The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language - Word-Study and Composition & Rhetoric
by Sherwin Cody
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcriber's note: Letters with an extra space before them show those that should be removed & letters with { } around them show those added as there are some mistakes in the book & because plain text is used. (I changed mathematical & meter but it maybe that they are correct and the others are wrong). I did not change Shak{e}spe{a}re, mortgag eor & some words in lists. (The N word should have a capital!)

I've used superscript a for broad a (instead of 2 dots under it). & superscripted a & o (Spanish ordinals) before o for ligatures. A long vowel should have a straight line over it but I've shown them by using a colon : after them. Short vowels are shown by a grave accent mark after instead of a curved line over the letter. An equals sign = after a word shows that the next 1 should start the next column. "Special SYSTEM Edition" brought from frontispiece.



Special S Y S T E M Edition


The Old Greek Press Chicago New{ }York Boston

Revised Edition.



Note. The thanks of the author are due to Dr. Edwin H. Lewis, of the Lewis Institute, Chicago, and to Prof. John F. Genung, Ph. D., of Amherst College, for suggestions made after reading the proof of this series.












The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language


If there is a subject of really universal interest and utility, it is the art of writing and speaking one's own language effectively. It is the basis of culture, as we all know; but it is infinitely more than that: it is the basis of business. No salesman can sell anything unless he can explain the merits of his goods in effective English (among our people), or can write an advertisement equally effective, or present his ideas, and the facts, in a letter. Indeed, the way we talk, and write letters, largely determines our success in life.

Now it is well for us to face at once the counter-statement that the most ignorant and uncultivated men often succeed best in business, and that misspelled, ungrammatical advertisements have brought in millions of dollars. It is an acknowledged fact that our business circulars and letters are far inferior in correctness to those of Great Britain; yet they are more effective in getting business. As far as spelling is concerned, we know that some of the masters of literature have been atrocious spellers and many suppose that when one can sin in such company, sinning is, as we might say, a "beauty spot", a defect in which we can even take pride.

Let us examine the facts in the case more closely. First of all, language is no more than a medium; it is like air to the creatures of the land or water to fishes. If it is perfectly clear and pure, we do not notice it any more than we notice pure air when the sun is shining in a clear sky, or the taste of pure cool water when we drink a glass on a hot day. Unless the sun is shining, there is no brightness; unless the water is cool, there is no refreshment. The source of all our joy in the landscape, of the luxuriance of fertile nature, is the sun and not the air. Nature would be more prodigal in Mexico than in Greenland, even if the air in Mexico were as full of soot and smoke as the air of Pittsburg{h}, or loaded with the acid from a chemical factory. So it is with language. Language is merely a medium for thoughts, emotions, the intelligence of a finely wrought brain, and a good mind will make far more out of a bad medium than a poor mind will make out of the best. A great violinist will draw such music from the cheapest violin that the world is astonished. However is that any reason why the great violinist should choose to play on a poor violin; or should one say nothing of the smoke nuisance in Chicago because more light and heat penetrate its murky atmosphere than are to be found in cities only a few miles farther north? The truth is, we must regard the bad spelling nuisance, the bad grammar nuisance, the inartistic and rambling language nuisance, precisely as we would the smoke nuisance, the sewer-gas nuisance, the stock-yards' smell nuisance. Some dainty people prefer pure air and correct language; but we now recognize that purity is something more than an esthetic fad, that it is essential to our health and well-being, and therefore it becomes a matter of universal public interest, in language as well as in air.

There is a general belief that while bad air may be a positive evil influence, incorrect use of language is at most no more than a negative evil: that while it may be a good thing to be correct, no special harm is involved in being incorrect. Let us look into this point.

While language as the medium of thought may be compared to air as the medium of the sun's influence, in other respects it is like the skin of the body; a scurvy skin shows bad blood within, and a scurvy language shows inaccurate thought and a confused mind. And as a disease once fixed on the skin reacts and poisons the blood in turn as it has first been poisoned by the blood, so careless use of language if indulged reacts on the mind to make it permanently and increasingly careless, illogical, and inaccurate in its thinking.

