How to solve a cryptogram

Table of contents:

How to solve a cryptogram
How to solve a cryptogram

Cryptograms can be a fun hobby, but they can quickly turn into a nerve-racking puzzle, which makes you want to throw your pencil angrily at the wall. However, by learning a few little tricks and common combinations, you will have the satisfaction of breaking the code of a riddle quickly. Do you feel ready to decipher a cryptogram entirely? Learn the basic rules, then familiarize yourself with the different combinations and don't forget to use your imagination to complete your puzzle solving.


Part 1 of 4: learn the basics

Solve a Cryptogram Step 1
Solve a Cryptogram Step 1

Step 1. Understand how a cryptogram works

The majority of cryptograms or coded texts are made using a digit by substitution, which means that the letters of the alphabet are represented by other letters. Some numbers may include symbols of different kinds. Usually the rules are described somewhere in the puzzle you are trying to solve. A cryptogram in Klingon will not be more difficult to solve than one in the Cyrillic alphabet, because ultimately the symbols combine according to predefined rules. To be able to break a code, you will have to find the rules that it obeys.

  • In general, your chances of solving the puzzle will be better if you distance yourself from the letters themselves and focus on finding the combinations they form. Try to break away from the letters you are examining.
  • A cipher clerk, no matter how smart, will not try to play tricks on you. In almost all cryptograms, the letters never correspond to themselves. In other words, the X sign in the puzzle you are trying to solve is definitely not the letter X in the alphabet.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 2
Solve a Cryptogram Step 2

Step 2. Solve one letter at a time

It is unlikely that you will be able to immediately order a messy mix of letters into a particular word, regardless of how much time you spend exercising. To start, try to solve words that contain only one sign, then substitute in the rest of the text. Make well-founded assumptions to replace the remaining signs.

Solving a cryptogram is a slow exercise that requires a lot of insight. You will have to weigh many assumptions and make the best choice possible. If later on your estimates turn out to be incorrect, change them

Solve a Cryptogram Step 3
Solve a Cryptogram Step 3

Step 3. Make Guesses and Check Them

When the suits contain multiple unidentified signs, it's time to put the extra effort into moving forward. You are likely to solve short combinations or those that contain only one sign quite quickly. If you can do it, you will be able to say that you have practically solved your riddle. By learning to recognize common combinations, you will increase your chances of correct guessing. Therefore, the effort is worth it, as you will be able to find more words.

Solve a Cryptogram Step 4
Solve a Cryptogram Step 4

Step 4. Work in pencil

Even if you are an expert in cryptology, keep in mind that the rule of the game is guess and check. Therefore, you will definitely make some changes along the way. The best way to work on a cryptogram is to do it on paper using a pencil.

  • It is also recommended to have a dictionary on hand to check the spelling of words. Also have scrap paper to try out the different possibilities. To make the most plausible hypotheses, write all the letters on your paper in the order of their frequency of use in the language of the cryptogram.
  • The classification of the letters of the French alphabet by frequency of appearance is as follows: E, A, I, S, T, N, R, U, L, O, D, M, P, C, V, Q, G, B, F, J, H, Z, X, Y, K, W. As you discover the value of each sign, write that value above the corresponding letter of your decryption key.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 5
Solve a Cryptogram Step 5

Step 5. Celebrate Your Mistakes

Working on a wrong guess can be a good idea. Rejoice, if, struggling with a coded text, you find that you have been working for an hour on a false value of the sign G! Indeed, you have just identified a possibility to eliminate, which means that you have progressed one letter towards solving your riddle. Usually, a cryptographer is happy when he has doubts about his work.

Part 2 of 4: solve the first signs

Solve a Cryptogram Step 6
Solve a Cryptogram Step 6

Step 1. Join the E A I S T N sect

No, it is not a nebula whose limbs wear decoder bracelets and shake hands in a secret rite. The letters e, a, i, s, t and n appear more frequently in the French language than the other letters. Knowing these letters will make it easier for you to crack the code of a riddle. If you learn to quickly and efficiently recognize the combinations they appear in, you'll be a crypto expert in no time.

Quickly count the most frequent signs in your cryptogram and circle them. It is very likely that they correspond to letters in the series. By learning to combine the frequency of occurrence and the recognition of combinations, you will make substitutions more easily

Solve a Cryptogram Step 7
Solve a Cryptogram Step 7

Step 2. Try to resolve the isolated signs

Often, cryptograms contain words consisting of only one sign. Knowing that in French the most frequent single-letter words are à and y, you will be able to make assumptions more easily. However, be careful when operating on isolated signs. To find out if it's a to or a y, just try with other words and look for known combinations.

