing all the rules and applying them perfectly in order to write good and fast shorthand, but I disagree strongly with this. When writing shorthand, your outlines will of course embody the rules, but you will never be thinking of the rules either the outline jumps to mind or it doesn't, and you must move on in the next fraction of a second. If you need to make up an outline during dictation, you will still not be thinking of the rules, you will be basing your new outline on one you already know. Shorthand outlines are visual and further learning and consolidation should concentrate on that, writing and seeing them constantly on the page and associating the spoken sound with them.

Perusing the rules is for when you are sitting in your armchair at home, correcting faulty outlines by consulting the shorthand dictionary or textbook, and wondering why the outline looks like it does. For the learner, the outlines are the food, your understanding of the rules are the knife, fork and spoon that shape the meal and help it go down. When you are out and about using what you have assimilated, the cutlery stays at home!

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"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

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