The ordinary person will probably not believe this, because he conceives of good use of language as an accomplishment to be learned from books, a prim system of genteel manners to be put on when occasion demands, a sort of superficial education in the correct thing, or, as the boys would say, "the proper caper." In this, however, he is mistaken. Language which expresses the thought with strict logical accuracy is correct language, and language which is sufficiently rich in its resources to express thought fully, in all its lights and bearings, is effective language. If the writer or speaker has a sufficient stock of words and forms at his disposal, he has only to use them in a strictly logical way and with sufficient fulness to be both correct and effective. If his mind can always be trusted to work accurately, he need not know a word of grammar except what he has imbibed unconsciously in getting his stock of words and expressions. Formal grammar is purely for critical purposes. It is no more than a standard measuring stick by which to try the work that has been done and find out if it is imperfect at any point. Of course constant correction of inaccuracies schools the mind and puts it on its guard so that it will be more careful the next time it attempts expression; but we cannot avoid the conclusion that if the mind lacks material, lacks knowledge of the essential elements of the language, it should go to the original source from which it got its first supply, namely to reading and hearing that which is acknowledged to be correct and sufficient—-as the child learns from its mother. All the scholastic and analytic grammar in the world will not enrich the mind in language to any appreciable extent.

And now we may consider another objector, who says, "I have studied grammar for years and it has done me no good." In view of what has just been said, we may easily concede that such is very likely to have been the case. A measuring stick is of little value unless you have something to measure. Language cannot be acquired, only tested, by analysis, and grammar is an analytic, not a constructive science.

We have compared bad use of language to a scurvy condition of the skin. To cure the skin we must doctor the blood; and to improve the language we should begin by teaching the mind to think. But that, you will say, is a large undertaking. Yes, but after all it is the most direct and effective way. All education should be in the nature of teaching the mind to think, and the teaching of language consists in teaching thinking in connection with word forms and expression through language. The unfortunate thing is that teachers of language have failed to go to the root of the trouble, and enormous effort has counted for nothing, and besides has led to discouragement.

The American people are noted for being hasty in all they do. Their manufactures are quickly made and cheap. They have not hitherto had time to secure that perfection in minute details which constitutes "quality." The slow-going Europeans still excel in nearly all fine and high-grade forms of manufacture—-fine pottery, fine carpets and rugs, fine cloth, fine bronze and other art wares. In our language, too, we are hasty, and therefore imperfect. Fine logical accuracy requires more time than we have had to give to it, and we read the newspapers, which are very poor models of language, instead of books, which should be far better. Our standard of business letters is very low. It is rare to find a letter of any length without one or more errors of language, to say nothing of frequent errors in spelling made by ignorant stenographers and not corrected by the business men who sign the letters.

But a change is coming over us. We have suddenly taken to reading books, and while they are not always the best books, they are better than newspapers. And now a young business man feels that it is distinctly to his advantage if he can dictate a thoroughly good letter to his superior or to a well informed customer. Good letters raise the tone of a business house, poor letters give the idea that it is a cheapjack concern. In social life, well written letters, like good conversational powers, bring friends and introduce the writer into higher circles. A command of language is the index of culture, and the uneducated man or woman who has become wealthy or has gained any special success is eager to put on this wedding garment of refinement. If he continues to regard a good command of language as a wedding garment, he will probably fail in his effort; but a few will discover the way to self-education and actively follow it to its conclusion adding to their first success this new achievement.

But we may even go farther. The right kind of language-teaching will also give us power, a kind of eloquence, a skill in the use of words, which will enable us to frame advertisements which will draw business, letters which will win customers, and to speak in that elegant and forceful way so effective in selling goods. When all advertisements are couched in very imperfect language, and all business letters are carelessly written, of course no one has an advantage over another, and a good knowledge and command of language would not be much of a recommendation to a business man who wants a good assistant. But when a few have come in and by their superior command of language gained a distinct advantage over rivals, then the power inherent in language comes into universal demand—the business standard is raised. There are many signs now that the business standard in the use of language is being distinctly raised. Already a stenographer who does not make errors commands a salary from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. higher than the average, and is always in demand. Advertisement writers must have not only business instinct but language instinct, and knowledge of correct, as well as forceful, expression{.}

Granted, then, that we are all eager to better our knowledge of the English language, how shall we go about it?

There are literally thousands of published books devoted to the study and teaching of our language. In such a flood it would seem that we should have no difficulty in obtaining good guides for our study.

