U is for Unicorn

Mythical beasts
Unicorns exist in the imagination, in toy stores, and sometimes in flea markets.

Consonant — vowel combinations

ub  U-boat                                     bu        bun

uc  buck                                        cu        curb

ud  udder                                       du        duck

uf   bluff                                        fu         fun

ug  ugly                                         gu        gun

uh  uh-huh                                     hu        hut

uj   U-joint                                     ju         junk

uk  ukulele                                     ku        skull

ul   ulcer                                        lu         lunch

um umbrella                                  mu       mutt

un  undo                                        nu        nut

up  upon                                        pu        puny

uq  bouquet                                   qu        quit

ur  urban                                       ru        run

us  user                                          su        sun

ut   utility                                       tu         tune

uv  uvea                                         vu        vulgar

uw thruway [US]                          wu       wurst

ux  uxorious                                  xu        xu (Vietnamese money)

uz  Uzi (gun)                                 zu        zucchini

 

Vowel — vowel combinations

ua  aqua                                         au        augur

ue  flue                                          eu        feud

ui   fluid                                        iu         radius

uo  buoy                                        ou        our

uu  vacuum                                    uu        muumuu

 

Exercises

  1. Examine the lists of “Vowel—Consonant Combinations” and “Vowel—Vowel Combinations,” and see how many more words you can add to the lists.

Special reading assignment

  1. A unicorn is a mythical beast with one horn or antler, rather than two. Unicorns are usually depicted as a white horse with flowing mane and tail.
  2. Do you use an umbrella in a downpour? Up until Thursday, I thought they were ugly.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2017.

Q is for Quarry

Quarry; Open-pit mine
The marble quarry at Tatlock, Ontario, courtesy of Gary Sparkes.

History

The letter Q is derived from the Greek koppa and Semitic qoph. The original meaning of qoph is most likely a “cord of wool” and the original representation, a knot. Another suggestion is that Q represented the eye of a needle with a thread. A similar word in Arabic suggests that it might mean “nape” and represent the back of a head and nape of the neck. Yet another suggestion is that Q represents a monkey. I rather like that one.

Q is for quatrain and quintain

In poetry, a quatrain  is a four-line stanza and a quintain (or quintet) is a five-line stanza. These are usually part of a longer poem and may be variously rhymed.

There is something quieter than sleep

Within this inner room!

It wears a sprig upon its breast,

And will not tell its name.

— Emily Dickinson, from “Time and Eternity”

Exercises

  1. Write your own quatrain or quintain using at least one Q word. Which form is easier to write?

Special reading assignment

  1. The quintessential quiet in the quarter acre was accentuated by the murmur of quaking aspens.

 

T is for Tiger

You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.
You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.

Some T prefixes

tachi—, tacho—, tachy— all imply “swift”.

tachometer

tachycardia

tauto— means “the same”.

tautology

techno— relates to the use of technology.

technobabble, technocracy

tele— comes from the Greek “far off” and often refers to television or telephone.

telecast, telegraph, teleprompter, telescope

ter— means “three” or “thrice”.

tercel, tercentennial

tera— means a factor of one trillion (1012) or, in computing, a multiple of 240.

terahertz, terawatt

terabit, terabyte

Some T suffixes

t replaces the suffix —ed in some words.

gild, gilded [past tense/adjective], gilt [adjective]

spill, spilled [past tense], spilt [past participle]

spell, spelled [past tense], spelt [past participle]

spend, spent [past tense/past participle]

shall, shalt [second person singular, archaic]

 

th, —eth are archaic or Biblical verb endings (third person singular, present tense).

He leadeth me beside still waters…

th, —eth are endings that form ordinal numbers.

sixth, hundredth, millionth

nineth, twentieth

th may refer to an act, process, state, or quality.

depth, growth, health, wealth, width

the— may refer to God or gods.

atheist, pantheism

Exercises

  1. Look through the prefixes and suffixes. Do you see any that you might use on a day-to-day basis? Create a sentence with each of those.
  2. For the prefixes and suffixes that look less familiar, identify where you might find them, e.g., in a scientific text or a medical paper.

Special reading assignment

  1. Two tigers tore through three treacle tarts.
  2. Time and tide wait for no man. —Geoffrey Chaucer

S is for Swan

Cygnus olor
The Mute Swan is a species introduced to North America. This male is patrolling a pond in Woodbine Park, Toronto.

The sound of S

The sound of S is generally a sibilant or hiss, similar to a soft C.

salmon

silly

situations

super

Exception

Sometimes the letter s takes on the sound of sh.

measure

sugar

Exception

Sometimes the letter s takes on the sound of z. Words ending in —ise, —ize, and —yse or —yze have the same zee sound. The following words are always spelled with an —ise ending.

advise

arise

clockwise

exercise

revise

Note

Some words are invariably spelled with —se, some with —ze. There are others where the —se ending is preferred in the UK, and the —ze ending in the USA. Canadian English is variable. Use only one dictionary to maintain consistency in the way you spell these words.

agonise [UK]; agonize [US and Oxford English Dictionary]

analyse [UK]; analyze [US]

catalyse [UK]; catalyze [US]

dialyse [UK]; dialyze [US]

paralyse [UK]; paralyze [US]

standardise [UK]; standardize [US and OED]

Special reading assignment

  1. Horse seven from race six was scratched.
  2. Cirrus clouds scudded across the sky.

 Note

If you like swans, you may like this book, available on Amazon Kindle:

Fifty Shapes of Swan: A Natural History in Photos.

