R is for Rock Cut


This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.
This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.

R is for rhyme and rhyme scheme

A rhyme is the repetition of the same or similar sounds, most often in the final syllables of the final words in lines of poetry or song. Rhyme is also a verb, used even to describe how someone made an unintentionally poetic statement.

Rhyme is a poetic device. One common type of poetry features rhyming couplets.

All the stream that’s roaring by

Came out of a needle’s eye;

Things unborn, things that are gone,

From needle’s eye still goad it on.

—  “A Needle’s Eye,” William Butler Yeats


A rhyme scheme is the pattern of the rhymes ending the lines of a poem or song. In English, different rhyme schemes have names, e.g., a limerick is AABBA.

Here is another example of rhyming couplets, using letters to mark the different rhymes.

He with body waged a fight,                                A

But body won; it walks upright.                         A

Then he struggled with the heart;                      B

Innocence and peace depart.                               B

Then he struggled with the mind;                      C

His proud heart he left behind.                           C

Now his wars on God begin;                                D

At stroke of midnight God shall win.                 D

— “The Four Ages of Man,” William Butler Yeats


Rhyming Mnemonic

Rhymes are also used as a mnemonic to aid memorization.

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,

And twenty-nine each leap year.

— Anonymous


R is for rhythm

Rhythm is the regular beat of sounds and silence in speech, prose, poetry, or music. It is as natural as walking and breathing; our hearts beat in a rhythm. In music, the upbeat and downbeat correspond to the metre in poetry, which is measured in feet, e.g. da DUM, which is an iamb.

Iambic pentameter is a common rhythm in poetry, consisting of five iambs per line.

And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;

I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,

And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep;

(Act 3, Scene 1)

—“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare


  1. Do you have a favourite poem? What is its rhyme scheme and rhythm?
  2. Do you know any mnemonics used as memory aids? Do they rhyme?

Special reading assignment

  1. Rock cuts are a feature of Canadian landscape, especially in the north.
  2. Rest assured, Rosemary has rated the recipe for roasted radishes.

R is for Raccoon


Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.
Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.


re— stands for “again” or “go back”. Sometimes, especially when the root word begins with R or RE, there is a hyphen. Also, if you make up a word starting with RE, you ought to use a hyphen.









Note that a hyphen may indicate a different meaning.

redress vs re-dress

reform vs re-form

rhodo— means “red” or “rosy”.



radio— indicates a relationship with radio or radiation.





er creates an adjective or adverb indicating more, by comparison.





er designates someone (or something) who does or is something.



New Brunswicker




re is sometimes preferred over the more common —er, most often in words that originate from French or Latin. This is one place where spelling variations occur, especially in the USA.

chevre [from French] (cheese)

goitre, goiter [US]

litre, liter [US]

louvre, louver

metre, meter [US]

sabre, saber [US]

theatre, theater [US]

ry, —ery designate a place for something, a class of something, a state or condition of something, or a quality or characteristic of something or someone.

bakery, tannery

finery, mastery

cheery, misery, slavery

snobbery, watery


  1. Find a paragraph in a newspaper or online and look for all the words containing the letter R. How many of them contain a prefix or suffix beginning with R? What is the root of these words? Does the root make sense on its own?
  2. Write down as many verbs as you can think of. Place the prefix re— in front. Do the verbs still make sense? Try to use them in a sentence.


Special reading assignment

  1. Raccoons are native to North America but have spread around the world.
  2. Raccoons do not make good pets. Do you know anyone who has tried to make a pet of one? What happened?


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






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


  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.


H is for Hydro Towers

Hydro lines
Hydro towers march through the landscape near Ottawa, Canada.

H is for hyphens

Hyphens (-) are little dashes that have many uses.

Hyphens in compound words

Compound words may be hyphenated (or they may be closed up together or they may be left as two separate words). Look in the dictionary for help.