But what do we find? We find spelling-books filled with lists of words to be memorized; we find grammars filled with names and definitions of all the different forms which the language assumes; we find rhetorics filled with the names of every device ever employed to give effectiveness to language; we find books on literature filled with the names, dates of birth and death, and lists of works, of every writer any one ever heard of: and when we have learned all these names we are no better off than when we started. It is true that in many of these books we may find prefaces which say, "All other books err in clinging too closely to mere system, to names; but we will break away and give you the real thing." But they don't do it; they can't afford to be too radical, and so they merely modify in a few details the same old system, the system of names. Yet it is a great point gained when the necessity for a change is realized.

How, then, shall we go about our mastery of the English language?

Modern science has provided us a universal method by which we may study and master any subject. As applied to an art, this method has proved highly successful in the case of music. It has not been applied to language because there was a well fixed method of language study in existence long before modern science was even dreamed of, and that ancient method has held on with wonderful tenacity. The great fault with it is that it was invented to apply to languages entirely different from our own. Latin grammar and Greek grammar were mechanical systems of endings by which the relationships of words were indicated. Of course the relationship of words was at bottom logical, but the mechanical form was the chief thing to be learned. Our language depends wholly (or very nearly so) on arrangement of words, and the key is the logical relationship. A man who knows all the forms of the Latin or Greek language can write it with substantial accuracy; but the man who would master the English language must go deeper, he must master the logic of sentence structure or word relations. We must begin our study at just the opposite end from the Latin or Greek; but our teachers of language have balked at a complete reversal of method, the power of custom and time has been too strong, and in the matter of grammar we are still the slaves of the ancient world. As for spelling, the irregularities of our language seem to have driven us to one sole method, memorizing: and to memorize every word in a language is an appalling task. Our rhetoric we have inherited from the middle ages, from scholiasts, refiners, and theological logicians, a race of men who got their living by inventing distinctions and splitting hairs. The fact is, prose has had a very low place in the literature of the world until within a century; all that was worth saying was said in poetry, which the rhetoricians were forced to leave severely alone, or in oratory, from which all their rules were derived; and since written prose language became a universal possession through the printing press and the newspaper we have been too busy to invent a new rhetoric.

Now, language is just as much a natural growth as trees or rocks or human bodies, and it can have no more irregularities, even in the matter of spelling, than these have. Science would laugh at the notion of memorizing every individual form of rock. It seeks the fundamental laws, it classifies and groups, and even if the number of classes or groups is large, still they have a limit and can be mastered. Here we have a solution of the spelling problem. In grammar we find seven fundamental logical relationships, and when we have mastered these and their chief modifications and combinations, we have the essence of grammar as truly as if we knew the name for every possible combination which our seven fundamental relationships might have. Since rhetoric is the art of appealing to the emotions and intelligence of our hearers, we need to know, not the names of all the different artifices which may be employed, but the nature and laws of emotion and intelligence as they may be reached through language; for if we know what we are hitting at, a little practice will enable us to hit accurately; whereas if we knew the name of every kind of blow, and yet were ignorant of the thing we were hitting at, namely the intelligence and emotion of our fellow man, we would be forever striking into the air,—-striking cleverly perhaps, but ineffectively.

Having got our bearings, we find before us a purely practical problem, that of leading the student through the maze of a new science and teaching him the skill of an old art, exemplified in a long line of masters.

By way of preface we may say that the mastery of the English language (or any language) is almost the task of a lifetime. A few easy lessons will have no effect. We must form a habit of language study that will grow upon us as we grow older, and little by little, but never by leaps, shall we mount up to the full expression of all that is in us.




The mastery of English spelling is a serious under-taking. In the first place, we must actually memorize from one to three thousand words which are spelled in more or less irregular ways. The best that can be done with these words is to classify them as much as possible and suggest methods of association which will aid the memory. But after all, the drudgery of memorizing must be gone through with.

Again, those words called homonyms, which are pronounced alike but spelled differently, can be studied only in connection with their meaning, since the meaning and grammatical use in the sentence is our only key to their form. So we have to go considerably beyond the mere mechanical association of letters.

Besides the two or three thousand common irregular words, the dictionary contains something over two hundred thousand other words. Of course no one of us can possibly have occasion to use all of those words; but at the same time, every one of us may sooner or later have occasion to use any one of them. As we cannot tell before hand what ones we shall need, we should be prepared to write any or all of them upon occasion. Of course we may refer to the dictionary; but this is not always, or indeed very often, possible. It would obviously be of immense advantage to us if we could find a key to the spelling of these numerous but infrequently used words.

