T is for Tiger

You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.
You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.

Some T prefixes

tachi—, tacho—, tachy— all imply “swift”.



tauto— means “the same”.


techno— relates to the use of technology.

technobabble, technocracy

tele— comes from the Greek “far off” and often refers to television or telephone.

telecast, telegraph, teleprompter, telescope

ter— means “three” or “thrice”.

tercel, tercentennial

tera— means a factor of one trillion (1012) or, in computing, a multiple of 240.

terahertz, terawatt

terabit, terabyte

Some T suffixes

t replaces the suffix —ed in some words.

gild, gilded [past tense/adjective], gilt [adjective]

spill, spilled [past tense], spilt [past participle]

spell, spelled [past tense], spelt [past participle]

spend, spent [past tense/past participle]

shall, shalt [second person singular, archaic]


th, —eth are archaic or Biblical verb endings (third person singular, present tense).

He leadeth me beside still waters…

th, —eth are endings that form ordinal numbers.

sixth, hundredth, millionth

nineth, twentieth

th may refer to an act, process, state, or quality.

depth, growth, health, wealth, width

the— may refer to God or gods.

atheist, pantheism


  1. Look through the prefixes and suffixes. Do you see any that you might use on a day-to-day basis? Create a sentence with each of those.
  2. For the prefixes and suffixes that look less familiar, identify where you might find them, e.g., in a scientific text or a medical paper.

Special reading assignment

  1. Two tigers tore through three treacle tarts.
  2. Time and tide wait for no man. —Geoffrey Chaucer

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.








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






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.





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.





mortgage (the t is always silent)

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


Toronto (the second t may disappear)

The digraph TH is slurred or silent in some dialects.




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.




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.


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.

S is for Strawberries

Wild strawberries are small but delicious and sweet.

S is for Syllables

A syllable is a unit of pronunciation having a vowel sound and usually one or more consonant sounds. Syllables give words their rhythm and make poetry possible.

Saying an unfamiliar word syllable by syllable may help, although an understanding of prefixes and suffixes is essential for proper pronunciation.

A word may have only one syllable or many:

air (1 syllable)

afar (2 syllables)

ambush (2 syllables)

ambushed (3 syllables)

absolute (3 syllables)

absolutely (4 syllables)

avocation (4 syllables)

A prefix may have more than one syllable.

anti— an + ti (2 syllables)

A suffix may have more than one syllable.

─ally  al + ly (2 syllables)

A root word may have more than one syllable, as well as a prefix and a suffix, making up a long word.

septic  sep + tic (2 syllables)

antiseptically  an + ti + sep + tic + al + ly (6 syllables)

S is for Sharp, Shin, and Sigma

Long S
Cover page of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, published in 1667, photo courtesy of Wikipedia > Long S.

History of the letter S

The letter S originated with the Semitic letter shin, meaning “teeth” or “sharp”, perhaps inspired by the Egyptian hieroglyph for “tusk”. The symbol for shin looks somewhat like a W, with an upper dot or tittle to distinguish the s-sound from the sh-sound.

The Greeks turned the symbol on its side, to create the letter sigma (Σ, σ) for the s-sound.

Prior to 1500s, the lower-case letter s in Roman print was a “long s” similar to a lower-case f or a tusk. In medieval hand, the words look a little strange to us.

bleff = bless

bleffedneff = blessedness

When printing came into use after the mid-1400s, a rounded s was often placed at the end of words.

blefs = bless

bleffednefs = blessedness

To distinguish between the letters f and long s, the rounded s form that we know today began to be used everywhere, from the mid-1700s to early-1800s.


The long s remained as a symbol for shillings in Britain, although it morphed into a slash.

£6/10 (six pounds, 10 shillings)


Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2016.

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.






Sometimes the letter s takes on the sound of sh.




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.







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.


If you like swans, you may like this book, available on Amazon Kindle:

Fifty Shapes of Swan: A Natural History in Photos.


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.