Q is for Quince

Chaenomeles japonica
This lovely Japanese quince was flowering at the Billings Estate National Historic Site in Ottawa, Canada

Fun Q words

quack

quaff

qualm

quarto

quaver

queasy

quibble

quaff

quiver

Quonset hut

Some more fun Q words

quaint

quarter

quiet

question

queen

quick

quill

qualify

quality

quantity

Confusing Q words

acquire

aquarium

liquor

quagmire

querulous

quire

quirky

raquet

requiem

unrequited

More Confusing Q words

enquiry, inquiry, query

quarantine

quash

quandary

queue, queuing

quintessence, quintessential

quorum, quorums

quota

quote

quotient

 

Exercises

  1. Define each of the words in the “Fun Q Words” and decide whether they are nouns, verbs, or adjectives.
  2. Use each of the “Confusing Q Words” in a sentence to illustrate its meaning.

 

Special reading assignment

  1. The question came up, where was the quartz quarried?
  2. The quintessential quiet in the quarter acre was accentuated by the murmur of quaking aspens.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the fall of 2014.

P is for Pelican

Pelicanus erythrorhynchos
The White Pelican, which summers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada, has a wingspread of about nine feet.

Prefixes

ped— usually relates to feet, footed, or a line of descent.

pedestrian

peddle

pedigree

post— means “after”, “afterwards”, “later”, or “behind”.

posterior

post-glacial

post-graduate

postpone

pre— means “before” in time or place, or in the order or importance of things.

precaution

precede, precedent

predate

preface

prescribe, prescription

president

pro— can mean “before” in time or place, or in the order of things.

promise

prophet

pro— can mean “favouring” or “supporting”.

pro-government

pro— can mean “in front of”, “forwards”, or “onward”.

probation

proceeds

progress

pros— means “towards” or “in addition to” something.

prosecute

prosper

prospect

proto— means “first”.

protocol

prototype

Suffixes

pede or —pedal create a noun or adjective that refers to feet or something footed.

bipedal

centipede

impede

stampede

 

pod or —pode also refer to feet or a number of feet.

hexapod

megapode

tripod

Exercises

  1. Which suffixes correspond to a prefix similar in meaning?
  2. Identify additional words with prefixes and suffixes beginning with the letter P.

Special reading assignment

  1. Philippa and her friend Stephen sloughed off their scarves and photographed the phantom pheasant phenomenon in the pharmacy.
  2. White pelicans scoop up fish while swimming; brown pelicans plunge from a height, bill-first, to catch fish.

 

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

P is for Poison Ivy

Rhus radicans
“Leaves of three, let it be.” Poison ivy may be a low, sprawling plant, a climbing vine, a tallish bush, or individual small plants scattered amongst other vegetation.

Sounds of P

The sound of P is a sudden breath (a plosive) made by closing and opening the lips.

pat

pet

pit

pot

put

PH is a digraph

The Greeks invented the letter phi to represent a sound not present in the Phoenician language. It was written as ph when the Romans adopted it into their alphabet. Phi was originally pronounced with an extra breath, as in uphill or loophole, but eventually was changed to an f sound in Latin and Greek. French also adopted the f sound for ph. English was influenced by these other languages, whereas some other European languages have not adopted ph; they just use f. English words with ph are often of Greek or maybe Latin origin.

alpha

gopher

nephew

phase

phobia

telephone

sphinx

trophy

Silent Ps

The letter P is silent in words that start with pne— or psy—.

pneumatic

pneumonia

psych

psyche

psychic

psychotic

Exceptional silent Ps

corps

coup

psalm

receipt

Exercises

  1. Look at the P words in the lists. Are they nouns or verbs? Could you use one as an adjective?
  2. Can you make a compound word using one of these words? Use that word in a sentence.
  3. Look for a word containing ph. Is it a compound word or does it contain the ph digraph?
  4. Define the words containing a silent P.

Special reading assignment

  1. The philosophy of the first Pharaohs formed a phantom phalanx.
  2. Pretty parrots’ performances pleased partying people, poolside.
  3. Please note: poison ivy does grow in cities in North America. Poison ivy is extremely variable in its height, size, and growth pattern. Learn to know the pattern of its leaves and stay away. Every new contact with this plant increases your susceptibility.

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

 

O is for Outlook

Outlook, bench, willow
This shady outlook is on the bank of Lake Ontario, a good place to watch for birds.

O is for onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia, Greek for “word-making”, describes a word or name that imitates a sound. Commonly, onomatopoeic words include names for noises and for animals and objects that make noises.

Names for noises

buzz

moo

rattle

sizzle

vroom-vroom

Names for animals that make noises

bobolink (bird)

chickadee (bird)

katydid (insect)

phoebe (bird)

whip-poor-will (bird)

In poetry, onomatopoeia is a device used to suggest the sound being described.