The first duty of the instructor in spelling should be to provide such a key. We would suppose, off-hand, that the three hundred thousand school-teachers in the United States would do this immediately and without suggestion—certainly that the writers of school-books would. But many things have stood in the way. It is only within a few years, comparatively speaking, that our language has become at all fixed in its spelling. Noah Webster did a great deal to establish principles, and bring the spelling of as many words as possible to conform with these principles and with such analogies as seemed fairly well established. But other dictionary-makers have set up their ideas against his, and we have a conflict of authorities. If for any reason one finds himself spelling a word differently from the world about him, he begins to say, "Well, that is the spelling given in Worcester, or the Century, or the Standard, or the new Oxford." So the word "authority" looms big on the horizon; and we think so much about authority, and about different authorities, that we forget to look for principles, as Mr. Webster would have us do.

Another reason for neglecting rules and principles is that the lists of exceptions are often so formidable that we get discouraged and exclaim, "If nine tenths of the words I use every day are exceptions to the rules, what is the use of the rules anyway!" Well, the words which constitute that other tenth will aggregate in actual numbers far more than the common words which form the chief part of everyday speech, and as they are selected at random from a vastly larger number, the only possible way to master them is by acquiring principles, consciously or unconsciously, which will serve as a key to them. Some people have the faculty of unconsciously formulating principles from their everyday observations, but it is a slow process, and many never acquire it unless it is taught them.

The spelling problem is not to learn how to spell nine tenths of our words correctly. Nearly all of us can and do accomplish that. The good speller must spell nine hundred and ninety-nine one thousandths of his word correctly, which is quite another matter. Some of us go even one figure higher.

Our first task is clearly to commit the common irregular words to memory. How may we do that most easily? It is a huge task at best, but every pound of life energy which we can save in doing it is so much gained for higher efforts. We should strive to economize effort in this just as the manufacturer tries to economize in the cost of making his goods.

In this particular matter, it seems to the present writer that makers of modern spelling-books have committed a great blunder in mixing indiscriminately regular words with irregular, and common words with uncommon. Clearly we should memorize first the words we use most often, and then take up those which we use less frequently. But the superintendent of the Evanston schools has reported that out of one hundred first-reader words which he gave to his grammar classes as a spelling test, some were misspelled by all but sixteen per cent{.} of the pupils. And yet these same pupils were studying busily away on categories, concatenation, and amphibious. The spelling-book makers feel that they must put hard words into their spellers. Their books are little more than lists of words, and any one can make lists of common, easy words. A spelling-book filled with common easy words would not seem to be worth the price paid for it. Pupils and teachers must get their money's worth, even if they never learn to spell. Of course the teachers are expected to furnish drills themselves on the common, easy words; but unfortunately they take their cue from the spelling-book, each day merely assigning to the class the next page. They haven't time to select, and no one could consistently expect them to do otherwise than as they do do.

To meet this difficulty, the author of this book has prepared a version of the story of Robinson Crusoe which contains a large proportion of the common words which offer difficulty in spelling. Unluckily it is not easy to produce classic English when one is writing under the necessity of using a vocabulary previously selected. However, if we concentrate our attention on the word-forms, we are not likely to be much injured by the ungraceful sentence-forms. This story is not long, but it should be dictated to every school class, beginning in the fourth grade, until every pupil can spell every word correctly. A high percentage is not enough, as in the case of some other studies. Any pupil who misses a single word in any exercise should be marked zero.

But even if one can spell correctly every word in this story, he may still not be a good speller, for there are thousands of other words to be spelled, many of which are not and never will be found in any spelling-book. The chief object of a course of study in spelling is to acquire two habits, the habit of observing articulate sounds, and the habit of observing word-forms in reading.

1. Train the Ear. Until the habit of observing articulate sounds carefully has been acquired, the niceties of pronunciation are beyond the student's reach, and equally the niceties of spelling are beyond his reach, too. In ordinary speaking, many vowels and even some consonants are slurred and obscured. If the ear is not trained to exactness, this habit of slurring introduces many inaccuracies. Even in careful speaking, many obscure sounds are so nearly alike that only a finely trained ear can detect any difference. Who of us notices any difference between er in pardoner and or in honor? Careful speakers do not pass over the latter syllable quite so hastily as over the former, but only the most finely trained ear will detect any difference even in the pronunciation of the most finely trained voice.

