How to Solve an English Cryptogram (with Pictures)

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How to Solve an English Cryptogram (with Pictures)
How to Solve an English Cryptogram (with Pictures)

Cryptograms can be a fun brain and mind exercise, or they can make you frustrated and want to throw your pencil at the wall. However, learning some easy patterns and tricks can help you crack the code and make cryptograms more enjoyable. Do you want to crack a cryptogram to completion? Start by learning the basics, then the patterns and think creatively to fill in the blanks in cryptograms. See Step 1 for more information.


Part 1 of 4: Learning the Basics

Solve a Cryptogram Step 1
Solve a Cryptogram Step 1

Step 1. Understand how cryptograms work

Most cryptograms or cryptoquotes are fundamental substitution processes, meaning that the letters of the alphabet will be represented by other letters. In some of these codes, the use of different symbols is also common. The detailed rules regarding the cryptogram will be written on the code you want to crack. A cryptogram in Klingon will be no more difficult than a cryptogram in Cyrillic, because the two - even though they use different symbols - will form a pattern. Find these patterns and you will soon be cracking the code.

  • In general, the better you can distance yourself from the letters and analyze the patterns behind them, the closer you will be to cracking the code. Keep as far away as possible from the letters you see.
  • Cryptograms won't be too complicated for you, even if they seem very difficult. In almost all cryptograms, the existing letters will not represent themselves. In other words, an "X" in the code you're trying to crack doesn't represent an "X" in the alphabet.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 2
Solve a Cryptogram Step 2

Step 2. Solve the letters one by one

You won't be able to immediately recognize a jumbled, nonsensical collection of letters as a word, no matter how much time you spend trying to do it. Try and solve first the single-letter words, then continue this substitution for the rest of the puzzle, filling in as many blanks as you can with your logical guess. After that, fill in the remaining blanks.

Completing a cryptogram is time consuming and requires a lot of guesswork. You will consider many possibilities and give the best guess you can. If later your guess turns out to be wrong, change it

Solve a Cryptogram Step 3
Solve a Cryptogram Step 3

Step 3. Give your best guess, then guess again

When you still have a lot of blanks, you should start trying to guess at random. You may soon be filling in short words and single-letter words, which means you'll have a hard time deciphering the next word. Learn common patterns that are there to help you make a high probability of correct guess, so your chances of getting it right will increase.

Solve a Cryptogram Step 4
Solve a Cryptogram Step 4

Step 4. Use a pencil

Even if you're a code-breaking professional, the game is guess-and-check, meaning you'll have to be ready to change your guess at any given moment. The best way to solve a cryptogram is to have paper in front of you, and a pencil.

  • Use a handy dictionary to look up the spelling of words, and blank paper to select the possibilities. Write all the letters according to their most frequent use in a language on your paper, so when you have to guess at random, you can use the most common guess first.
  • The English alphabet based on the frequency of use is like this: E, T, A, O, I, N, S, H, R, D, L, U, C, W, M, F, Y, G, P, B, V, K, J, X, Q, Z. Once you have determined the pattern for each letter, write it over the corresponding letter on your blank paper.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 5
Solve a Cryptogram Step 5

Step 5. Stay motivated

Mistakes and assumptions can help you. If you've been trying to crack a cryptogram and just discovered that you've misplaced the substitution for the letter "G" for the past hour or so, celebrate! This way you know one more letter that you can rule out the possibilities, which means you're one letter closer to solving the cryptogram. Whenever you're in a position where you believe in something, that's a good time to crack the code.

Part 2 of 4: Solving the First Letters

Solve a Cryptogram Step 6
Solve a Cryptogram Step 6

Step 1. Join the E. T. A. O. I. N. tribe

No, this is not a mysterious organization involving a code-breaking ring and a secret handshake. The letters e, t, a, o, i and n appear more often than any other letter in English, so it will be very useful for you to remember them. If you can learn how to recognize patterns quickly and efficiently, you'll soon be a professional code breaker.

Do a quick count of the letters that appear most frequently in your cryptogram and circle them. There is a greater chance that the above letters will appear. Learn how to combine display frequency with pattern recognition to help you complete the substitution

Solve a Cryptogram Step 7
Solve a Cryptogram Step 7

Step 2. Try to find words that consist of one letter

Because cryptograms often use quotes from people, the word "I" appears almost as often as the word "a," so be careful making assumptions about words that stand alone. The trick to determining whether this word will be an "I" or an "a" is to experiment with the letters in other words and look for common patterns.

