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.

 

 

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.

P is for Parade

Easter Parade, Toronto
A marching band turns a corner in Toronto’s Easter Parade.

P is for palindrome
A palindrome is a word, a sentence or a row of words, or even a longer statement that has the same meaning when the letters are reversed.

noon

Ah ha!

Tut tut!

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama

 

P is for pangram
A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet.

The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

My girl wove six dozen plaid jackets before she quit.

 

P is for paraprosdokian
Paraprosdokian is a newly formed word created from the Greek for “against expectation”. It is a figure of speech with a surprise ending, popular with comedians.

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it. —Groucho Marx.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with. —Anonymous.

 

P is for prosody and prosify
What’s that? Prosody is the study of poetry, even though it sounds as if it should be about prose. The word contains inside it the root ode, which is a lyric poem, perhaps meant to be sung. Prosody includes the study of versification, including metre, rhyme, and stanzas.

Getting the feel of the rhythms of a language as it is spoken is important for gaining understanding, and therefore, poetry is important for learning a language.

Prosify, on the other hand, means to turn something into prose.

 

Exercises

  1. Can you find another palindrome? How about a pangram?
  2. Can you create a paraprosdokian?
  3. Find a little poem and write it out as prose (that is, prosify it).

 

Special reading assignment

Pease porridge hot,

Pease  porridge cold,

Pease porridge in the pot,

Nine days old!

— English nursery rhyme, first published in 1760

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the fall of 2014.

P is for Pelican

Pelicanus erythrorhynchos
The White Pelican, which summers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada, has a wingspread of about nine feet.

Prefixes

ped— usually relates to feet, footed, or a line of descent.

pedestrian

peddle

pedigree

post— means “after”, “afterwards”, “later”, or “behind”.

posterior

post-glacial

post-graduate

postpone

pre— means “before” in time or place, or in the order or importance of things.

precaution

precede, precedent

predate

preface

prescribe, prescription

president

pro— can mean “before” in time or place, or in the order of things.

promise

prophet

pro— can mean “favouring” or “supporting”.

pro-government

pro— can mean “in front of”, “forwards”, or “onward”.

probation

proceeds

progress

pros— means “towards” or “in addition to” something.

prosecute

prosper

prospect

proto— means “first”.

protocol

prototype

Suffixes

pede or —pedal create a noun or adjective that refers to feet or something footed.

bipedal

centipede

impede

stampede

 

pod or —pode also refer to feet or a number of feet.

hexapod

megapode

tripod

Exercises

  1. Which suffixes correspond to a prefix similar in meaning?
  2. Identify additional words with prefixes and suffixes beginning with the letter P.

Special reading assignment

  1. Philippa and her friend Stephen sloughed off their scarves and photographed the phantom pheasant phenomenon in the pharmacy.
  2. White pelicans scoop up fish while swimming; brown pelicans plunge from a height, bill-first, to catch fish.

 

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

P is for Poison Ivy

Rhus radicans
“Leaves of three, let it be.” Poison ivy may be a low, sprawling plant, a climbing vine, a tallish bush, or individual small plants scattered amongst other vegetation.

Sounds of P

The sound of P is a sudden breath (a plosive) made by closing and opening the lips.

pat

pet

pit

pot

put

PH is a digraph

The Greeks invented the letter phi to represent a sound not present in the Phoenician language. It was written as ph when the Romans adopted it into their alphabet. Phi was originally pronounced with an extra breath, as in uphill or loophole, but eventually was changed to an f sound in Latin and Greek. French also adopted the f sound for ph. English was influenced by these other languages, whereas some other European languages have not adopted ph; they just use f. English words with ph are often of Greek or maybe Latin origin.

alpha

gopher

nephew

phase

phobia

telephone

sphinx

trophy

Silent Ps

The letter P is silent in words that start with pne— or psy—.

pneumatic

pneumonia

psych

psyche

psychic

psychotic

Exceptional silent Ps

corps

coup

psalm

receipt

Exercises

  1. Look at the P words in the lists. Are they nouns or verbs? Could you use one as an adjective?
  2. Can you make a compound word using one of these words? Use that word in a sentence.
  3. Look for a word containing ph. Is it a compound word or does it contain the ph digraph?
  4. Define the words containing a silent P.

Special reading assignment

  1. The philosophy of the first Pharaohs formed a phantom phalanx.
  2. Pretty parrots’ performances pleased partying people, poolside.
  3. Please note: poison ivy does grow in cities in North America. Poison ivy is extremely variable in its height, size, and growth pattern. Learn to know the pattern of its leaves and stay away. Every new contact with this plant increases your susceptibility.

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 Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
This osprey is nesting on a hydro pole right next to a minor highway south of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

 

O is for “or”

Or is a conjunction used to denote one of two alternatives or the last of a list of alternatives. In this way, the word or may also express some uncertainty.

purple or mauve

sheep or goats

an apple, an orange, or a peach

two or three goats

In the case of either…or, you are presented with only two alternatives.

Either we eat now or after the play ends.

Either do your chores or else you are grounded.

He was working either in his office or at the library.

For an expression using whether…or, you are presented with a conditional phrase or an indirect question.

We have to go, whether it is raining or not.

Call your friend and ask him whether or not it is raining there.

The word or may indicate a synonym.

cougars or mountain lions

an opening or gap

O is for ought

The word ought is an auxiliary verb, originally a past participle of the verb, to owe, but now used only with other verbs in the infinitive. It indicates obligation or duty, advisability or prudence, and is less vexing than should.

We ought to leave now.

He ought to have thought of that.

She ought not to have eaten so much.

Confusing O words

boudoire

cougar

course

ooze

operation

opposition

organism

origin

rook

root

soot

wool 

Exercises

  1. Choose a book or newspaper to work with. Find sentences that include the conjunction or and figure out the exact meaning.
  2. Substitute should for ought and consider how the meaning of a sentence changes.
  3. Read through the list of “Confusing O Words”. Check the pronunciation of each word. Any surprises?

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 Owl

Sculpture
Wordsworth the Owl can be found outside the library on Queen Street East in Toronto. Sculptor, Ludzer Vandermolen.

Prefixes

ob—, oc—, of—, op— mean “in the way of”, or “facing” and, usually, something in opposition or contrary. Notice that the c, f, and p are doubled.

obstruct

object

obvious

occasion

occult

occupy

offence [or offense]

offer

opponent

oppose

opposite

Special reading assignment

  1. Our one and only objective was to organize the office and outline the operation.
  2. Owls have broad wings, which allow them silent flight and more successful hunting.
  3. Otters have thick, waterproof fur. When they swim, hundreds of shiny, silver bubbles follow in their wake.

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