In the lower grades in the schools the ear may be trained by giving separate utterance to each sound in a given word, as f-r-e-n-d, friend, allowing each letter only its true value in the word. Still it may also be obtained by requiring careful and distinct pronunciation in reading, not, however, to the extent of exaggerating the value of obscure syllables, or painfully accentuating syllables naturally obscure.

Adults (but seldom children) may train the ear by reading poetry aloud, always guarding against the sing-song style, but trying to harmonize nicely the sense and the rhythm. A trained ear is absolutely necessary to reading poetry well, and the constant reading aloud of poetry cannot but afford an admirable exercise.

For children, the use of diacritical marks has little or no value, until the necessity arises for consulting the dictionary for pronunciation. They are but a mechanical system, and the system we commonly use is so devoid of permanence in its character that every dictionary has a different system. The one most common in the schools is that introduced by Webster; but if we would consult the Standard or the Century or the Oxford, we must learn our system all over again. To the child, any system is a clog and a hindrance, and quite useless in teaching him phonetic values, wherein the voice of the teacher is the true medium.

For older students, however, especially students at home, where no teacher is available, phonetic writing by means of diacritical marks has great value.* It is the only practicable way of representing the sounds of the voice on paper. When the student writes phonetically he is obliged to observe closely his own voice and the voices of others in ordinary speech, and so his ear is trained. It also takes the place of the voice for dictation in spelling tests by mail or through the medium of books.

*There should be no more marks than there are sounds. When two vowels have the same sound one should be written as a substitute for the other, as we have done in this book.

2. Train the Eye. No doubt the most effective way of learning spelling is to train the eye carefully to observe the forms of the words we read in newspapers and in books. If this habit is formed, and the habit of general reading accompanies it, it is sufficient to make a nearly perfect speller. The great question is, how to acquire it.

Of course in order to read we are obliged to observe the forms of words in a general way, and if this were all that is needed, we should all be good spellers if we were able to read fluently. But it is not all. The observation of the general form of a word is not the observation that teaches spelling. We must have the habit of observing every letter in every word, and this we are not likely to have unless we give special attention to acquiring it.

The "visualization" method of teaching spelling now in use in the schools is along the line of training the eye to observe every letter in a word. It is good so far as it goes; but it does not go very far. The reason is that there is a limit to the powers of the memory, especially in the observation of arbitrary combinations of letters. What habits of visualization would enable the ordinary person to glance at such a combination as the following and write it ten minutes afterward with no aid but the single glance: hwgufhtbizwskoplmne? It would require some minutes' study to memorize such a combination, because there is nothing to aid us but the sheer succession of forms. The memory works by association. We build up a vast structure of knowledge, and each new fact or form must be as securely attached to this as the new wing of a building; and the more points at which attachment can be formed the more easily is the addition made.

The Mastery of Irregular Words.

Here, then, we have the real reason for a long study of principles, analogies, and classifications. They help us to remember. If I come to the word colonnade in reading, I observe at once that the double n is an irregularity. It catches my eye immediately. "Ah!" I reflect almost in the fraction of a second as I read in continuous flow, "here is another of those exceptions." Building on what I already know perfectly well, I master this word with the very slightest effort. If we can build up a system which will serve the memory by way of association, so that the slight effort that can be given in ordinary reading will serve to fix a word more or less fully, we can soon acquire a marvellous power in the accurate spelling of words.

Again: In a spelling-book before me I see lists of words ending in ise, ize, and yse, all mixed together with no distinction. The arrangement suggests memorizing every word in the language ending with either of these terminations, and until we have memorized any particular word we have no means of knowing what the termination is. If, however, we are taught that ize is the common ending, that ise is the ending of only thirty-one words, and yse of only three or four, we reduce our task enormously and aid the memory in acquiring the few exceptions. When we come to franchise in reading we reflect rapidly, "Another of those verbs in ise!" or to paralyse, "One of those very few verbs in yse!" We give no thought whatever to all the verbs ending in ize, and so save so much energy for other acquirements.

If we can say, "This is a violation of such and such a rule," or "This is a strange irregularity," or "This belongs to the class of words which substitutes ea for the long sound of e, or for the short sound of e."

