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”.

ibex

icon

ion

file

while

These words have the short i sound.

bid

if

din

ding

ill

imagine

is

I is rarely, but sometimes, silent.

bruise

business 

Diphthongs

Diphthongs have a sliding sound, sometimes quite subtle.

ia

acacia, burial, liar, militia, phobia

ie

chief, die, lie, movie, niece

io

curio, lion, prior, riot, trio

iu

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

Exceptions

die, lie, tie

science, hierarchy, diet

leisure, weight

Exercises

  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.

G is for Goatsbeard

Tragopogon sp.
Reminiscent of a giant dandelion, goatsbeard grows up to three feet tall.

The sounds of G

Hard G sound

game, get, give, ghee, go, gut, guide

Soft G sound

gene, generate, George, giant, ginger, gyre

Silent G 

G is silent in the gerund ending, —ing,

making, paying, walking

when combined with an n (—gn—) or similarly, an m,

assign, foreign, sign, gnat, gnu

phlegm

and when combined with an h (—gh—). See exceptions below.

flight, nigh, night, right, slough (meaning wetland), weigh

 

Letter combinations

dg— makes a soft G sound.

edge, fidgety, gadget, hedge, judge

ge— makes a soft G sound, similar to J.

gene and jean sound the same

rage, rag

gh— may have different sounds, depending upon the word, or it may be silent (but not a soft G sound).

eight, slough (pronounced slew, meaning a wetland), through

rough, slough (pronounced sluff, meaning to shed one’s skin)

laugh (pronounced laff)

ghee, gherkin (the gh here makes a hard G sound)

gi— may be a soft G sound, similar to J.

giant

logic

Exceptions

gibbon, gild, gingham, give, log-in

gng is silent when followed by an n.

gnaw, gnome, Gnostic, gnu

ing, ung make a nasal sound with a silent g.

king, fling

sung, young

Exercises

  1. Find a text in a newspaper or online. List the words containing the letter G. How do you pronounce them? Make your own sentences with these G words.

Special reading assignment

  1. The gentle gunner gave the growling dog a good gob of gristle.
  2. George begrudged Guy his ill-gotten gains.

E is for Elderberry

Sambucus
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 

Diphthongs

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

Exercises

  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

D is for Daisy

Compositae
Did you ever pluck the petals from a daisy, one by one, “He loves me; he loves me not?”

D is for digraphs, doubles and disappearing

Letter combinations (digraphs)

dg─, usually placed before an e, i, or y, sounds like j.

badge, dodgy, judge, wedge, widget

dh─ is pronounced with a silent h.

dhow, dhoti

Double Ds

English words with double consonants are inconsistent, so there is no reliable rule.

Usually, a double-d serves to signal that the preceding vowel is short rather than long.

buddy, hidden, ladder, wedding

bade, fade, hide, laden, wide

Exceptions:

Sometimes a single d acts as a double-d.

body, credit, educate, study

Three-letter words ending in d usually have a short vowel.

bad, fad, hid, lad, wed

Silent or disappearing Ds

The letter D may or may not be silent or slurred in some words, depending on the dialect of the speaker.

handkerchief, grandson

sandwich, Wednesday, handsome

Exercises

How many words can you think of with double d‘s? Say them out loud.

Now, find similar words with only one d. Does the vowel sound different?

Where do the words, dhow and dhoti, come from?

 

C is for Columbine

Aquilega vulgaris
The Garden Columbine blooms in many colours in spring and early summer.

Sounds of C

A hard sound, like K, when c comes before a, o, u, and consonants.

coffee, cupcake, school

A soft sound, like S, when c comes before i, e, y.

circle, celery, cyanide, recipe, fascinate

 A hiss sound, like sh, when —ci— (or sometimes —ce—) comes before a vowel, inside a word. [Infrequent.]

conscience, social

Exceptions:

These words do not have the sh hiss:

science; society

Silent Cs

Some words that derive from Middle English are pronounced the same as they always were, but the spelling was changed to add a c, similar to French or Latin, which were fashionable languages at the time.

indict, indictment, indictable offence

Other words were imported into English from another language.

yacht [Dutch], Tucson [Papago Indian]

 See also, Letter combinations (digraphs), below, for words containing sc.

scientist

Double Cs

English words with double consonants are inconsistent, so there is no reliable rule.

Usually, a double C serves to signal that the preceding vowel is short rather than long.

accord, accuse, occupy

Rather than a double C or a double K, a CK is commonly used. The hard C sound is preserved or emphasized, even when, with the following vowel (I, E, or Y), you would expect a soft C sound.

chicken, hockey, sticky wicket

Exceptions:

Sometimes a QU is used to preserve the hard C sound.

liquor, chequers (also, checkers [US])

Sometimes a double C is used in a word to express both a hard C and a soft C sound.

accent

Sometimes a single C acts like a double C.

crocodile, decade, second 

Letter combinations (digraphs)

ch

c and h together create a distinct sound, a digraph.

cherry, cheque, chi, chutney, church

Exceptions:

chemistry, crochet, chenille, Christ, chronology

ck

c and k together create a digraph.

brackets, crickets, flock, quick, rocket

ct  is an uncommon letter combination

act, fact

sc,sce

s and c together are a digraph that emphasizes the s sound.

abscess, acquiesce, descent, effervesce, fluoresce, muscle, rescind, scene, scent, science, scissors

Exceptions:

In these words, the s and c are both pronounced.

school, scholar, score, scream, scoundrel, muscular

Rules of pronunciation

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

conceive, receive, receipt, retrieve

Exceptions:

science, hierarchy, diet 

Special reading assignment

 

  1. Can’t you come to the cottage in October to check on the locks?
  2. Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake.                   — Jim Davis

 

B is for Bouncing Bette

Saponaria officinalis
Bouncing Bette or soapwort grows in waste places and roadsides.

Special characters: brackets

Brackets are used to distinguish text in an aside when parentheses are not appropriate.

( ) parentheses

[  ] square brackets

{  } braces or curly brackets

< > angle brackets

Square brackets may indicate a comment or explanation made by the editor, outside of the original text.

Angle brackets are sometimes used to delineate URLs and e-mail addresses.

The opening angle bracket ( < ) may be a symbol for “less than” and the closing angle bracket ( > ), for “more than”.

Special brackets are commonly used to express mathematical functions. Make sure to use the correct keyboard characters to create these brackets.

Special reading assignment

  1. “One cannot borrow beauty; it must be brought up, like a baby, from within.”
  2. Beaver dams, on one hand, may cause floods. On the other, they may maintain a wetland environment.

B is for Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia serotina
A bee is seeking nectar in the flower of a black-eyed Susan.

Better and best

Use better and best to make comparisons or to make a judgement on the value of something.

As adjectives

She has a good car.

Better is used as a comparison to good.

He has a better car.

Best is used as a superlative.

They wanted the best car.

As adverbs

The car is running well.

Better is used as a comparison to well.

It had a problem, but now the car is running better.

Best is used as a superlative.

That race car runs best in its class.