Hyphenated compound words and phrases

horse-trade, hot-wire, house-sit


Closed compound words

hereinafter, hothouse, household

Open compound words

high school, hydro line, phone booth

Hyphens in confusing words

Use a hyphen to help the reader understand the sense of the word in context.

re-creation (as opposed to recreation)

co-op (as opposed to coop)

eight-part sets (as opposed to eight partial sets)

Hyphens between descriptors before a noun

Use a hyphen between the following:

two  or more adjectives before a noun

high-class home, third-floor bachelor

an adjective and a participle

hard-hitting handball game

an adverb and an adjective or participle

much-heated stew


Never use a hyphen after a word ending in —ly.  

hardly heard hymn

a noun plus a participle

hand-held device

a noun plus an adjective before a noun

cheese-free hamburger

age terms

three-year-old cheese


Do not use a hyphen if the descriptors come after the noun.

The home was high class.

The game was hard hitting.

The cheese was three years old.

Hyphens mark words split between two lines of type.

Heavenly hash is the kind of meal that many want to avoid eating because left-

overs are not appetizing.


  1. Pick up a newspaper. Find some hyphenated words and figure out what parts of speech are in the phrase.

Special reading assignment

  1. Henry hankered to measure the height of hydro towers in the right-of-way.
  2. Horrified onlookers watched the steel-built hydro towers fall in the fierce ice storm. [Near Montreal, 1989.]


G is for Glacial Erratic

Signs of glaciers.
This large boulder was dropped in place by an ancient glacier, which carried it from afar.

G is for genus

Living things are given a scientific name consisting of two names, a genus name and a species name (called a binomial), from Latin or Latinized Greek. These two names together are always placed in italics. Only the genus name is capitalized. Common names may be capitalized, or not.

Acer ginnala (Siberian maple)

Curcurbita pepo (gourd)

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

Gavia immer (Common Loon)

Grus canadensis (Sandhill Crane)

When you see a list of species, such as these maples, only the first mention of the genus name is written in full.

Acer rubrum, A. saccharum, A. spicatum


  1. Using a field guide or an online search, identify the trees and birds you see around you during the day. Write out their common names and binomials, accurately.

Special reading assignment

  1. Glacial erratics are rocks, often large boulders with a rounded shape, carried and dropped in unusual places by a glacier.


D is for Drumlin

Glacial landscape feature
A drumlin is a north-south ridge of gravel, the shape of a beached whale.

D is for digraph


You can guess at the meaning of digraph because di— means “two” and —graph means “something written.” A digraph is two letters that have one sound. In older forms of English, the two letters might be run together, such as ae (æ). In vowel digraphs, the second letter is usually silent. English dialects introduce some variation in pronunciation.


Note: Digraphs are letters.


ch         chew

ck        check

dg        judge

ng         doing

sh         shout

th         that, think

ph        pheasant

wh        what, when, where, who


ae         archaeology [formerly, archæology]

ai          maid, maintain

au         audit

ay         day, tray

ea         bean, eat, teach

ee         fleece, sweet

ei          eight, receive

ey         key

ie          die

oa        boat, coast

oe        potatoes

oo        book, look

ow       slow

ue         true

D is for diphthong


Diphthong also begins with di— for “two”, but the second part of the word is derived from a difficult Greek word, phthong, meaning “sound” but also related to “tongue”.


A diphthong is (1) two vowels that act together to create a sliding sound within a syllable (the letters Y and W often act as vowels in this instance). It is also (2) two sounds that slide within one vowel (not a digraph). English dialects introduce some variation in pronunciation.


Note: Diphthongs are sounds.


a          rate, table

ai          fail, rain

au         daughter, haul

aw        draw, hawk

ea         create, eagle, great

ei          height

ew        dew, jewel, new

ey         convey, obey

i           arrive, high, private, sign

ia          dial, trial

ie          science

io         pioneer, riot, violet

o          ago, no, roll

oe        poet

oi         coil, noise, stoic

oo        cool, fool, moon

ou        out, mouse, soul

ow       down, how, know, throwing

oy        boy, oyster, voyage

ua         casual


ue         statue

uy         buyer, Gruyère, guy

y          by, hype, sky

yi          flying, trying


  1. Try to pronounce the word diphthong. Do you prefer to say “dip-thong” or “diff-thong”?
  2. Sound out words to identify digraphs and diphthongs. Which ones are the most commonly used?

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.