The machine stenography system generally in use in the US is based off of Ward Ireland’s original stenographic theory. Each stenographer customizes their own system. In my case, I learned the Plover theory and customized it from there to produce my own personal theory. This post details the changes I’ve made to the Plover theory to suit my own use; it may be useful to other stenographers looking for additions to their theory.

Generally I use a theory heavy on tucking and briefs. I try to make sure that my rules are consistent. Common words that are not consistent with my rules are usually relegated to less convenient strokes, such as WAO*EF = “we’ve” and “WA*EF” = “weave”, or KOU = “could you” and KO*U = “cow”.

Basic phonology

-Z for plurals and the present tense

Always use -Z and never -S to pluralize words, or to turn them into the present tense. With the default dictionary, I’ve found that I can’t reliably tuck -S into words to add the -s ending; for example, “days” versus “daze” or “gross” versus “grows” cause issues frequently.

The exception is for words that end with -T. In those cases, I still use -S to pluralize them, since -TZ is impossible to stroke in some cases, and -TS is unlikely to conflict with other words.

For words ending in -aze I sometimes use the AEZ ending, which allows me to use A*EZ for the -azy variant. For example, LAEZ = “laze” and LA*EZ = “lazy” or HAEZ = “haze” and HA*EZ = “hazy”.

Implementing this change in the default dictionary takes a decent amount of effort, but I’ve found the addition in consistency has made it well worth it.

I typically use -SZ for the plural of words ending in the -s sound, such as “races”, and don’t use -FZ for that purpose.

*S for the final ‘z’ sound

Some word pairs require disambiguation between the -s and -z variants, which I didn’t find adequately addressed in default dictionary. This also helps with pluralizing words that end with the ‘z’ sound. Some examples:

  • race, races, raise, raises, raze, razes, rays
  • cease, sees, seas, seize
  • rice, rices, rise, rises, ryes
  • rose, roses, rows
  • sighs, size

I use *S for the -s variants and -Z for the plural variants, keeping in mind steno order for the plural versions:

  • RAIS = “race”, RAISZ = “races”, RA*IS = “raise”, RA*ISZ = “raises”, RAEZ = “raze” (as per the previous section), RAEZ/-Z = “razes”, RAIZ = “rays”
  • SAOES = “cease”, SAOEZ = “sees”, SAEZ = “seas”, SAO*ES = “seize”
  • RAOIS = “rice”, RAOISZ = “rices”, RAO*IS = “rise”, RAO*ISZ = “rises”, RAOIZ = “ryes”
  • RO*ES = “rose”, RO*ESZ = “roses”, ROEZ = “rows”
  • SAOIZ = “sighs”, SAO*IS = “size”

*F for the ‘v’ sound

I always use *F for the ‘v’ sound to avoid having to figure out when -F works, and when I need to use *F to disambiguate it.

N* for kn-

Disambiguating “knows” from “nose” from “nos” or “new” versus “knew” is a pain, and I don’t like how the default Plover dictionary uses O for one and OE for other, because I would prefer to use the long vowel sound explicitly, as per the next section. Instead, I use N* to indicate that there’s a silent letter:

  • NOE = “no”, N*OE = “know”
  • NIT = “nit”, N*IT = “knit”
  • NAO*IF = “knife”, NAO*IFS = “knifes”, NAO*IFZ = “knives”

Prefer explicit long vowels: AI over A, AOE over E

The Plover theory sometimes uses lone vowels over long vowels. I usually prefer to use the long vowels, even though they require more keys.

Some examples:

  • HAOE = “he”, SHAOE = “she”, and WAOE = “we”
    • Note that HAOE*L = “he’ll” and HAOEL = “heel”, according to the apostrophe rule below.
    • Note that WAOE*F = “we’ve” according to the apostrophe rule, and consequently WAOEF = “weave”. This isn’t ideal, but I don’t write “weave” very often.
  • SAIF = “safe” and SA*IF = “save” (instead of SAIF = “safe” and SAF = “save”)
  • WA*IF = “wave” (instead of WAF = “wave” or WA*F = “wave”)
    • Since “wave” is used much more frequently than “waive”, I’ve relegated WAIF = “waive”.
    • I’ve removed “waif” from my dictionary since I’ve never used it. Reckless? Maybe. *

One exception is for prefix strokes: I still use RE- = “{re^}” and PRO- = “{pro^}”, for example. This helps to disambiguate between the prefix and the full form, such as PRO- = “{pro^}” versus PROE = “pro”, and I also don’t want to go change all the existing entries in the dictionary.