And the West-Wind came at evening,

Walking lightly o’er the prairie,

Whispering to the leaves and blossoms,

Bending low the flowers and grasses…

The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O is for oxymoron

An oxymoron is the use of contradictory ideas in one expression in speaking or writing, to create an impression. In this case, the prefix oxy— means “sharp” and the suffix —moron, “foolish”.

open secret

original copy

typically odd

Exercises

  1. Find some instances of onomatopoeia and oxymoron and use them in a sentence.
  2. Use the word “outlook” in two different ways.

Special reading assignment

  1. Of the opposite ovens, only one was often off.
  2. Owls, nocturnal birds of prey, have captured the imagination in many ways. In literature, they represent messengers, wisdom, learning, and Athens. An owl may also be an omen. In real life, they just go about their own business.

 

O is for Owl

Sculpture
Wordsworth the Owl can be found outside the library on Queen Street East in Toronto. Sculptor, Ludzer Vandermolen.

Prefixes

ob—, oc—, of—, op— mean “in the way of”, or “facing” and, usually, something in opposition or contrary. Notice that the c, f, and p are doubled.

obstruct

object

obvious

occasion

occult

occupy

offence [or offense]

offer

opponent

oppose

opposite

Special reading assignment

  1. Our one and only objective was to organize the office and outline the operation.
  2. Owls have broad wings, which allow them silent flight and more successful hunting.
  3. Otters have thick, waterproof fur. When they swim, hundreds of shiny, silver bubbles follow in their wake.

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

N is for Nut

Aesculus hippocastanum
These horse chestnuts were found on the ground under a tree. The squirrels had opened the bristly husks.

The sound of N

The letter N is a nasal consonant which may take on a nasal vowel sound when combined with g or k.

thin, win

thing, wing

think, wink

 

Silent Ns

The letter N is silent when it follows an M at the end of a word.

autumn, column, condemn, damn, hymn, solemn

Here is a word where the N is sometimes silent, depending on the dialect of the speaker.

government

 

Letter combinations

A common letter combination is —ing, a suffix with a nasal n sound and a silent g.

singing, thinning, winking, wing

 

Double Ns

Words with double nn indicate that the preceding vowel is short or soft.

annual, banner, bonnet, cannot, inner, penny

This rule applies when, in saying the word, the stress is placed on that vowel.

When the stress is on another part of the word, the n is generally single.

inhabit, combination, silent

            Exceptions:

English is very inconsistent in this rule.

These words have an unexpected single n after a short vowel.

anvil, banish, canopy, energy, finish, honey

These words have an unexpected double nn, even though the stress in saying the word is not on the preceding vowel.

anniversary, connect, personnel, questionnaire

 

Confusing N words

narthex

narwhal

nasturtium

nasty

Neanderthal

necessary

negligence

neighbour [neighbor, US]

 

Exercises

  1. Look in a text, a book, or an article on the Internet, for words containing a double-N. How are they pronounced?
  2. Look up the “Confusing N Words” for their definitions. Then use each of them in a sentence.

 

Special reading assignment

Numbers of narwhals are now never known near Norway at night.

 

This blog post is an excerpt from a book, English Manual: Letter by Letter, to be published soon.

 

M is for Maple Bush

Acer saccharum
Once the maple syrup is ready, you can pour a little on the snow. When it freezes, you eat it like candy.

M is for mondegreen and malapropism

Mondegreens

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And laid him on the green./

And Lady Mondegreen.

From this poem (the last line misheard by American writer Sylvia Wright), comes the term mondegreen, meaning the misinterpretation of a phrase with a similar sound. Other examples include a line from the Christmas song, “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.” My friend Olive was convinced that the line

All of the other reindeer

was really

Olive, the other reindeer.

A mondegreen often makes some sort of sense. It may be years before you realize that you have made a mistake.

 Malapropisms

 A character in a 1775 play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mrs. Malaprop, created light comedy by using words that sound similar but have a different meaning. After that, such crazy errors have been called malapropisms. Mrs. Malaprop herself said,

She’s as headstrong as an allegory (instead of alligator).

Canadian Don Harron’s character Charlie Farquharson made hay with commentary on local and world events, using malapropisms to create double meanings and hilarious satire.

Special reading assignment

  1. In past years, each tree in the maple bush had a spigot and pail. Pails were collected by hand and transported to the sugar shack by horse and wagon.
  2. Now, the spigots drain into tubes that drain into large tubs. The tubs are then transported to the sugar shack by truck.
  3. It still takes about 40 litres of sap to make a litre of maple syrup.

 

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