 

R is for Rock Cut

 

This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.
This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.

R is for rhyme and rhyme scheme

A rhyme is the repetition of the same or similar sounds, most often in the final syllables of the final words in lines of poetry or song. Rhyme is also a verb, used even to describe how someone made an unintentionally poetic statement.

Rhyme is a poetic device. One common type of poetry features rhyming couplets.

All the stream that’s roaring by

Came out of a needle’s eye;

Things unborn, things that are gone,

From needle’s eye still goad it on.

—  “A Needle’s Eye,” William Butler Yeats

 

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of the rhymes ending the lines of a poem or song. In English, different rhyme schemes have names, e.g., a limerick is AABBA.

Here is another example of rhyming couplets, using letters to mark the different rhymes.

He with body waged a fight,                                A

But body won; it walks upright.                         A

Then he struggled with the heart;                      B

Innocence and peace depart.                               B

Then he struggled with the mind;                      C

His proud heart he left behind.                           C

Now his wars on God begin;                                D

At stroke of midnight God shall win.                 D

— “The Four Ages of Man,” William Butler Yeats

 

Rhyming Mnemonic

Rhymes are also used as a mnemonic to aid memorization.

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,

And twenty-nine each leap year.

— Anonymous

 

R is for rhythm

Rhythm is the regular beat of sounds and silence in speech, prose, poetry, or music. It is as natural as walking and breathing; our hearts beat in a rhythm. In music, the upbeat and downbeat correspond to the metre in poetry, which is measured in feet, e.g. da DUM, which is an iamb.

Iambic pentameter is a common rhythm in poetry, consisting of five iambs per line.

And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;

I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,

And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep;

(Act 3, Scene 1)

—“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare

Exercises

  1. Do you have a favourite poem? What is its rhyme scheme and rhythm?
  2. Do you know any mnemonics used as memory aids? Do they rhyme?

Special reading assignment

  1. Rock cuts are a feature of Canadian landscape, especially in the north.
  2. Rest assured, Rosemary has rated the recipe for roasted radishes.

R is for Raccoon

 

Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.
Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.

Prefixes

re— stands for “again” or “go back”. Sometimes, especially when the root word begins with R or RE, there is a hyphen. Also, if you make up a word starting with RE, you ought to use a hyphen.

react

redo

regrow

re-release

re-roof

rerun

restore

retry

Note that a hyphen may indicate a different meaning.

redress vs re-dress

reform vs re-form

rhodo— means “red” or “rosy”.

rhodonite

rhododendron

radio— indicates a relationship with radio or radiation.

radioactive

radiowave

 

Suffixes

er creates an adjective or adverb indicating more, by comparison.

bigger

faster

higher

stronger

er designates someone (or something) who does or is something.

banker

foreigner

New Brunswicker

swimmer

2-wheeler

cutter

re is sometimes preferred over the more common —er, most often in words that originate from French or Latin. This is one place where spelling variations occur, especially in the USA.

chevre [from French] (cheese)

goitre, goiter [US]

litre, liter [US]

louvre, louver

metre, meter [US]

sabre, saber [US]

theatre, theater [US]

ry, —ery designate a place for something, a class of something, a state or condition of something, or a quality or characteristic of something or someone.

bakery, tannery

finery, mastery

cheery, misery, slavery

snobbery, watery

Exercises

  1. Find a paragraph in a newspaper or online and look for all the words containing the letter R. How many of them contain a prefix or suffix beginning with R? What is the root of these words? Does the root make sense on its own?
  2. Write down as many verbs as you can think of. Place the prefix re— in front. Do the verbs still make sense? Try to use them in a sentence.

 

Special reading assignment

  1. Raccoons are native to North America but have spread around the world.
  2. Raccoons do not make good pets. Do you know anyone who has tried to make a pet of one? What happened?

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the summer of 2015.

R is for Rose

Bush roses with simple flowers are close to Shakespeare's "eglantine."
Bush roses with simple flowers are close to Shakespeare’s “eglantine.”

The sounds of R

In English, the letter R has two sounds: an “are” sound, the same as the name of the letter; and an “rr” sound, a short, vowel-less noise. In some languages (e.g., Spanish) the letter R has a third sound, a trill. In Canada this trill is featured in a funny Tim Horton’s promotional ad,

Rrroll up the rrrim to win!

 

Silent Rs

The letter R may be silent in some dialects (e.g., Boston (US) and some British), where the R is pronounced only if a vowel follows it.

Silent Rs before a consonant (dialect only)

fork

garden

party

Silent Rs at the end of a word, except when the next word begins with a vowel (dialect only)

butter

finger

hear

mother

Note: Students learning English ought to pronounce these Rs.

Fun R words

raggamuffin

rattlesnake

rearrange

reboot

re-record

restraint

revenue

reward

reword

right-of-way

Special reading assignment

’Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.

Raspberries are as well-received as roses in midsummer.