Prefer -BGS for ‘x’ and *BGS for ‘kshun’ in the event of conflicts

For word pairs like “reflex” and “reflection”or “fax” and “faction”, I disambiguate them using -BGS and *BGS correspondingly; for example, RE/FLEBGS = “reflex” and RE/FL*BGS = “reflection”. When there is no conflict, I write -BGS for “kshun”.

Since I pluralize all my words with -Z, I don’t have conflicts for word pairs like “traction” and “tracks” or “suction” and “sucks”, since I write TRABGS = “traction” and TRABGZ = “tracks”.


I usually tuck letters into my words to add affixes when it’s possible to do so in one stroke. Plover will handle most of these affixes use the orthographic rules, which means that I don’t have to have a special entry for the affixed form. For example, you can add -G to TPAO = “foo” and get “fooing”, even though “fooing” isn’t an explicit word in the dictionary.

I tuck these whenever possible:

  • -G = “{^ing}”.
  • -D = “{^ed}”. This includes in words that end with -T, such as PLANTD = “planted”. It took a while to get used to writing -TD but it’s second nature now. I don’t usually use the so-called “Philly shift”, in which I shift over my right hand, to write out words ending in -SD (such as SPO*ESD = “supposed”) in one stroke.
  • I use -Z to add -s and -es, as discussed in depth previously.
  • -L or L- for -al, -ly or -ally. This is not an orthographic rule in the Plover dictionary, which means that I have to add it for each individual word. It largely depends on which one feels more comfortable to determine which I add to a word. Examples:
    • BAIFK = “basic”, BLAIFK = “basically”
    • FUNGS = “function”, FUNLGS = “functional”, FLUNLGS = “functionally”
    • F*UL = “fundamental” (brief), FL*UL = “fundamentally”
    • SKES = “success”, SKEFL = “successful”, SKLEFL = “successfully”

Additional phonology

SN- for ins-, inst-

There are a few examples in the default Plover dictionary already, but it’s not a consistent theme. Some examples:

  • SNERT = “insert”, SNERGS = “insertion”
  • SNANT = “instant”, SNANS = “instance”, SNANGS = “instantiation” (programming term), SNAINS = “instantaneous”, SNAINLS = “instantaneously”
  • SNRUMT = “instrument”, SNRUL = “instrumental”
  • SNRUKT = “instruct”, SNRUGS = “instruction”

WR- for rev-

WR- isn’t used for many words ordinarily, so it’s a good candidate for use in briefing. Some examples:

  • WRAO*IS = “revise”, WRIGS = “revision”
    • Note that I use *S for the trailing ‘z’ sound.
  • WRERT = “revert”, WRERS = “reverse”, WRERGS = “reversion”
  • WRAOU = “review”

SK* for ex-, exc-

The default dictionary uses KP- for some uses of ex-, but I didn’t like that it conflicted, such as “exact” versus “compact”.

The other commonly-used prefix is SKP- for ex-. I was a bit worried about whether it would conflict with my brief system, since SKP- is the phrase-beginner for “and”. I don’t know if it does conflict, but SK* works for me, so I haven’t tried it the other way.

For ext- endings, I use STK*.

Some examples:

  • SKA*FRPL = “example”
  • SK*AKT = “exact”
    • I actually still use ELG = “exactly”, but SKL*AKT = “exactly” would be reasonable too.
  • SK*ES = “excess”, SK*EF = “excessive”, SK*EFL = “excessively”
  • SK*EPT = “except”, SK*EPGS = “exception”
  • SKP*EKT = “expect”, SKP*EBGS = “expectation”
  • SKLAO*UD = “exclude”, SKLAO*UGS = “exclusion”, SKLAO*UF = “exclusive”
  • SKPR*ES = “express”, SKPR*EGS = “expression”, SKPR*EBL = “expressible”, SKPR*EF = “expressive”, SKPR*EFT = “expressivity”, SKPR*EFNS = “expressiveness”
    • All of these terms come up frequently when discussing programming languages.
  • SKPO*ENT = “exponent”, SKPO*ENLT/SKP*ENL = “exponential”, SKPLO*ENLT/SKPL*ENL = “exponentially”
    • You could say it’s exponentially easier than writing out “exponentially” in five strokes!
  • STK*ENT = “extent”, STK*END = extend, STK*EF = “extensive”, STK*EFL = “extensively”, STK*ENL = “extensible”, STK*ENLT = “extensibility”

KP- for acc-

To distinguish ex- from acc-, I use KP- for the latter instead.

