In this post I’ll provide some tips for typing faster in T9Word. If you already know what T9Word is, you should skip the first section.


T9Word is a system for sending text messages on cellphones. Since there are fewer keys than there are English letters, there are two ways to send text messages. The default is called ABC. In the ABC method, you press a key and a letter appears; for instance, press 2 and “A” appears. Then you can press the key again to cycle through the letters on that key. So to get “B”, you press 2 twice.

In T9Word, you press the buttons as if each one magically knew which letter you meant (of the letters on that button), and the phone tries to guess which word you mean. For instance, suppose you press 6 and then 3. The 6 button has the letters “mno” on it and the 3 button has “def”. There are nine possible words that could be built out of “mno” + “def”:

md me mf
nd ne nf
od oe of

When you press 63, the phone picks the most likely word from the ones above. On my phone, “of” is picked. If you press “next”, it’ll cycle to the next most common word, “me”. Press next again and it’ll go into less common words. My phone cycles like this: of, me, nd, ne, od, then back to of.

As an example, suppose you wanted to write “love”. Find the button with “L”, then the button with “O”, then “V”, then “E”. Press 5, 6, 8, 3 and the word “love” will appear. Press next a few times and it’ll cycle through other 5683-words, on my phone there are just 3, “love”, “loud” and “jove”.


The main trouble with T9Word is it doesn’t know some words. It probably varies from phone to phone, but here are some words my phone doesn’t have: “eachother”, “casserole”, “lasagna”, “anime”, “hola”… as well as most profanity.

When you need a word and T9Word doesn’t have it, you can switch to ABC mode and hammer it out manually…… or, you can try some of these cheats.

1. Combining words

Let’s say you want to type “megamix”, and your T9Word dictionary doesn’t have it. First enter “mega”. Now you can’t just go right on to enter “mix”, because it doesn’t recognize the word “megamix”. The trick is to press space first, then backspace to erase the space, THEN type “mix”. When you press space, it *solidifies* everything you’ve typed so far, so those keys are finalized and no longer get searched. So the keys you push to get “megamix” are: 6342 SPACE BACK 649. Pretty clever, huh?

2. Adding a single letter

Sometimes, T9Word *almost* has the word you want, and it only fails on the very last letter or two. Depending on the word, it might be easier to manually put that last letter in with T9Word, than to switch to ABC mode. The method is similar to “combining words”, except now the 2nd “word” is just a single character.

For example, suppose you want to type “anime” with T9Word. And your phone has “anim” but not “anime” (like mine). First, type “anim”. Then, to *solidify* that, press SPACE. Then cancel the space with BACK, and press “e”. To type anime, the key sequence is 2646 SPACE BACK 3.

3. Adding a letter to the beginning

Suppose you want to cleverly create a new word by adding a letter at the beginning. For example, “sexpert” or “sexcellent”. Problem is, the clever new word isn’t in the phone’s dictionary. The solution is to write the word first without the added letter. Then LEFT to the beginning (in T9Word backspace usually goes back a whole word so this is easy). Then just add the new letter. For example, on my phone, to type “sexpert”, I just do: 397378 LEFT 7.

4. An advanced example

Suppose I want to type “casserole”, which my phone doesn’t have. My phone does have “cash”, “se”, and “role”. To get “se”, I have to do 73 and then “next” twice to get past “re” and “rd”. To get “role”, I have to do 7653 and then “next” once to get past “sold”. What I’m gonna do is… type cash; SPACE to solidify that; BACK to cancel the space; BACK to delete the “h” in “cash”; then type “se”; SPACE to solidify that; BACK to cancel the space; then finally, type “role”.

My key sequence for “casserole” is:

To compare, if you want to type “casserole” in ABC mode, the key sequence is
222 WAIT 27777 WAIT 77773377766655533

Using my T9Word trick, takes only 18 keystrokes. The ABC method takes 25 keystrokes, plus two long pauses, plus the hassle of switching modes.


A common mistake in T9Word is to accidentally press NEXT too many times, skip the word you want, and then there are a million words to cycle through to get back to the word you want. When this happens, you don’t have to backspace out the whole word and start over. Just backspace a single letter and re-add it, and the cycle starts again.

EXAMPLE: You want to type “home”. You press 4663 and it puts “good”. Press NEXT and it changes to “home”. But say you press NEXT again accidentally, and it goes to “gone”. The cycle then goes “hood”, “hoof”, “hone”, “goof”, “imme”, “inne”, “hond”, “inof”, “gooe”, then finally “good” again before coming back around to “home”. Rather than cycle through all that, just delete the last letter, then re-enter it, and the cycle goes back to the beginning.

But the most annoying mistake in T9Word is when you accidentally *solidify* a word by pressing SPACE, when it wasn’t the right word. This usually happens when it’s a common word, so you just assume it’ll guess it correctly, but it ends up guessing another, even more common word. When this happens, you’ve got to backspace the whole thing out and start over. So you want to avoid this whenever possible. Of course, the worst case is, you don’t even realize it happens, and you send a message like “make of some dinner” instead of “make me some dinner”.

The only way to avoid this accident is to just be aware of which words it happens with. Here are some words to be careful of so you press NEXT the right number of times… they’re paired up so they fall in the same “next” group with eachother.

me – of
he – if
in – go
on – no
an – am
or – mr
got – hot
good – home – gone

Notice the pattern? There’s more ambiguity in shorter words. So any time you’re typing a 2- or 3-letter word, be careful you get the right one. With practice, you just naturally learn the right combinations for all the common words.


In some situations, T9Word is just useless. For those situations, it’s best to just immediately switch to ABC and avoid even trying to hash anything out with T9Word. Here are some examples…

* Typing a text message in a foreign language
* Texting something with lots of numbers, eg street directions (at least on my phone, T9word doesn’t do numbers)
* Texting somthing with lots of obscure words, like technical jargon or math homework

These don’t come up often though… in most everyday text messages, T9Word is faster than ABC hands down.

Just use T9Word, and you’ll eventually get good at it, like learning a foreign language. Before you know it you’ll be finding little shortcuts of your own that you could teach me.