We have an association of the unknown with the known that is the most powerful possible aid to the memory. The system may fail in and of itself, but it more than serves its purpose thus indirectly in aiding the memory.

We have not spoken of the association of word forms with sounds, the grouping of the letters of words into syllables, and the aid that a careful pronunciation gives the memory by way of association; for while this is the most powerful aid of all, it does not need explanation.

The Mastery of Regular Words.

We have spoken of the mastery of irregular words, and in the last paragraph but one we have referred to the aid which general principles give the memory by way of association in acquiring the exceptions to the rules. We will now consider the great class of words formed according to fixed principles.

Of course these laws and rules are little more than a string of analogies which we observe in our study of the language. The language was not and never will be built to fit these rules. The usage of the people is the only authority. Even clear logic goes down before usage. Languages grow like mushrooms, or lilies, or bears, or human bodies. Like these they have occult and profound laws which we can never hope to penetrate,—-which are known only to the creator of all things existent. But as in botany and zoology and physiology we may observe and classify our observations, so we may observe a language, classify our observations, and create an empirical science of word-formation. Possibly in time it will become a science something more than empirical.

The laws we are able at this time to state with much definiteness are few (doubling consonants, dropping silent e's, changing y's to i's, accenting the penultimate and antepenultimate syllables, lengthening and shortening vowels). In addition we may classify exceptions, for the sole purpose of aiding the memory.

Ignorance of these principles and classifications, and knowledge of the causes and sources of the irregularities, should be pronounced criminal in a teacher; and failure to teach them, more than criminal in a spelling-book. It is true that most spelling-books do give them in one form or another, but invariably without due emphasis or special drill, a lack which renders them worthless. Pupils and students should be drilled upon them till they are as familiar as the multiplication table.

We know how most persons stumble over the pronunciation of names in the Bible and in classic authors. They are equally nonplussed when called upon to write words with which they are no more familiar. They cannot even pronounce simple English names like Cody, which they call "Coddy," in analogy with body, because they do not know that in a word of two syllables a single vowel followed by a single consonant is regularly long when accented. At the same time they will spell the word in all kinds of queer ways, which are in analogy only with exceptions, not with regular formations. Unless a person knows what the regular principles are, he cannot know how a word should regularly be spelled. A strange word is spelled quite regularly nine times out of ten, and if one does not know exactly how to spell a word, it is much more to his credit to spell it in a regular way than in an irregular way.

The truth is, the only possible key we can have to those thousands of strange words and proper names which we meet only once or twice in a lifetime, is the system of principles formulated by philologists, if for no other reason, we should master it that we may come as near as possible to spelling proper names correctly.



We must begin our study of the English language with the elementary sounds and the letters which represent them.

Name the first letter of the alphabet—-a. The mouth is open and the sound may be prolonged indefinitely. It is a full, clear sound, an unobstructed vibration of the vocal chords.

Now name the second letter of the alphabet—-b. You say bee or buh. You cannot prolong the sound. In order to give the real sound of b you have to associate it with some other sound, as that of e or u. In other words, b is in the nature of an obstruction of sound, or a modification of sound, rather than a simple elementary sound in itself. There is indeed a slight sound in the throat, but it is a closed sound and cannot be prolonged. In the case of p, which is similar to b, there is no sound from the throat.

So we see that there are two classes of sounds (represented by two classes of letters), those which are full and open tones from the vocal chords, pronounced with the mouth open, and capable of being prolonged indefinitely; and those which are in the nature of modifications of these open sounds, pronounced with or without the help of the voice, and incapable of being prolonged. The first class of sounds is called vowel sounds, the second, consonant sounds. Of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, a, e, i, o, and u (sometimes y and w) represent vowel sounds and are called vowels; and the remainder represent consonant sounds, and are called consonants.

A syllable is an elementary sound, or a combination of elementary sounds, which can be given easy and distinct utterance at one effort. Any vowel may form a syllable by itself, but as we have seen that a consonant must be united with a vowel for its perfect utterance, it follows that every syllable must contain a vowel sound, even if it also contains consonant sounds. With that vowel sound one or more consonants may be united; but the ways in which consonants may combine with a vowel to form a syllable are limited. In general we may place any consonant before and any consonant after the vowel in the same syllable: but y for instance, can be given a consonant sound only at the beginning of a syllable, as in yet; at the end of a syllable y becomes a vowel sound, as in they or only. In the syllable twelfths we find seven consonant sounds; but if these same letters were arranged in almost any other way they could not be pronounced as one syllable—-as for instance wtelthfs.