  • KPEPT = “accept”
  • KPENT = “accent”
  • KPEBL = “accessible”, KPEBLT = “accessibility”

SPW- for int-, ent-, inc-, enc-

Magnum uses SPW for int- and ent-. It also uses it for ind- and end-; however, I use it for inc- and enc- instead. I haven’t found any significant conflicts (the worst being “entrust” versus “encrust”). Some examples:

  • SPW- = “int” (programming term: abbreviation of “integer”), SPWERJ = “integer”
  • SPWUPGS = “interruption”
  • SPWRAL = “integral”, SPWRAIT = “integrate”, SPWRAIGS = “integration”
    • This one is a bit of a stretch but I haven’t found any conflicts.
  • SPWERT = “interpret”, SPWRERT = “interpreter”, SPWERPGS = “interpretation”
    • In “interpreter”, I tuck an R- in for the -er ending. This entry could also be SPWRET/SPWRERT/SPWRAIGS without issue, I think.
  • SPWLEKT = “intellect”
  • SPWRAIMT = “entertainment”
    • There is also the word “entrainment”, but I’ve never used it.
  • SPWREMT = “increment”, SPWREL = “incremental”, SPWLEL = “incrementally”
  • SPWLEMT = “inclement”
  • SPWRIPTD = “encrypted”
  • SPWLO*ES = “enclose”, SPWLO*URS = “enclosure”
    • Note that I use *S for the trailing ‘z’ sound.

KPW- for imp-, emp- imb-, emb-

Some examples:

  • KPWLEMT = “implement”, KPWLEMGS = “implementation”
  • KPWAIR = “impair”, KPWAIRMT = “impairment”
  • KPWOI = “employ”, KPWO*I = “employee”, KPWOIMT = “employment”
  • KPWAOU = “imbue”
  • KPWARS = “embarrass”, KPWARMT = “embarrassment”
    • Ordinarily I would use AI for the long ‘a’ sound, but then “embarrassment” would conflict with “impairment”. I had already learned EM/BARS = “embarrass” from the default dictionary, so KPWARS stuck.
  • KPWED = “embed”
  • KPWLEM = “emblem”

STW- for inv-, env-, inf-, enf-

Some examples:

  • STWERT = “invert”, STWERGS = “inversion”
  • STWAOIT = “invite”, STWI/TAIGS = “invitation”
    • Note that “invitation” has to avoid conflicting with STWIGS = “envision” and STWAIGS = “invasion”.
  • STW- = “env” (programming term: abbreviation of “environment”), STWAOIRMT = “environment”, STWAOIRL = “environmental”
  • STWAIRNT = “invariant”, STWAIRNS = “invariance” (programming term)
  • STWORS = “enforce”, STWORMT = “enforcement”, STWO*RMT = “informant”

-FR for the ‘m’ sound

There are a few sounds like -mp (“clamp”, “dump”, etc.) or -mb (“bomb”, “climb”) which don’t have direct equivalents in the Plover theory. Usually *M or -M are written instead. However, this prevents attaching additional letters, specifically -L, to the stroke. In these cases, I use -FR:

  • KLAFRP = “clamp”
  • SIFRPL = “simple”
  • BOFRB = “bomb”
  • RUFRBL = “rumble”

-F for various -ive endings

This convention exists to some degree in the default Plover dictionary, so I’ve extended it.

  • SKES = “success”, SKEF = “successive”
  • SPWRAKT = “interact”, SPWRAF = “interactive”
  • STK*END = “extend”, STK*EF = “extensive”

*IK for -ic

In line with my suffixes-use-asterisks rule below, and to avoid conflict with IK = “I can” in my brief system, I use *IK instead:

  • MAJ/*IK = “magic”
  • LOJ/*IK = “logic”

AUB for ob-

Similar to AUP for up-, I use AUB for words starting with ob-:

  • AUB/STRUKT = “obstruct”, AUB/STRUBGS = “obstruction”
  • AUB/LAOEK = “oblique”
  • AUB/LONG = “oblong”
  • AUB/TRAOUD = “obtrude”, AUB/TRAOUF = “obtrusive”

-EFK for -estic and -IFK for -istic

For words that end in -stic, I usually manage to skip using ST-K = “{^istic}” or *IK = “{^ic}” by adding -EFK or -IFK to the last syllable. For example

  • MA/JEFK = “majestic”
  • OPT/MIFK = “optimistic”, PES/MIFK = “pessimistic”


Use asterisks for apostrophes in contractions

I always add * to strokes for words that have apostrophes. For example:

  • LETS = “lets”, L*ETS = “let’s”
  • DO*ENT = “don’t”
  • D*INT = “didn’t”
  • THA*L = “that’ll”
    • Note that THAL = “that will”.
  • WAO*EF = “we’ve”
  • HAOE*L = “he’ll”
    • Note that HAOEL = “heel”.

