I is for Iris

Iris prismatica var.
There is something delightful about the old-fashioned iris.

Long and short I sounds

The long letter I sounds like the letter in the alphabet and the pronoun, “I”.






These words have the short i sound.








I is rarely, but sometimes, silent.




Diphthongs have a sliding sound, sometimes quite subtle.


acacia, burial, liar, militia, phobia


chief, die, lie, movie, niece


curio, lion, prior, riot, trio


genius, radius, sodium, stadium

Rules of pronunciation

i before e, except after c, gives us the sound of ee (or ē).

piece, retrieve, thief

conceive, receive, receipt


die, lie, tie

science, hierarchy, diet

leisure, weight


  1. Look for words containing diphthongs and pronounce them carefully.
  2. Look for words containing the letter i between two consonants. Is it a long I or a short i? Is the letter E affecting the way the I is said?

Special reading assignment

  1. Instinct influenced Ira’s immediate intentions to irrigate the iris.
  2. The item is inserted inside the icon.

E is for Elderberry

Elderberry bushes are an old-fashioned plant, growing perhaps at the site of an old farmhouse.

How to say E

A hard or long E.

eel, Egypt

Several soft or short E sounds.

elk, everything, exert, forest, rent, web

A flat, short sound.

naked, rely, renew

The E in each of these words has a different sound.

era, the, there, prey, met, England, sew, herb, clerk 


ew  creates a sliding vowel sound, although it is a vowel—consonant combination.

blew, chew, crew, dew, flew, grew, jewel, knew, news, renew, skew, screw, threw, view

Letter combinations (digraphs)

ea— generally has the same sound as —ee. There are all sorts of exceptions.

Easter, easy, great, meat, peace, zeal

ea— heart

ea— earn, earth, heard, search

ea— head, health, measure, peasant

ea— bear, swear, wear

ea— steak

ea— appeal, arboreal, clear, idea, real, urea

ea— forearm, mileage

ea— bureau, chateau

ee— greet, meet, sleet, wheel

ei— eider, Einstein, either

ei— beige, eight, neigh, vein

ei— conceive, receive

eu— Europe, eureka

eu— museum

eu— neuron

eu— tuneup


  1. Using text from a newspaper or book, identify and write down a list of words containing the letter E.
  2. Which of these words has a hard or long e (one pronounced like the letter E)?
  3. Which has a soft e (as in egg)?

Special reading assignment

  1. Eventually everyone exits.
  2. Elderberries make good wine or jelly.
  3. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

— Monte Python

A is for Alvar

This alvar is near Ottawa, Ontario.

Alvars can be found around Canada’s National Capital Region.

Some letter combinations

ae— is found in words derived from Latin and may have different pronunciations, depending on regional dialects.

Aesop (an ee sound)

palaeontology  (ee or A sound)

aerial (ai sound)

aesthetic (soft e sound)

ar ─ The letter R may change the pronunciation (this is called an R-controlled vowel).

arch, arbour, archangel, argon, argument, ark, arm, art

Exceptions:  Arab, arid, arise, array, arrest, arrive

au─  The au letter combination is not pronounced the same way each time. A diphthong is a way to slide a sound. Try these out.

auburn, auction, audio, August, aura, Australia, auto, automatic, autumn, because, caught, cause, clause, daughter, faucet, fault, Paul, sauce, taught, taut, vault

In some ─au─ words, this letter combination is not pronounced as a diphthong.

aunt, beautiful, quay (pronounced key)

The aw  and ay combinations are also diphthongs. Try these words.


caw, claw, crawl, dawn, draw, flaw, gnaw, hawk, jaw, law, lawn, macaw, paw, pawn, raw, slaw, straw, thaw, Warsaw, yawn


ay, aye (yes), ayah (Hindu nurse)

air─ is a common combination in many words. Are these diphthongs?

chair, fair, hair, lair, pair, stair

Exception:  naïve [French]

all─ is a common combination in many words.

all, allow, ball, fall, hall, small, wall

alt─ is a common combination in many words.

alternate, cobalt, halt, malt, salt

alk─ is a common combination in many words.

alkaline, chalk, stalk, talk, walk


  1. Read through the lists of words. Can you think of any more to add in each category?
  2. Play with the words a little. Act them out. Write them up in the air using your left hand and your right. Write them down on paper.
  3. Listen to your friends. Do they pronounce the letter a differently? Which words do they pronounce and how? What do you prefer?

Special reading assignment

An alvar is a limestone plain with little or no soil and unique vegetation.