  • If there is a three-letter word that begins with this same sign, it is most likely the letter à, because its frequency of occurrence in French is higher than that of the letter y.
  • If you cannot get a good indication with a 3 letter word, try the letter a first, as it is the second most commonly used letter in French. Replace the corresponding sign in the cryptogram and start working. If it turns out that your assumption is incorrect, you will at least know to adopt the letter y.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 8
Solve a Cryptogram Step 8

Step 3. Look for the apostrophes

Another secret weapon to solving your early signs is to identify the apostrophes, as they help you narrow the field of your research, giving you a good idea of the signs it hides.

  • Letters followed by an apostrophe can be either l, s, c, d, m, n, or t.
  • If an apostrophe is preceded by two signs, think of the relative pronoun qu. Remember that an apostrophe is usually followed by a vowel, which significantly reduces the number of your guesswork.
  • Knowing that in French, the apostrophe is used to make an elision, you can count the signs that precede it. If you have five, think up. If you have six, it could be since, whatever, someone, when, someone or almost. If you have seven signs, try today.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 9
Solve a Cryptogram Step 9

Step 4. Solve the two-sign combinations

Strive to apply your knowledge of how often letters appear to the combinations you have encountered in identifying apostrophes and single-letter words. Thus, it will be easier for you to find the solution of two-sign combinations and progress towards solving your riddle.

  • In French, the most common two-letter words are: le, de, un, et, il, ne, je, ce, se, en, du, au.
  • If you find two combinations where the signs are reversed, think about ne and en.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 10
Solve a Cryptogram Step 10

Step 5. Solve the three-sign combinations

The word not is extremely frequent and can be compared to the word by. For example, if a sentence contains both combinations BGJB and BGD, you can rejoice and write b = p. In the same cryptogram, BGDL will become part and BGDZD will be among.

The most common three-letter words in French are: son, que, qui, pas, que, par, sur, mon, moi, mer, peu, ton, vie, non, car, bon, air, mot, ici, Yes and you

Part 3 of 4: recognize common combinations

Solve a Cryptogram Step 11
Solve a Cryptogram Step 11

Step 1. Find the prefixes and suffixes

Most of the time, words longer than 5 or 6 letters contain a common prefix or suffix, which you can learn to search for. This will make it easier for you to solve your combinations.

  • In French, the usual prefixes include: re-, sur-, anti-, para-, retro-, a-, an-, il-, im-, ir-, de-, des-, m- and mal-.
  • Common suffixes are: -age, -ement, -tion, -able, -ible, -ity, -ain, -ette, -ée, and -ly.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 12
Solve a Cryptogram Step 12

Step 2. Identify the digraphs

It is an association of two graphemes which is used to transcribe a phoneme. For example ph is a digraph used in the transcription of the sound / f /. If you find the letter h, you'll be on the right track, as it only combines with a relatively limited number of other letters, like this: ch, he, ha, ho, hi, th, ph, hey, ht, hu and hy. You will have the choice between the vowels: a, e, o, i, é, u, the semi-vowel y or the consonants c, t or p.

  • The other common digraphs are: es, en, le, de, ai and re.
  • Double letters are easy to solve digraphs. They don't appear very often in cryptograms, but, if you find any, take advantage of the bargain. In French, the most common doubled letters are ll and ss.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 13
Solve a Cryptogram Step 13

Step 3. Look for the vowel combinations

In a text written in French, vowels are present in every word and represent almost 45% of alphabetic signs. You will rarely come across words with three consecutive vowels. And you will never see a word made up of four vowels in succession. Consider learning a few vowel tips to make your research easier and to solve a larger number of signs.

  • The most common vowel in French is e. As for the less common, it is o.
  • A double vowel most often corresponds to ée or oo.
  • Signs that repeat in a long word usually coincide with vowels, as in the word civilization, where the vowel i is repeated 4 times.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 14
Solve a Cryptogram Step 14

Step 4. Use the clues given by punctuation

If your cryptogram includes a punctuation mark, pay particular attention to the expressions on either side of this sign. Commas, periods and other punctuation marks form clues that can help you in your work. This is because you can start to narrow down your search and make some wise guesses.

