I was reading some literature from an English language school when I came across the phrase "children learning to write and read..."

As a native speaker, "read and write" sounded better. I even thought it may be a form of reduplication so took it up with one of the teachers. I was told that as it wasn't a compound form it could be written in any order as it was just a sequence of words separated by a conjunction.

Yet I remember being taught that "eee" sounds in these combinations always come first and before "eye" sounds and that there was a relationship with adjective word order. I looked at some websites and noted that "read and write" is definitely in the majority but have been unable to find a ruling as such on this word order.

2 Answers 2


From a strictly grammatical viewpoint, both read and write and write and read are grammatical, and essentially equivalent in meaning. There is nothing inherently incorrect in referring to children learning to write and read.

Grammar is far from the only consideration in communication, however. In binomial pairs (i.e. groups of words of the same part of speech used in conjunction together), it is quite often the case that one word order is more common than the other, sometimes to the point that one is unconventional, and the same words in reverse order may not have the same meaning (hence the term irreversible binomial). There are a variety of reasons why this order can be explained, though, and pronunciation is only one.

You are correct that read and write (and reading and writing) are far more common than the reverse, but that does not necessarily mean that the use here is incorrect. Indeed, it is possible the author deliberately chose the less common order to distinguish that the children were in fact learning the specific skills of writing and reading, considered separately. Reading and writing can refer to all language skills including everything from spelling to penmanship, or by extension to all elementary school education (especially as in "the three Rs": readin', 'ritin', 'n' 'rithmetic).

Similarly, I might write that soldiers were tired and sick to specify those conditions, because sick and tired has acquired its own meaning of being exasperated or impatient. Or I might compare a duo to Garfunkel & Simon to say the "wrong" member has top billing. For a real-life example, Kraft liked to advertise its cheese and macaroni dinner, tongue-in-cheek, to emphasize how much "cheese" they packaged compared to competitors.


Both are fine. 'Read and write' is the common useage. So if you use 'write and read' perhaps it implies special emphasis on the writing.

"eee" sounds in these combinations always come first and before "eye" sounds

First time I've come across that rule in nearly 70 years as a native English speaker!

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