T is for Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum
In Ontario, Trilliums blanket the forest floor each spring.

Silent Ts and THs

The letter T at the end of a word of French derivation is usually silent.

ballet

gourmet

rapport

ricochet

Exceptions

bracelet

concert

The letter T may be silent when it follows an S or an F.

apostle

listen

moisten

whistle

Exceptions

The T may or may not be pronounced, depending on the dialect.

often [derived from oft, Old English], soften [derived from softe, Old English]

The letter T may be slurred or silent when it precedes the digraph CH, depending on dialect.

catch

match

watch

kitchen

The letter T may be slurred, or in some dialects silent, when it is in the middle of three consonants, most often at the end of a word. The preferred pronunciation includes a t-sound.

acts

ducts

students

Exception

mortgage (the t is always silent)

The letter T may be slurred or silent in rapid speech.

gentlemen

Toronto (the second t may disappear)

The digraph TH is slurred or silent in some dialects.

asthma

clothes

isthmus

nor’easter (northeasterly winds)

In some dialects, TH is silent at the end of a word where the digraph is in the middle of two consonants, but the preferred pronunciation includes a th-sound.

depths

lengths

months

Special reading assignment

The Thunder God went for a ride

Upon his favourite filly.

I’m Thor! he cried.

The horse replied,

You forgot your thaddle, thilly.

–Anonymous

The Trillium is the official flower of the province of Ontario, Canada. It grows from a small bulb which gains nourishment from the leaves. If you pick a Trillium, you kill the plant.

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.

 

 

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.

Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace

Daucus carota
In the very centre of a Queen Anne’s Lace flower is one tiny purple floret.

The sounds of Q

The letter Q, which by itself has the sound of K or a hard C, is in English almost never found by itself, but rather as the digraph, QU. It may be better to think of it as a short K sound followed by a diphthong: UA, UE, UI, or UO.

quarter

quest

quit

quorum

Occasionally, a word with QU is pronounced as a K, without a following diphthong.

quoit

clique

When you understand the origins of letters, you understand English spelling.

Historically, the letter Q came by way of the Phoenicians (they had two K sounds, one a guttural Qof that does not exist in English). The Greeks took it over as qoppa or koppa, but dropped it, as their language did not use that sound. The Etruscans had three K sounds, gamma, kappa, and koppa, this last letter always used before u or o.

The Romans took their alphabet from the Etruscans, but Latin had only one K sound. They dropped kappa and finally used gamma as the letter C and koppa as the letter Q.

Latin needed a representative for the sound “kw” common to the language. The Romans used the letter Q followed by a V (as the letter U hadn’t been invented as yet).

In Old English, the “kw” sound was represented by CW. In their alphabet, “queen” would have been spelled, “cwen”.

The French continued with the Latin QV. When the Normans conquered England, French spelling came to be preferred. CW became QV, and then QU when the letter U was introduced as a vowel. The Norman influence complicated English spelling. Most words containing QU are derived from French and Latin.

The English language didn’t really need QU, as the old CW would have done.

queen (from Old English cwen)

quay (formerly kay or key, these still used in some instances, e.g., the Florida Keys)

quench (in Anglo-Saxon, cwencan)

bequeath (in Anglo-Saxon, bicweoan)

Where QU is pronounced as K, a simple K or C would have sufficed. The following words are derived from French. You may see them spelled with a K on signs or in social media.

antique

boutique

critique

technique

unique

English imports words from other languages, including Arabic. These words may be transcribed from the Arabic alphabet in different ways. The guttural K sound (the Arabic letter qaf) is sometimes transcribed as a lonely Q without a U and is still understandable in English. In the following list, the second instance is the preferred spelling.

burqa or burka or burkha

faqir or fakir

qabab or kebab or kabob

qat or khat or gat

Similarly, some Chinese words have been transcribed into English in different ways.

qi or chi or ki

qigong or chi gong or ki gong

Special reading assignment

  1. Queen Anne’s Lace: a common roadside weed or a beautiful wild flower?

P is for Peony

Paeonia officinalis
Peonies have magic.