  • If there is a three-letter word that starts with the same letter, then that letter is most likely the word "a." There are a few common three-letter words that start with an "a," while very few begin with an "i."
  • If a three-letter word doesn't give you a good indication, try starting with the letter "A" first, as it is the third most used letter in English. Substitute these letters into your puzzle and start analyzing them. If you're wrong, at least you know that this letter should be an "I".
Solve a Cryptogram Step 8
Solve a Cryptogram Step 8

Step 3. Look for short forms and possessive words

Another secret weapon to help you complete some letters is the use of apostrophes. Determining whether an apostrophe is used for the short form (can't) or as a possessive word (her's) will give you an indication of its meaning, or at least help you narrow down the possibilities.

  • An apostrophe with one letter behind it is usually a t, s, d, or m.
  • Apostrophes with two letters behind them are the letters "re," "ve," or "ll."
  • To distinguish possession and short form, look at the letter written before the apostrophe. If these letters are always the same, then you will most likely have the combination "n't" (short form). If not, then you are dealing with the word possession.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 9
Solve a Cryptogram Step 9

Step 4. Start working on a two-letter word

Using your knowledge of the frequency with which letters appear and contextual clues to the letters and apostrophes in each word, you can take it further by starting to analyze two-letter words.

  • The two-letter words that occur most often are: of, to, in, it, is, be, as, at, so, we, he, by.
  • If you find two words with two letters reversed, the choices are "no" and "on." You just have to decide which letter is the right one for each position!
Solve a Cryptogram Step 10
Solve a Cryptogram Step 10

Step 5. Start working on a three-letter word

The word "the" is very common and can be compared with the word "that" as a good indication of the lettering. For example, if a sentence contains both "BGJB" and "BGD," you can be sure that you are on the right track, with B = T. In the same cryptogram, "BGDL" most likely means "then" and "BGDZD" is "there."

The most common three-letter English words are: the, and, for, are, but, not, you, all, any, can, her, was, one, our, out, day, get, has, him, his, how, man

Part 3 of 4: Recognizing Common Patterns

Solve a Cryptogram Step 11
Solve a Cryptogram Step 11

Step 1. Find common prefixes and suffixes

Words longer than 5 or 6 letters will generally contain a prefix or suffix that you can search for, making it easier to determine the substitution system.

  • Common prefixes include: anti-, de-, dis-, en-, em-, in-, im-, pre-, il-, ir-, mid-, mis-, non-.
  • Common suffixes include: -able, -ible, -al, -ment, -ness, -ous, -ious, -ly.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 12
Solve a Cryptogram Step 12

Step 2. Identify the graph pattern

A digraph is a combination of two letters in English that make one sound, and usually one of these letters is an "h". This method is especially useful if you find the letter "h" at the end of a word, because it will let you know that there are only a few letters that can be combined with the letter H in the right way. The possible letters are c, p, s, or t.

  • Other common digraphs include: ck, sk, lk, ke, qu, ex.
  • Sometimes the combination of these two letters is a double letter. While this won't appear very often in cryptograms, it can be very useful if you find one. "LL" is the combination of the same double letters that occurs most often, then "ee".
Solve a Cryptogram Step 13
Solve a Cryptogram Step 13

Step 3. Look for the vowel pattern

This letter is present in every word in English and represents almost 40% of the words in a text. These letters will not come in succession three or four times. You can learn the tips on vowels below to narrow down your choices and start filling in the blanks.

  • The most common vowel found is "e"; while the least common is "u".
  • The vowels that appear frequently in sequence are usually "e" or "o", unless the text is about skiing or using an electronic vacuum cleaner.
  • The pattern of repeating letters in a long word usually indicates a vowel, like the "i" in the word "civilization." However, if there are letters that are next to each other and repeat each other, it is likely that these letters are consonants.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 14
Solve a Cryptogram Step 14

Step 4. Find instructions for using punctuation

If your cryptogram contains punctuation, pay close attention to the words before and after the punctuation. Commas, periods, and more can give you clues to narrow down the possibilities for a more accurate guess.

