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Theory Intro

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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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Intelligence + effort + persistence = excellence

The theory pages provide a compact and detailed reference source and are designed to give more information than the average course book provides. Their best use is for review and revision, after your basic instruction is completed. I would encourage complete beginners, who have no prior knowledge of Pitman's Shorthand, to concentrate their primary efforts on the more simplified information in their instruction book.

Course books do not go into minute detail, nor should they the student would get "theory indigestion" and probably give up, and the textbook and course fee would double in size and cost. They, and teachers, rightly present the information piecemeal, in a form much more easily learned, and so the information here does not replace that in any way.

Where suggested outlines are offered, most of these do have the root word in the dictionary (large 1974 edition), and, where not, the suggestion is based on an existing outline. I have not marked up every occasion where the outline was not in the dictionary, as some are so basic that no note is necessary.

The Rules

I have included explanations so that outline decisions are not felt to be frustratingly arbitrary, but are seen as honed for speed and reliability under pressure. I have given as many examples as possible, to give you plenty of material to practise with, and you can easily work out how similar words would be written.

The basic rules of the system cover most outlines, but there will always be combinations of strokes that produce awkward outlines, or ones that would not stand up to being written rapidly. Over the time since its creation, experience has thrown up words that are better written "in the exception" and consequently their departure from the general rule has to be described. If only one word behaves like this, it is called an exception; if there are several words, then their behaviour gets to be enshrined as a subsidiary rule. Should a new similar word arise, then there is a rule in place to deal with it.

It is just like speaking English, people use words and sentences that are easy and convenient, and they will use irregular pronunciations, verbs and plurals without a second thought for the extra pages that grammarians will have to write. Shorthand becomes the same as your skill increases and new words (i.e. ones whose outlines you do not know) are recognised as being based on ones that you already know. This is the only way to write unfamiliar words during dictation, with thoughts of theory kept for more leisurely hours when you are correcting your shorthand.

In study hours, it is sometimes helpful to construct that unknown outline, to exercise your theory skills. Finding out for yourself what does and doesn't work prevents you from feeling that outlines have been chosen arbitrarily. Sometimes one stroke joins very well after another, and then the third stroke cannot be joined at all, and you must backtrack on your choice. It is great encourager when you have worked out the correct outline, and that adds to your shorthand confidence. All this has, of course, already been done by countless contributors and revisers over very many years, not least by Sir Isaac Pitman himself who spent his entire adult life considering all the outline possibilities. All this effort and expertise is close to hand and at your fingertips in the shorthand dictionary.

If the rules were kept few and tidy, the shorthand itself would suffer from unclear, straggling or hard-to-write outlines that would deteriorate at speed. There is one overriding rule that covers all the "rule breaking" the outlines must conform to:

  • Facility easy to write

  • Legibility easy to read

  • Lineality maintaining horizontal writing, not invading the lines above or below

To quote Sir Isaac Pitman himself from his Manual of Phonography of 1852 para 91:

"For any given word, the writer should choose that form which is most easily and rapidly written, and is at the same time distinct. The briefest outline to the eye is not necessarily the most expeditious to the hand. The student will insensibly* acquire a knowledge of the best forms by practice and observation, and he will derive much assistance from perusing the "Phonographic Correspondent," and other phonetic shorthand publications. In deciding between two or more outlines for any word, he should adopt that which unites the greatest degree of facility, with a capability of intelligible vocalization."

*"insensibly" here is an older use of the word, meaning "imperceptibly, unconsciously"

Manual of Phonography 1852 and Ipod closed  Manual of Phonography 1852 and Ipod open
From I-SAAC to I-POD in 158 years!

Information on various instruction books is now on page Shorthand Books

New Era

I do not believe New Era is particularly difficult to learn, if you enjoy your learning. It is beneficial to learn the theory from your instruction book as quickly as your time available allows (without sacrificing thoroughness and practising of matter learned) in order to reduce the time spent suffering the frustration of only being able to write some words and not others. The theory on this website is best used for subsequent review and revision, or filling in points that you did not understand from the textbook if you do not have a teacher to ask.