This interacts well with my brief system, described later.

Duplicate strokes to expand abbreviations

For abbreviations and acronyms, I write the stroke once to indicate the abbreviated form, and then again to indicate the full form. For example, U*S = “US” and U*S/U*S = “United States” or GATD = “GADT” and GATD/GATD = “generalized algebraic data type”.

Single-stroke proper nouns use asterisks

Usually, proper nouns use asterisks, such as JO*N = “John”. When this can’t be done, I duplicate the stroke, such as MAT/MAT = “Matt” (since MA*T = “math”). Usually neither of these are necessary for proper nouns that are more than one stroke, such as KA*T/RIN = “Catherine”.

Short vowels for foreign names and loan-words

Foreign words don’t usually follow the phonological patterns of English, so it can be hard to remember what rules I apply for briefing them.

In addition to any briefed forms, I introduce a canonical form that follows the orthography of the original word so that I always know one valid way to spell it. Usually each of these syllables is consonant-vowel when possible, or consonant-vowel-consonant otherwise. For example:

  • HI/KA/RU NA/KA/MU/RA = “Hikaru Nakamura”
  • GAR/RI KAS/PA/RO*F = “Garry Kasparov” (rather than KAS/PAR/O*F = “Kasparov”)
  • KI/MO/NO = “kimono”
  • SU/SHI = “sushi”
  • PAT/S*ER = “patzer” (rather than PA*TS/*ER = “patzer”)

Asterisks for suffixes and compound words

I always like to use an asterisk whenever I’m attaching a segment to what is already a valid word, in order to avoid word boundary issues. For example:

  • WA*I = “{^way}”, such as in HAOI/WA*I = “highway”
  • TAO*IM = “{^time}”, such as in RAEL/TAO*IM = “realtime”
  • TRAID/MA*RK = “trademark”

For suffixes, I prefer not to include a hyphen in the definition (that is, prefer “{^time}” over “{^-time}”), and either add a hyphen when I need it, or special-case certain words that expect the hyphen.


In general, I never use a stroke as a brief when that stroke itself represents a word, no matter how uncommon. For example, the Plover default dictionary defines a few briefs:

  • NUM = “number”, NU*M = “numb”
  • FIG = “figure”, F*IG = “fig”
  • MED = “medicine”, M*ED = “med”
  • MIN = “minute”, M*IN = “min”

I don’t like to do this. My philosophy is: if it’s a brief, and has to be memorized anyways, then we might as well pick a non-conflicting stroke for it. This way you don’t have to worry about whether an asterisk has to be added for the word you want to type because it’s a brief for another word.

My strokes for the above are:

  • NURM = “number”, NUM = “num”, N*UM or NUMB = “numb”
  • FIRG = “figure”, FIG = “fig”
  • M*ED, MED/SIN, or MED/S*IN = “medicine”, MED = “med”
  • M*INT = “minute”, MIN = “min”

This is my order of preference for these common briefing patterns, with the first entries being more desirable:

  • Pick a sound and add an asterisk to it, ensuring that it doesn’t conflict with anything.
  • Remove the vowel from the brief.
  • Pick a sound without an asterisk.

If I were to do it over, I would probably add asterisks to the above strokes as well (e.g. N*URM = “number”).

My brief system

I have one large brief system that I use to abbreviate phrases. This system only works for the subjects “I” and “you”, which means that it’s most appropriate for holding conversations with other people, or transcribing conversations between people. Fortunately, in English, “you” can also be a third-person pronoun in the same way as “one”, which makes the brief system more widely applicable.


This brief system is implemented as a “Python dictionary”. This allows the dictionary definition to be implemented as code, which means that it can automatically generate every combination of prefixes and suffixes and so on. You need Plover 4.0 with its plugin manager and the Python dictionary plugin to use it.

