U is for Uglifruit

Tangelo or Uglifruit
An Uglifruit is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit.

Silent letter U

Rule

U is not pronounced when it comes after G and before a vowel. In these words, the U serves to make a hard g-sound.

catalogue

colleague

dialogue

guard

guess

guide, guidance

guilt

guitar

Exceptions

The letter U may take on the sound of W, especially after a G or a Q.

anguish

queen

quick

sanguine

segue

suave

In these words, the letter U does not create a hard g-sound. The G is a part of the nasal form —ing— or —ong—.

meringue

tongue

The same rule applies when the letter U follows a C. The U is silent, but serves to make a hard-c sound.

biscuit

circuit

U is also silent in words of mainly French derivation with the suffix —que.

antique

appliqué

bouquet

cheque [UK; check, US]

marquee

mosque

oblique

plaque

toque

unique

U is silent in few other words.

quay (pronounced kee)

Exercises

  1. Make a sentence using words with a silent U and then sound them out.

Special reading assignment

  1. Uglifruit is a trademark name for a Jamaican tangelo, a hybrid cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit (or pomelo).
  2. Is it our Ulster team that is the underdog? That’s unusual.

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.

 

 

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.

 

N is for Nut

Aesculus hippocastanum
These horse chestnuts were found on the ground under a tree. The squirrels had opened the bristly husks.

The sound of N

The letter N is a nasal consonant which may take on a nasal vowel sound when combined with g or k.

thin, win

thing, wing

think, wink

 

Silent Ns

The letter N is silent when it follows an M at the end of a word.

autumn, column, condemn, damn, hymn, solemn

Here is a word where the N is sometimes silent, depending on the dialect of the speaker.

government

 

Letter combinations

A common letter combination is —ing, a suffix with a nasal n sound and a silent g.

singing, thinning, winking, wing

 

Double Ns

Words with double nn indicate that the preceding vowel is short or soft.

annual, banner, bonnet, cannot, inner, penny

This rule applies when, in saying the word, the stress is placed on that vowel.

When the stress is on another part of the word, the n is generally single.

inhabit, combination, silent

            Exceptions:

English is very inconsistent in this rule.

These words have an unexpected single n after a short vowel.

anvil, banish, canopy, energy, finish, honey

These words have an unexpected double nn, even though the stress in saying the word is not on the preceding vowel.

anniversary, connect, personnel, questionnaire

 

Confusing N words

narthex

narwhal

nasturtium

nasty

Neanderthal

necessary

negligence

neighbour [neighbor, US]

 

Exercises

  1. Look in a text, a book, or an article on the Internet, for words containing a double-N. How are they pronounced?
  2. Look up the “Confusing N Words” for their definitions. Then use each of them in a sentence.

 

Special reading assignment

Numbers of narwhals are now never known near Norway at night.

 

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

 

K is for Kale

Flowering kale does not mind a bit of frost.
Flowering kale does not mind a bit of frost.

The sounds of K

The letter K is an aspirant, the same as a hard C. Some words may be spelled with either a C or a K. Note that there is a difference in meaning between the words, karat, carat, and caret. The words disk and disc are also used for different things.

kaftan, caftan

kaboodle, caboodle

kalamata, calamata (olives)

kerb [British], curb [N. American]

ketchup, catsup [US]

King Knut, King Canute

skeptic, sceptic

disk, disc

CK letter combination

In some words, a K is combined with a C to indicate a hard C, where the adjacent vowels might make a soft C.

brick, bricked

fleck, flecked

 

Silent Ks

At the beginnings of words, K is silent before an N.

These Ks were pronounced in Old English, in the times of Chaucer and still sometimes in the times of Shakespeare. The change came sometime in the 16th and 17th centuries, because it was easier to say the words without the K.

knack

knapsack

knead

knee, kneel

knick-knack

knife

knit

knob

knock, knocker

knot

know, knowledge

In German, Swedish, and Dutch, similar words have kept the K sound. Some foreign names also keep the K sound.

Knesset [Israeli parliament]

Knossos [Minoan Crete city]

 

Double Ks

Double Ks are unusual in English.

bookkeeper

Unusual K words

daikon

eke

feckless

haiku

mukluk

polka

mucky muck

plankton 

Exercises

  1. In a book, newspaper, or webpage, pick out words beginning with K. How do pronounce them?
  2. Make up your own sentence with a lot of Ks. Is it a true alliteration?
  3. Look up the “Unusual K Words” to find their meanings.

Special reading assignments

The knave was keen to kiss the knuckles of the king and to kick the knees of the knights.

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.