I started office shorthand work with a speed of 120 wpm and I feel this is a good figure to aim for, so that you are not struggling all the time, and can maintain reasonably neat shorthand rather than an embarrassed sprawl. All speeds up to that are highly commendable, as they will have been gained through hard (and enjoyable) work, but in real life people seldom speak at less than 100 wpm. Any slowness in the overall speed comes from the pauses, rather than the laboured, even dictation that shorthand learners become accustomed to. It is good to practise fast bursts, with pauses after, which is more lifelike. Getting too far behind the speaker takes away all enjoyment of using your hard-won and valuable skill, and you might be called upon to read back immediately rather than escape to your desk to mull over the outlines!

Secretarial courses of shorthand and typewriting at the time I learned them (1970's) were considered more lowly manual skills for those less able in academic terms. There was not the slightest perception that it was difficult, just something utterly basic to be learned by those "destined" for the lowlier jobs. My shorthand classmates arrived at college with this attitude already in place, unaware that they were doing such a disservice to their own intelligence and capabilities. However, I believe everyone's self-esteem increased rapidly throughout the college year. Having gained exam passes for both the "higher" (academic) and "lower" (commercial) subjects, I can confirm that I found the "lower" definitely more enjoyable, practical and useful throughout life. (More on college shorthand experiences on my About page).

Shorthand is only seen as difficult nowadays because it is less well-known and the assumption is often made that a rare skill has to be a difficult one. It is rare only because it is not requested by employers as it was in previous years. That rarity could be an advantage if you can list shorthand on your CV, but there is also the necessity to make known your possession of this skill. A computer desktop picture of some shorthand outlines may be in order see the JPGs for Ipod, use part of the Flying Fingers poster JPG, or indeed any shorthand JPG on this website.

On my course we learned all the theory in the first term from September to December and the other two terms were spent on speed practice and gearing up to various shorthand exams. This course included other commercial subjects, so shorthand was not taking 100% of study time. Our successes came from maintaining our interest and enthusiasm throughout that year, and of course our patient and kindly shorthand teacher who encouraged everyone equally. Often interest grows as one learns a subject, novelty turns into familiarity, and then into usefulness.

Shorthand requires precision and exactitude to be done well, and you cannot "waffle" your way through exam answers or the production of verbatim transcripts. It is better to study and prepare well, rather than find out the hard way that employers are not amused by errors or omissions in the transcript or report. It is a skill that is a source of great satisfaction once one has learned it to a useful level, even if exams are never undertaken.

Whatever shorthand you use, it is a worthy achievement, both in the skill gained and the bravery of facing unknown dictation at unknown speeds, totally unruffled and with the confidence that you can get it all and transcribe correctly. Your first public arena for using this skill may be via the telephone message pad, but rest assured it will not go unnoticed for long.

Pitman 2000

This is a simplified version of New Era. It was introduced in 1971 as "Pitman Shorterhand", which was dropped soon after in favour of the name Pitman 2000. It has slightly fewer rules and omission of many short forms and contractions. The purpose was not to "improve" New Era but to make shorthand easier and quicker to learn for those who do not aspire to the highest speeds. Against the advantage of easier learning, there is the disadvantage that some outlines are longer, and some joins between strokes are allowed that New Era discourages as being not so easy to form, or less reliable under the stress of speed. At lower speeds, this may not be an issue, and confidence in the formation of the outline may possibly make up for this. It was not intended to replace New Era, but was aimed at office workers who generally do not need the speed that a verbatim writer or reporter might need. However, even office dictation, e.g. letters and reports, has to be verbatim, but a person dictating in an office will probably speak somewhat more slowly, and with more pauses, than someone speaking to other people and not directly to the shorthand writer.

Any writer of Pitman 2000 could benefit from the shorter forms of New Era if they wish to seek out and adopt them. Teachers must give the theory as it stands, and students may be marked on their outlines in exams, but outside of that, writers are free to adopt any forms they find useful, preferably after learning the entire system and with a reasonable amount of experience of real-life shorthand writing as well. New Era and 2000 writers alike can benefit from the advanced outlines and phrases offered in books by high speed writers. Books on other shorthand systems can often yield useful pointers on abbreviating principles and study methods.



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