P is for pronoun

Pronouns represent unnamed people or things. Here is a list for your reference.

First person

I

possessive

mine

reflexive

myself

plural

we

possessive

ours

reflexive

ourselves

object

me

plural

us

 

Second person

you

possessive

yours

reflexive

yourself

plural

you

reflexive

yourselves

object

you

plural

you

 

Third person

he, she, it,

possessive

his, hers, its

reflexive

himself, herself, itself

plural

they

reflexive

themselves

possessive

their, theirs

object

him, her, it

plural

them

 

Demonstrative pronouns

this, these

that, those

 

Indefinite pronouns

anybody, anyone, anything

everybody, everyone, everything

nobody, no one, nothing

somebody, someone, something

 

Relative pronouns

who, whom

whose

which

that

 

Other words used as pronouns

These words may be used to refer back to a subject or object within the sentence.

all, another, any

both

each, either, enough

few, fewer

less, little

many, more, most, much

neither

several, some

 

Exercises

  1. Read a news article and analyse the text for pronouns. How many can you find? Is it obvious who or what each pronoun refers to?

Special reading assignment

  1. When it came to peony bushes, there were only a few in the garden.
  2.  In the year 77, Pliny wrote a natural history with a medicinal recipe using peony; we now know that these flowers are particularly poisonous.

 

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

L is for Lilies

Lilium sp.
This orange garden variety is similar to the wild wood lily.

Two verbs, to lie and to lay

The two verbs, to lie and to lay have different related meanings, although they are often used incorrectly, mostly because children are told never to lie.

To lie, aside from meaning to tell an untruth (“He lied about…”), is an intransitive verb, which means that it never takes a direct object. This verb involves only the subject.

I lie down. I laid down. I have lain down under the stars.

Please, lie here on the blanket.

To lay is a transitive verb and must have a direct object, although the object may be only understood, rather than stated. A direct object generally answers the question “What?”. That is, you have to lay something down.

What did you lay down there?

I lay the pen down. I laid it here. I have laid it down.

Please lay the blanket on the grass.

Most verbs may be used as both transitive and intransitive. That is why you need a certain self-discipline to distinguish between lie and lay. Most times it doesn’t matter to anyone, but other times it may.

 

Some L words

lady

lawn

leave

left

lying, laying

like

lip

loose

lose

love

 

Fun L words

labyrinth

lachrymose

lackadaisical

lacklustre

limousine

liquidate

 

Exercises

  1. Create sentences using the verbs, to lie and to lay. Remember that you have to lay something down.
  2. Read the lists of L words and create a sentence for each. Make sure that you know the meaning of each word.

 

Special reading assignment

  1. The lady lay all the lemons in a line; only a little lime was lost. Did the lady lie about the lime?

 

  1. “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

— From a children’s bedtime prayer, circa 1711.

J is for Joe Pye Weed

Eupatorium purpureum
Joe Pye Weed grows along the shores of lakes and rivers, preferring damp places with rich soil.

How to say J

The letter J is pronounced as a soft g or “dzh”, regardless of the following letter.

jar, jelly, join, jug

English words do not end in the letter J. Words ending in a “dzh” sound are spelled with a g followed by an e to make a soft g or j sound.

edge, forge, fudge, sludge

Exceptions:

hadj [Arabic], raj [Hindi]

In some words and names of foreign derivation, a j is pronounced as a y.

hallelujah [Latin] (var. of allelulia [Greek])

Jung [name of Swiss or German derivation]

Juan [name of Spanish derivation]

Marja-Liisa [name of Finnish derivation]

fjord [Norwegian] (var. of fiord)

Silent Js

There are no silent Js in English, except where foreign words have been adopted.

marijuana [Mexican Spanish]

rijsttafel [Dutch]

Exercises

  1. Create a sentence with as many J-words as possible.

Special reading assignments

Two kinds of Joe Pye Weed are common in our area: spotted and sweet. The spotted variety has purple spots on the stems; the sweet smells of vanilla if you crush it.