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A huge thank you to an anonymous Plover Blog reader for funding this lesson.

You've learned a lot of sounds in Plover Theory and can write out many one-syllable words. However, there are times when you won't be able to write a word with a steno machine. This can happen because:

  • You don't know your theory fully
  • You don't know the brief in your dictionary for that word
  • That word isn't in your dictionary

When you can't write a word out with your steno machine, you usually look it up in your theory dictionary. You can do this by fingerspelling the word out into a search window. This lesson will teach you how to write out words letter-by-letter for when you can't write them with your machine.

As an aside, there are many reasons that a word might not be in your dictionary:

  • The word is jargon or obscure
  • The word is spelled wrong or is spelled with an alternative spelling (Plover's default dictionary comes with American spelling)
  • The word is new
  • The word is writable without having an explicit definition (more on this in the affixes section of the textbook)

Letter C

We've covered every letter so far in previous lessons except C. It's rare that we need to use "C" explicitly in steno since most words can be sounded out with "s" or "k" instead. However, for fingerspelling we have a need to distinguish between S, K, and C. To write C, we use the chord KR:


  • KREPBT: cent
    • SEPBT: sent
    • SKREPBT: scent
  • KREL: cell
    • SEL: sell

Fingerspelling Alphabet

To fingerspell a letter, we use the left-side sound for that letter and add *. For example, to write the word "abc", you could stroke A*/PW*/KR*.

If you also add the -P key on the right side of the keyboard, you get a capital letter. So A*P/PW*P/KR*P is "ABC".

  • a is A*, A is A*P
  • b is PW*, B is PW*P
  • c is KR*, C is KR*P
  • d is TK*, D is TK*P
  • e is E*, E is E*P
  • f is TP*, F is TP*P
  • g is TKPW*, G is TKPW*P
  • h is H*, H is H*P
  • i is EU*, I is EU*P
  • j is SKWR*, J is SKWR*P
  • k is K*, K is K*P
  • l is HR*, L is HR*P
  • m is PH*, M is PH*P
  • n is TPH*, N is TPH*P
  • o is O*, O is O*P
  • p is P*, P is P*P
  • q is KW*, Q is KW*P
  • r is R*, R is R*P
  • s is S*, S is S*P
  • t is T*, T is T*P
  • u is U*, U is U*P
  • v is SR*, V is SR*P
  • w is W*, W is W*P
  • x is KP*, X is KP*P
  • y is KWR*, Y is KWR*P
  • z is STKPW*, Z is STKPW*P
    • Note that S* is already occupied by "s" so we have to use the complex version of Z.


When fingerspelling, we don't get automatically inserted spaces between letters. That's okay most of the time because you can, for example, write EU APL AEU TK* O* TKPW* TOED and the output will be "I am a dog today". Plover will add spaces between fingerspelled words and normal words. However, if you want to write out multiple words back-to-back with fingerspelling, you need to insert a space with the chord S-P:


This will just insert a space. You can use it while fingerspelling to separate words:

  • A* EU* R* W* A* SR* E*
    • airwave
  • A* EU* R* S-P W* A* SR* E*
    • air wave

Why Fingerspell

Fingerspelling is not very fast compared to stenography or even typing. It's a skill that a good stenographer needs nonetheless. If you can fingerspell in the range of 40-60 words per minute, you will be able to handle new words that your theory doesn't cover in moments when you really need it. This is especially crucial if you ever plan on doing any realtime work like captioning. Fingerspelling is important to get used to but isn't where the bulk of your speed comes from. I think that it's okay if less than 10% of your practice is fingerspelling, but do make sure to practice it.

Fingerspelling is a great way to warm up your fingers for a practice session.


To practice fingerspelling, you can write out any sentence or word you want. However, some sentences are better than others. Common exercises include the alphabet as well as pangrams. It's also useful to practice forcing your cases, as often acronyms will be fingerspelled rather than stroked out. You can also try writing out chords using fingerspelling, which is what I do when writing exercise material.

  1. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
  3. Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
  4. Zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcba
  5. Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil queen and jack.
  6. DO or DO NOT there is no TRY!
  7. DJs flock by when MTV ax quiz prog.

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