Syracuse University linguistics professors give their best Wordle strategies

SU linguistics professors offer Wordle strategies

Use these tips to get your lowest score yet.
Published: February 9, 2022
A photograph of the game Wordle is taken from an above angle.
Over 2 million people are playing Wordle every day.

If you’ve spent the last month of your life as one of Wordle‘s millions of daily players, you’ve probably figured out some sort of strategy to bring frequent success. Whether you bid adieu to four vowels to start the game or keep Wheel of Fortune’s RSTLNE at the front of your mind, the first guess helps set the stage for the five guesses that follow.

What happens after the first guess is a combination of luck and knowledge of the English language. From the best starting words to how to understand phonotactics, three Syracuse University linguistics professors discuss the best strategies you need to know to never get unlucky again.

Your first word shouldn’t be adieu.

Kenji Oda, who teaches the linguistics course English Words, has been experimenting, starting his game untraditionally with the three-vowel “quote” or “azure,” as well as other similar vowel-heavy words. Every word has a vowel, oftentimes multiple, and he recommended finding out what you have to work with early on.

Another professor, Corrine Occhino, focuses more on letter placement than trying to narrow down the right vowels. She said that knowing letter frequency β€” and where those letters show up in words β€” is the best way to have an efficient first guess. If you’re trying to solve the word in as few guesses as possible, she advised against using a word like “adieu” because it’s very unlikely that an English word will end in U.

“At the beginning of words in English, T shows up a lot, A shows up a lot,” Occhino said. “T also shows up a lot at the end, so if you can have words that have T in it, you’re going to be doing great.”

Jason Lozada uses the
Jason Lozada uses the "crane" strategy.

Think in sounds and syllables.

After setting a strong base from the first guess, knowing where to place letters next is key. Oda said thinking about syllables will help with vowel placement. Because there are only five letters to work with, it’s unlikely that a word that short would have three or four syllables.

“If it’s a monosyllabic word β€” has one syllable β€” then you’re likely to put your vowels somewhere near the center,” Oda said. “And if you have a two syllable situation, you probably have two vowels.”

Occhino also noted to pay attention to dipthongs β€” a sound made by two consecutive vowels. Some examples in English are the “io” in “radio” or “au” in “cause.” Knowing common English diphthongs can help when trying different letter combinations. For example, A does not start very many diphthongs, so Occhino said it’s better to guess a consonant after an A than another vowel.

Trust your gut.

In addition to diphthongs, linguistics professor Christopher Green, who doesn’t play Wordle himself but understands the rules, said to pay attention to what sounds right. People who speak English intuitively know what sounds go together, even if they aren’t actively thinking about it.

“If I have a word like ‘splork,’ we can look at that and say, ‘OK, ‘splork’ isn’t a word, but it could be in English,'” Green said. “‘Spl-‘ we have in ‘split,’ and ‘-ork’ we have in ‘fork.’ So, we know the combination of those things is possible. But if we have a word like ‘lturb,’ it’s clearly not even a possible word because we know that ‘lt-‘ sequence on its own at the beginning of the word is just not something we have in English.”

Know where the vowels go.

Letters like T and S have low sonorities, meaning they are not very audible when pronounced, Oda said. On the contrary, letters like N and R are louder and more prominent in a word. They have a higher sonority. Letters in a syllable are organized from lower sonority to higher before hitting a vowel and closing, he added.

Sonorant letters like N, L and R, therefore, are almost always followed by a vowel at the beginning of a word, Green said. So if you know the word starts with one of these letters, it’s a guarantee that the next letter will be a vowel. Green recommended trying these letters in the second position to start because it limits the letters that can come both before or after it.

“When it comes to five-letter words in English, we don’t have much wiggle room,” Green said.