To install this system, first install the Python dictionary plugin above, then download the source code here (you can do this by clicking “Download ZIP” and decompressing the ZIP file). Then go into Plover’s main view and click the add-dictionary button and select the file that you downloaded/extracted previously.

The subjects


  • I = “I”
  • U = “you”

You can also omit the subject altogether if you don’t need one, such as for a short phrase like “that haven’t”.

The right-hand phrase enders

These can be combined with a subject to produce a two-word phrase. For example, UF = “you have”, or “IKT” = “I can’t”.

  • *D = “{^’d’}”
  • *L = “{^’ll’}”
  • *M = “{^’m}” (only for “I”)
  • *R = “{^’re}” (only for no subject or “you”)
  • -B = “be”
  • -K = “can”
  • -KD = “could”
  • *KT = “couldn’t”
  • *NT = “didn’t”
  • -NT = “don’t”
  • *FN = “even”
  • *FR = “ever”
  • -RBGT = “get”
  • *RBGT = “got” (“get” and “got” are a bit arbitrary. I originally used just -GT and *G, but this conflicted with words where you tucked -G, such as SHOUGT = “should you get”/”shouting”. So I added some other letters to make it not conflict.)
  • -D = “had”
  • -F = “have”
  • -FT = “have the”
  • -FNT = “haven’t”
  • -J = “know” (mostly arbitrary, there was some brief in the Plover dictionary that use it, so I kept it)
  • *J = “knew”
  • *PBL = “mean”
  • -PLT = “might”
  • *PBD = “need”
  • -PBL = “only”
  • *RL = “really”
  • -RBD = “should”
  • *RBT = “shouldn’t”
  • -PBG = “think”
  • -RPBD = “understand”
  • *RPBD = “understood”
  • -PT = “want”
  • -FS = “was” (only for no subject or “I”)
  • *FBT = “wasn’t” (only for no subject or “I”)
  • -RP = “were”
  • *RPT = “weren’t”
  • -L = “will”
  • -FBT = “won’t”
  • -LD = “would”
  • *LT = “wouldn’t”

The left-hand phrase beginners

These start phrases, and can be combined with a subject or right-hand phrase ender. There’s a lot of overlap in these entries, such as STWHAO = “so that you don’t” being a combination of SW- = “so”, TH- = “that”, and AO = “you don’t”, but it’s regular and predictable.

  • SKP- = “and” (standard Plover theory)
  • SKPO- = “and I don’t”
  • SKPAO- = “and you don’t”
  • STKP- = “and if”
  • STKPO- = “and if I don’t”
  • STKPAO- = “and if you don’t”
  • K- = “can”
  • KO- = “could”
  • TK- = “did”
  • TKO- = “do”
  • SR- = “have”
  • KWRO = “I don’t”
  • KWRAO = “you don’t”
  • STP = “if” (just TP- conflicts with things, such as FUR = “fur” versus “if you are”)
  • STPO = “if I don’t”
  • STPAO = “if you don’t”
  • STHA = “is that”
  • SWHA = “is what”
  • STHO = “is that I don’t”
  • STHAO = “is that you don’t”
  • SHO = “should”
  • SW = “so”
  • SWO = “so I don’t”
  • SWAO = “so you don’t”
  • STPW = “so if”
  • STPWO = “so if I don’t”
  • STPWAO = “so if you don’t”
  • STWHA = “so that”
  • STWHO = “so that I don’t”
  • STWHAO = “so that you don’t”
  • SWHA = “so what”
  • THA = “that”
  • THAO = “that you don’t”
  • THO = “that I don’t”
  • WHA = “what”
  • WHO = “what I don’t”
  • WHAO = “what you don’t”
  • WO = “would”

Putting it together

Combining these phrase-beginners and phrase-enders allows me to write common but reasonably-long phrases in one stroke:

  • STHOPT = “is that I don’t want” (such as in “the reason I didn’t do that is that I don’t want X to happen…”)
  • STWHAOF = “so that you don’t have” (such as in “the reason I did that is so that you don’t have to do X…”).

At the same time, it can be used for much smaller phrases:

  • THALD = “that would”
  • THAIRBD = “that I should”
  • UKD = “you could”

My brief system was accumulated over time, so if you decide to use a similar system, it might be best to build up the phrase beginners and phrase enders as you find you need them, rather than try to learn them all at once.

The following are hand-curated posts which you might find interesting.

Want to see more of my posts? Follow me on Twitter or subscribe via RSS.