  • Conjunctions such as "but" or "and" usually follow a comma.
  • A question mark usually follows a question with a "wh" prefix. Start looking for possibilities, if you have a punctuation mark at the end of a cryptogram sentence.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 15
Solve a Cryptogram Step 15

Step 5. Learn to identify common cryptogram words with familiar patterns

As with makers of crossword puzzles, word search games, and other puzzles, cryptogram writers have a sense of humor, and know the rules and difficulty level of completing their own products. Look for common words that appear frequently in cryptograms with the patterns identified below.

  • That (or high, says, else, dead, died)
  • There/Where/These (if you identify any "h" and "e")
  • People
  • Always
  • Everywhere
  • Somewhere
  • William or Kennedy (if it's a name, if not, look for the words "million" or "letters")
  • Never (or state, fewer, color, level)

Part 4 of 4: Think Creatively

Solve a Cryptogram Step 16
Solve a Cryptogram Step 16

Step 1. Let the cryptographic context influence your guess

Cryptograms generally will include vague quotes, usually statements such as proverbs about "people" or "society," meaning that the cryptogram is a small set of philosophies. Because you know this, sometimes you can narrow your focus to just the content term in question to guess more accurately about the words. Big, abstract concepts are central to most cryptogram puzzles.

Comparative and superlative words such as "always" and "everywhere" will appear frequently in cryptograms related to their content. Other common words in this category include more, less, nobody, usually, better, worse, everything, often, and rarely

Solve a Cryptogram Step 17
Solve a Cryptogram Step 17

Step 2. Try to find the author's name in the cryptoquote section

Cryptoquotes usually end with the name of the author of the quote. This author name identification system is usually "first name last name", but there are some exceptions. For example, "Anonymous," which wrote so many great quotes.

  • A word consisting of two letters at the beginning of the author's name is usually the word Dr.
  • A word consisting of two letters at the end of the author's name is usually a suffix such as "Jr" or "Sr" or a Roman numbering as in the name "Pope Paul VI".
  • A short word in the middle of a name can be a nobility particle such as "de" or "von."
Solve a Cryptogram Step 18
Solve a Cryptogram Step 18

Step 3. Use sentence structure in English to fill in the blanks

You may not need to draw sentence diagrams on your cryptogram, but you can anticipate the placement of definite and indeterminate articles, related verbs, and other common constructs to make finding cryptogram answers easier.

  • Look for nouns after pronouns like "his" or "hers."
  • Identify auxiliary verbs, such as like am, be, been, or have, that precede another verb, in a sentence like "I am helping you learn to solve cryptograms." These auxiliary verbs are usually no longer than 5 letters.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 19
Solve a Cryptogram Step 19

Step 4. Understand loops and accompaniments and then use these two elements to find your cryptogram solution

Many sentences can have parallel forms, by repeating the same word in different forms elsewhere. Since cryptograms are often taken from quotes and speeches, this element is often found in rhetorical sentences.

  • Many proverbs include binaries to compare and make rhetorical points. If the word "truth" appears, you can also look for the word "lie" in the sentence.
  • Look for alternative forms of the same word. "Pleasure" and "pleasurable" can appear together in a cryptogram. Don't bang your head against the wall because you're frustrated with deciding what other words have nearly the same form.


  • When you think you've cracked a word, start testing the code you've cracked on other words in the text.
  • If you can find the letters "t," "h," "n," "e," and "a", you are well on your way to completing your cryptogram.
  • In the substitution method, word determination can be made based on numbers, frequencies, and letter order. For example the text ABCCD represents a letter with 5 characters, where the 3rd and 4th characters are the same, while the rest are unique characters. This encrypted word can mean the word "Hello".
  • An uncommon but fairly common phrase found in cryptogram formulas is "The magic words are squeamish ossifrage," which is a tribute to the famous solution at the encryption challenge event in 1977.
  • Most puzzlers make sure that their cryptogram replaces each letter with a different one. So if the So if the ciphertext has the letter "A" and you think this letter could represent the character "A" or "I", then most likely the letter "I" is represented.
  • Whenever you see an I, N, or G in the last three positions of a word, there's a high chance that the word ends with an ING particle. When you see the same three letters at the end of certain words, then this may also be an indication that the words end with the particle ING.


  • This instruction applies only to cryptograms that use a simple substitution system, where five-letter groupings are not used.
  • Paying attention to letter frequency can be very useful, but don't rely solely on this method. A text that talks about riddles and quotes can have more "z" and "q" than you might expect.

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