How to Solve an Anagram

Anagrams have been entertaining and tormenting us for thousands of years. Did you know that they are believed to have first been used in the 4th century BC by the Greek poet Lycophron in his poem about Troy? Following in his footsteps, Pythagoras and Plato employed anagrams to reveal mystical messages, and they were believed to have spiritual significance to the Romans, early Christians and Kabbalists.

Louis XIII who reigned in France in the 17th century is said to have popularised them by appointing an anagram maker to devise entertaining combinations of courtiers’ names. Their appeal continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries up until their still-popular use today, and have provided the inspiration for many well-loved activities including cryptic crosswords, the TV show ‘Countdown’ and a plethora of board games.

Their enduring appeal can be attributed to the challenge of solving them. While it helps to have a natural flair for unravelling word puzzles, there are techniques that you can practise to help you crack those anagrams. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular that anyone can try.

Square the circle

It’s easy to get stuck by looking up and down a jumbled string of letters. But by writing them in a circular shape, you will get a new perspective on the possible word combinations and find it easier to cast your eye over the different ways to group them together. As a variation of this, you can place the consonants in an outer circle and the vowels in their own circle inside to help your brain put them together and unscramble the puzzle.

Separate the consonants

You are more likely to recognise a word from its consonants, as these are the letters that make up its structure. In fact, it’s quite easy to read a word with its vowels left out, and this is the basis for various types of shorthand and also SMS messaging. So, try separating consonants from vowels to give you some inspiration – you can insert the vowels later and see which work best with your chosen word.

First letter, last letter

Here’s another easy ‘trial and error’ technique. Take each letter in turn and experiment with it being the first letter of the solution. The human brain is pre-set to recognise patterns, so this could take less effort than you think. As you go through the letters have a look to see which of the remaining ones could possibly be the last letter in the solution. By process of elimination, you will eventually arrive at the solution.

Tricks with prefix and suffix

Pick out any prefixes or suffixes contained in the anagram. For prefixes, look for UN-, RE-, EX- and for suffixes, keep your eyes peeled for –ING, -ED and –OUS, for example. Separate out your prefix or suffix letters and scan the ones you are left with. This will make it much easier to solve your anagram.

In pairs and polar opposites

Look for letters that sit naturally together, for example Q followed by U or CH, PH or WH, to make unjumbling your anagram easier. You can also follow the opposite of this principle by rejecting pairs of letters that don’t go together such as KX, UW or VV, leaving you with fewer combinations and narrowing down the solution.

Cryptic clues

If you’re working on an anagram as part of a cryptic crossword, look out for the anagram indicator. This is a word preceding or following the anagram that is often connected to its meaning or indicates that something is awry. If you try thinking of alternatives for the indicator you may instantly hit on your answer. So, if you come across a cryptic clue like this, ‘Dirty unlit loop needs a wash’ think about synonyms for ‘dirty’ that might be disguised as your anagram. Before too long you will decode ‘unlit loop’ to reveal ‘pollution’.

The alphagram method

This technique relies less on creative problem-solving and more on memory and is something of a long-term rather than instant solution. Write out the letters of your anagram in alphabetical order and use any of the above methods to solve it. Once it’s solved, memorise the combination of the letters in alphabetical order and the solution. If you come across an anagram based on the solution again, you will have a tried and tested technique for unravelling it.

Words and pictures method

Leading on from the alphagram method, the words and pictures technique helps you when an anagram has more than one solution. If you memorise one answer, the second can also be easily recalled. For example, the anagram AEILNTO can be rearranged to the words ELATION or TOENAIL. So, if you picture yourself experiencing ELATION while trimming your TOENAIL (the more surreal the image, the more memorable it will be), and associate it with the scrambled letters you will have two ready-made solutions when you next come across this anagram.

Old-fashioned swotting

The more you read and expand your vocabulary, the easier you will find it to solve anagrams. Do a little exercise every day by reading an article from a publication or website you wouldn’t normally browse, look up those tricky words instead of skimming them, and over time you will find that your language proficiency and ability to solve anagrams improves.

Of course, if you still can’t solve that tricky anagram, enter your letters into our anagram solver and let us find the answer for you from our impressive database. Not only will the anagram solver give you the answer you are looking for, but also provide its definition. And we would love to know if it doesn’t appear in the database, so please get in touch.