U is for Underpass

U of Ottawa underpass
This underpass is a pedestrian walkway.

History of the letter U

The Phoenician letter waw (Y), or “hook”, was one of the most variable, undergoing many mutations as it was adopted by various languages and cultures. This letter was the sixth in the alphabet and the origin in Greek of the letters digamma (F) and upsilon (Y), and in Latin of F and V. The letters U, W, and Y were also derived from it. Thus, waw became both a consonant and a vowel.

In Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the letter waw came to be written in different ways, as a single stroke or a little circle.

In Latin, a stemless waw (V) was used for the letters U and W. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the lower case letter v began to be rounded sometimes into a u. The capital U became accepted in the 1700s, especially in France.

There is still confusion over the pronunciation and usage of the waw-derived letters, especially in English words borrowed from other languages.

Some U words

cunning

sum

udder

ultimate

underneath

uniform

unusual

upper

urgent

user

Exercises

  1. Define each word in the lists, “Some U Words.” Identify each as a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb. Use each word in a sentence.

Special reading assignment

  1. An underpass is the space under a bridge of some sort, allowing traffic to go through. A long underpass may be called a “subway”, distinct from subway meaning “underground” or “tube” rail transport systems.
  2. Pedestrian underpasses are built where heavy foot traffic needs to avoid a major thoroughfare.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2017.

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.

K is for Kangaroo

This kangaroo at the Toronto Zoo is doing a bit of grooming.
This kangaroo at the Toronto Zoo is doing a bit of grooming.

Consonant — consonant combinations

kb        inkblot                                      bk        subkingdom

kc        porkchop                                 ck        truck

kd        markdown                                dk        vodka

kf         blackfly                                    fk         offkey

kg        ginkgo  [tree]                            gk        Bangkok [city]

kh        khaki                                        hk        latchkey

kk        bookkeeper                              kk        lockkeeper

kl         ankle                                        lk         milk

km       workmen                                  mk       gymkhana

kn        knee                                         nk        monk

kp        jackpot                                     pk        napkin

kr         muskrat                                    rk         mark

ks         marksman                                 sk         skill

kt         necktie                                     tk         catkin

kw       silkworm                                  wk       awkward

ky        cocky                                       yk        Vandyke

 

Consonant — vowel combinations

ka        kangaroo                                  ak        akin

ke        keep                                         ek        eke

ki         kick                                          ik         ikebana

ko        koala                                        ok        okay

ku        kudos                                       uk        ukulele

ky        kylin                                         yk        tyke

 

Exercises

  1. In the list of “Consonant — Consonant Combinations”, how many are compound words rather than simple words?
  2. Can you think of other examples for the lists? Write them down.
  3. Create your own sentences using the words in the lists.

 

Special reading assignment

  1. Kangaroos are marsupial mammals; the female has a pocket in which undeveloped young are nurtured. They grow until large enough to be always sticking ears or feet out of the pocket. The mother weans her young in a safe environment.
  2. Most marsupials live in Australia. In North America, the opossum is an example of a marsupial. Have you seen an opossum or a kangaroo?

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.

F is for Fall Fair

Norwood Fall Fair
The Ferris wheel is always the central attraction at the fall fair.

Consonant — consonant combinations

fb         puffball                                     bf         dumbfounded

fc         off-centre [off-center, US]        cf

fd         half-done                                  df         goldfish

ff          iffy                                            ff          riff-raff

fg         Afghan                                     gf         jugful

fh         selfhood                                   hf         truthful

fj          fjord (or fiord)                          jf

fk         offkey                                       kf         blackfly

fl          flow                                          lf          elf

fm        self-made                                 mf        roomful

fn         deafness                                   nf         unfit

fp         hoofprint                                   pf         campfire

fr         frown                                       rf         perfume

fs         offshoot                                    sf         misfit

ft          gift                                            tf          artful

fw        halfway                                   wf        sawfish

fx         FX                                           xf         exfoliate

fy         verify                                        yf         mayfly

Consonant — vowel combinations

fa         fall                                            af         after

fe         feel                                           ef         effect

fi          find                                           if          if

fo         fob                                           of         often

fu         full                                            uf         ruffle

fy         puffy                                         yf         mayfly

Exercises

  1. Add some more words to the “Consonant — Consonant Combinations” word list and the “Consonant — Vowel Combinations” word list.
  2. Identify suffixes, prefixes, and compound words.
  3. Make sure that you know the meaning of each word. Use it in a sentence.

Special reading assignment

  1. Fogerty and his friend Petroff found fuzzy frozen figs from Finland in the freezer.

E is for Elephant

Loxodonta africana
This African elephant is about to retire from the Toronto Zoo to a sunny place in California.

Silent Es

Truly silent Es do not affect the pronunciation of the word.

are, come, done, ore

English words don’t end in the letter u or v.

blue, cheque, give, have, love

A silent E may serve to create a syllable.

handle, minute (time), pickle, people

A silent letter E affects the vowel that comes before it, making it sound like its name (a hard or long vowel).

Silent E following an A.

bad, bade; cap, cape; fat, fate; late; rat, rate

Silent E following an E.

pet, Pete

Silent E following an I.

line; rip, ripe; spit, spite

Silent E following an O.

hop, hope; not, note; rose

Silent E following a U.

cut, cute; minute (tiny)

Sometimes, the silent E affects the pronunciation of the consonant that comes before it.

Silent E following a C makes an S sound.

lance; place

Silent E following a G makes a J sound.

badge; charge; luggage

Disappearing silent Es

A silent E is sounded once the following suffixes are added to the word:

ed    note, noted; rate, rated

er     cute, cuter; ripe, riper

est    cute, cutest; ripe, ripest

The silent E is also sounded with the following suffix:

age  line, lineage

The silent E disappears with the following suffixes:

able compare, comparable; measure, measurable; value, valuable

age  dose, dosage; pasture, pasturage; store, storage; use, usage

ing   charge, charging; hope, hoping; rate, rating; store, storing

ment abridge, abridgment; argue, argument; judge, judgment (or “judgement”)

The silent E stays put with the following suffixes:

able manage, manageable

age  acre, acreage; mile, mileage

ly     come, comely; late, lately; love, lovely

ment achieve, achievement; move, movement; place, placement

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