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.

 

Q is for Quail

Coturnix japonica?
These lovely quails are marching across a planter.

Prefixes

quad—, quadr—, quadri— denote four of something, or a square.

quadrangle

quadrennium

quadrilateral

quadruped

quant— denotes a number of something or a measurement.

quantity

quantum

quart— denotes a fourth of something.

quarter

quartet (or quartette)

Exception:

The mineral quartz has a trigonal crystal form. The name is of Slavic origin.

quasi— means “as if” in Latin, but in English it now implies something that looks OK but is not quite right; “somewhat” or “almost.”

quasi-democratic

quasi-scientific

quasi-stellar object (a quasar)

quin— denotes the number five.

quinary

quincentenary (500th anniversary)

quintet

quintuplets

Suffixes

que in Latin words means “and”, but English words with this ending are usually (but not always) derived from French. The original Latin ending may have been —icus or
icare.

antique

appliqué

communiqué

grotesque [from Italian]

opaque

plaque [from Dutch]

Exercises

  1. Can you identify additional words to add to the lists of prefixes and suffixes?
  2. Use the words in sentences to clarify their meanings.

Special reading assignment

  1. Quail belong to the same family as partridges and pheasants.
  2. Quail eggs were sent to the Mir space station in 1990, where they were incubated and successfully hatched.

Q, q
Q was once a little quail,
Quaily
Faily
Daily
Quaily
Stumpy-taily
Little Quail!

— Edward Lear, The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse

 

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

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.

O is for Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
This osprey is nesting on a hydro pole right next to a minor highway south of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

 

O is for “or”

Or is a conjunction used to denote one of two alternatives or the last of a list of alternatives. In this way, the word or may also express some uncertainty.

purple or mauve

sheep or goats

an apple, an orange, or a peach

two or three goats

In the case of either…or, you are presented with only two alternatives.

Either we eat now or after the play ends.

Either do your chores or else you are grounded.

He was working either in his office or at the library.

For an expression using whether…or, you are presented with a conditional phrase or an indirect question.

We have to go, whether it is raining or not.

Call your friend and ask him whether or not it is raining there.

The word or may indicate a synonym.

cougars or mountain lions

an opening or gap

O is for ought

The word ought is an auxiliary verb, originally a past participle of the verb, to owe, but now used only with other verbs in the infinitive. It indicates obligation or duty, advisability or prudence, and is less vexing than should.

We ought to leave now.

He ought to have thought of that.

She ought not to have eaten so much.

Confusing O words

boudoire

cougar

course

ooze

operation

opposition

organism

origin

rook

root

soot

wool 

Exercises

  1. Choose a book or newspaper to work with. Find sentences that include the conjunction or and figure out the exact meaning.
  2. Substitute should for ought and consider how the meaning of a sentence changes.
  3. Read through the list of “Confusing O Words”. Check the pronunciation of each word. Any surprises?

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 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 Nest

Song birds' nest
This birds’ nest was built last year. Perhaps the same birds will return to it this spring.

Significance

N is a consonant and is spelled, en

 

Prefixes

narco— relates to narcotics or a numbing effect, as from drugs.

narcolepsy, narcotic

necro— creates a noun or adjective to do with death or the dead.

necrophobia, necrosis

neo— describes something new or renewed.

neo-classical, neocortex, neolithic

nervo— relates to nerves.

nervous, nervy

nitr—, nitro— describes a compound or something containing the element nitrogen.

nitric acid, nitroglycerin, nitrous oxide

non— gives a negative sense or describes a lack of something.

non-addictive, non-believer, non-delivery, non-payment, non-profit, nonsense

nona— stands for nine or ninth.

nonagenarian

nucle—, nucleo— describe a nucleus or something to do with it.

nuclear physics, nucleic acid

nucleoplasm

nutri— describes something nourishing.

nutrient, nutrition

 

Suffixes

naut describes a person who navigates a space vehicle or something similar.

aeronaut, astronaut, cosmonaut

nd, —and, —end describes a person or sometimes a thing to be treated with some respect.

brigand, graduand

dividend, fiend, friend, reverend

ness creates a noun from an adjective to express the state or condition of someone or something.

artfulness, calmness,  closeness, idleness, sweetness, wilderness

nik describes a person with certain characteristics, especially reminiscent of the 1960s.

beatnik, peacenik, refusenik

nomy denotes an area of knowledge or system of laws in a certain field of study.

economy

Exercises

  1. Do a search on the Internet for words in the list of prefixes and suffixes. How are the words used? Do you understand them in context?

Special reading assignment

  1. Birds’ nests are difficult to see in the summer when the leaves fill out on the trees.
  2. Nuthatches nest in cavities in trees.

 

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

H is for Heron

Ardea herodias
Great Blue Herons prefer fishing; mice are so messy.

H is for heteros and homos

Heteronyms are words with the same spelling, but a different sound and meaning.

bow (verb, to bend over)

bow (noun, a knotted ribbon)

produce (verb, to create something)

produce (noun, fruits and vegetables)

Homonyms are words with the same sound or spelling, but different meanings. Homonyms include homographs and homophones.

Homographs are words with the same sound and spelling, but a different meaning.

spell (noun, a witch’s charm)

spell (verb, create the proper form of a word)

spell (noun, a short time)

spell (noun, a short amount of activity or work)

Homophones are words with the same sound, but a different spelling and meaning.

pair (noun, a couple)

pare (verb, to remove the skin of a fruit or vegetable)

pear (noun, a fruit)

Exercises

  1. Think of some additional heteronyms and homonyms and create confusing sentences with them.