  • Conjunctions like but or because are often preceded by a comma.
  • A question mark often involves the use of an interrogative word at the beginning of a sentence. Start looking for possibilities, if you identify a question mark at the end of a sentence.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 15
Solve a Cryptogram Step 15

Step 5. Learn to recognize remarkable combinations

Like the authors of crosswords and other similar puzzles, cipherers have a certain sense of humor. In addition, they know the rules and difficulties in breaking a code inside out. Look for the following common words that appear relatively often in cryptograms as recognizable combinations.

  • S or s, e rs e, n ai n, d ar d, b or d, t or t.
  • Like, eraser, apple. Each word contains the combination omme.
  • To be.
  • Without.
  • All.
  • Still.
  • Martin or Perrin if it is a surname. Otherwise, try million or letters.
  • J ama is, states, j ete r, r obo t, l eve r.

Part 4 of 4: think differently

Solve a Cryptogram Step 16
Solve a Cryptogram Step 16

Step 1. Make your assumptions taking into account the context of the cryptogram

The majority of cryptograms contain quotes from little-known authors. They are relatively short and relate to human behavior or society. In other words, a cryptogram is a short philosophical quote, like the moral of a story. Knowing this, you can narrow the field of your searches to terms that go with the contents of the cryptogram. Currently, the majority of cryptograms deal with big ideas and contain abstract formulas.

Adverbs as always and everywhere often appear in cryptograms due to the nature of the content. Other common words in this category include: more, less, nobody, usually, better, worse, all, often, and rarely

Solve a Cryptogram Step 17
Solve a Cryptogram Step 17

Step 2. Pay attention to the name of the author of a code quote

These quotes usually end with the author's name. Usually, authors are identified by first and last name, but you may run into exceptions, when an anonymous author has written the wonderful quote you are trying to decipher.

  • A combination of two signs placed before the author's name probably corresponds to the abbreviation Dr.
  • A two-sign combination after the author's name usually corresponds to the abbreviation Jr or Sr. It can also hide a number in Roman numerals as in the expression Pope Paul VI.
  • A short combination in the middle of a name can hide a common nobility particle like de or Von.
Solve a Cryptogram Step 18
Solve a Cryptogram Step 18

Step 3. Use the sentence structure in French to identify the remaining signs

You probably don't need to analyze your cryptogram sentences, but you will progress towards the solution by identifying definite and indefinite articles, state verbs, and other common constructs.

  • Look for nouns after possessive adjectives like sound or demonstrative adjectives this.
  • Recognize auxiliaries, such as am, be, been, or have, that precede another verb in a sentence. For example, "you have learned to solve cryptograms. "
Solve a Cryptogram Step 19
Solve a Cryptogram Step 19

Step 4. Familiarize yourself with repetition and antithesis to make it easier to find your solutions

Many sentences will have a similar structure, reproducing the form of a word or a neighboring form later in the same line. Since cryptograms are often taken from a quote or speech, it is common to come across these rhetorical figures.

  • Several aphorisms will contain digraphs to make comparisons or to dismantle a point of view. If the word truth appears anywhere, you can look for the word lie further down in the sentence.
  • Look for neighboring forms of words from the same stem. The two words pleasure and pleasant can appear in the same cryptogram. Don't bang your head against the wall trying to identify combinations that are made up of almost the same signs.


  • If you think you've identified an isolated sign, start checking that the code you think you broke applies to other combinations of the text.
  • You are practically at the end of your sentences, if you have solved the letters e, a, s, t and n.
  • It is possible to find the solution of a cryptogram constructed from a code by substitution, by taking into account the frequency and the order of the letters. For example, the combination ABCCD represents a 5 character word where the characters 3 and 4 are the same and the other 3 are different. This encrypted combination can represent the word as.
  • Examine the puzzling expression "The magic words are squeamish ossifrage". It is often included in riddles as a tribute to the solution of a famous challenge, which was launched in 1977 to decipher the contents of a coded text.
  • When you have an e, n, or t in the last three letters of a word, it is very likely that that word ends with ent. So when you have multiple words in this case, you can deduce that it is this ending.
  • Most ciphers take care to create cryptograms, where each sign represents a different letter. Suppose you have two options for solving the sign a, either assigning it the letter a or the letter i. You will choose the letter i, because this possibility is the most plausible.


  • These indications apply only to cryptograms which are based on a code by substitution and which do not use the normal method of grouping symbols by 5.
  • Knowing the frequency of the letters of the alphabet can help, but don't overdo it. The text of a cryptogram may contain more letters k and w than expected, even if these two letters appear less often in a text written in French.

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