Hints in the Clue

The compiler's constant companions

There are some conventions used by all compilers that you will find useful. I’ll give you a good selection here, and the page will be updated and expanded occasionally.

Remember the principle of dissecting a clue. Many of these conventions are aimed at solving single-letter or two-letter elements of a clue. If you’re not sure about this, read through the tutorial on these pages.

Single letters:

These are the most commonly-used single-letter conventions in cryptic clues.

Left, Right 

L, R

Hot, Cold

H, C


A, B, C, D, E, F, G(music)

Loud, very loud

F, FF  (music)

Quiet, soft; very quiet, soft

P, PP  (music)


E, A, D, G(violin)

Point, Bearing or Direction

N, S, E, W(the compass)


N, S


A  one, single, etc.; first; article; not the only (or it would be the, not a)
E  east, bearing, etc.; the end (it’s the last letter of “the”)
I  One, single etc.; myself, me
O  Round; ring; nothing, nil, zero; love (as in tennis); duck (as in cricket)
U  Turn, bend; very correct (from a slightly outdated English expression, U and non-U, meaning socially right and wrong)

Of course there are lots more ways to clue a vowel!

Other single letters:

Other common ways to clue a single letter are: chemical elements, Roman numerals, standard abbreviations, homophones (“Tea, I hear” might be T) and a varied assortment of commonly-used single-letter usages. You’ll find Useful Lists for many of these applications on these pages. Even if you’re an experienced crossword solver, you may find it helpful to glance through these lists to jog your memory.

Letter position:

A single letter can be indicated by its position in another word. What’s the capital of France? Well, yes, Paris – or it could be F. The first of June is J, while Beethoven’s Fifth, as everyone knows, is H. The West End is T, the Liberal leader is L, the centre of gravity is V.


A two-letter group, or doublet, is most likely to be clued by a standard abbreviation or chemical element. But there are other possibilities. A deletion from a three-letter word, for example – a “heartless man” gives you MN, and a “Manx cat” could be CA (Manx cats have no tail!)

All at sea:

Remember that the abbreviation AB stands for Able Seaman, so look out for ‘AB’ wherever you come across sailor, seaman, Jack (from Jack Tar), matelot or anything like that. Ship, boat, vessel, and so on often translate as SS, while in a ship or on board usually hints at a word that begins and ends with ‘S’. Oh, and remember that ‘starboard’ is right (R) and ‘port’ is left (L).

What a way to go!:

Highway, way, road, street often stand for ST (street) or RD (road); in the way, for example, might mean S - - - T or R - - - - D. Motorway is usually M1 (read as MI) but it could be just M.

-ER words:

Don’t be fooled by flower (it could be a river – something that flows) or butter (a goat, perhaps?). Compilers are devious – you have to be pretty wily yourself! Watch out for –er endings.

Les Foreign Lingos:

Compilers do stray into that well-known language, “foreign”, but they don’t expect you to be fluent in Swahili. You’re not likely to get more than the basics in a few European languages and sometimes, if we really want to challenge you, American or Australian! Here are a few examples (not a complete list):

French the = LE, LA or LES; in = EN; of = DE, DE LA or DES;
and = ET; is = EST; here = ICI
Spanish the = EL, LA or LOS; goodbye = ADIOS
German one = EIN; no = NEIN; and = UND
Italian the = IL

The old stand-bys:

Here are some “translations” eternally popular with that strange breed of persons known as crossword compilers:

Worker  ant (or sometimes bee)
Crowd, multitude etc.  one of the larger Roman numerals
Few, very few etc.  one of the smaller Roman numerals
Can  interchangeable with either “tin” or “able”
In the US  usually indicates an American spelling
Good man, holy man  saint (often as “ST”)
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