A word consists of one or more syllables to which some definite meaning is attached.

The difficulties of spelling and pronunciation arise largely from the fact that in English twenty-six letters must do duty for some forty-two sounds, and even then several of the letters are unnecessary, as for instance c, which has either the sound of s or of k; x, which has the sound either of ks, gs, or z; q, which in the combination qu has the sound of kw. All the vowels represent from two to seven sounds each, and some of the consonants interchange with each other.

The Sounds of the Vowels.—-(1) Each of the vowels has what is called a long sound and a short sound. It is important that these two sets of sounds be fixed clearly in the mind, as several necessary rules of spelling depend upon them. In studying the following table, note that the long sound is marked by a s t r a i g h t l i n e o v{colon : aft}er the letter, and the short sound by a c u{g}r{a}ve {accent mark ' }.

Long Short a:te a't ga:ve ma'n na:me ba'g

the:se pe't m:e te'n (com)ple:te bre'd

ki:te si't ri:ce mi'll li:me ri'p

no:te no't ro:de ro'd so:le To'm

cu:re bu't cu:te ru'n (a)bu:se cru'st

scy:the (like)ly'

If we observe the foregoing list of words we shall see that each of the words containing a long vowel followed by a single consonant sound ends in silent e. After the short vowels there is no silent e. In each case in which we have the silent e there is a single long vowel followed by a single consonant, or two consonants combining to form a single sound, as th in scythe. Such words as roll, toll, etc., ending in double l have no silent e though the vowel is long; and such words as great, meet, pail, etc., in which two vowels combine with the sound of one, take no silent e at the end. We shall consider these exceptions more fully later; but a single long vowel followed by a single consonant always takes silent e at the end. As carefully stated in this way, the rule has no exceptions. The reverse, however, is not always true, for a few words containing a short vowel followed by a single consonant do take silent e; but there are very few of them. The principal are have, give, {(I) }live, love, shove, dove, above; also none, some, come, and some words in three or more syllables, such as domicile.

2. Beside the long and short sounds of the vowels there are several other vowel sounds.

A has two other distinct sounds:

broad, like aw, as in all, talk, etc.

ae Italian, like ah, as in far, father, etc.

Double o has two sounds different from long or short o alone:

long o: as in room, soon, mood, etc.

short o', as in good, took, wood, etc.

Ow has a sound of its own, as in how, crowd, allow, etc.; and ou sometimes has the same sound, as in loud, rout, bough, etc.

(Ow and ou are also sometimes sounded like long o, as in own, crow, pour, etc., and sometimes have still other sounds, as ou in bought).

Oi and oy have a distinct sound of their own, as in oil, toil, oyster, void, boy, employ, etc.

Ow and oi are called proper diphthongs, as the two vowels combine to produce a sound different from either, while such combinations as ei, ea, ai, etc., are called improper diphthongs (or digraphs), because they have the sound of one or other of the simple vowels.

3. In the preceding paragraphs we have given all the distinct vowel sounds of the language, though many of them are slightly modified in certain combinations. But in many cases one vowel will be given the sound of another vowel, and two or more vowels will combine with a variety of sounds. These irregularities occur chiefly in a few hundred common words, and cause the main difficulties of spelling the English language. The following are the leading substitutes:

ew with the sound of u long, as in few, chew, etc. (perhaps this may be considered a proper diphthong);

e (e, e) with the sound of a long, as in fete, abbe, and all foreign words written with an accent, especially French words;

i with the sound of e long, as in machine, and nearly all French and other foreign words;

o has the sound of double o long in tomb, womb, prove, move, etc., and of double o short in wolf, women, etc.;

o also has the sound of u short in above, love, some, done, etc.;

u has the sound of double o long after r, as in rude, rule;

it also has the sound of double o short in put, pull, bull, sure, etc.;

ea has the sound of a long, as in great; of e long, as in heat; of e short, as in head; of a Italian (ah), as in heart, hearth, etc.;

ei has the sound of e long, as in receive; of a long, as in freight, weight; sometimes of i long, as in either and neither, pronounced with either the sound of e long or i long, the latter being the English usage;

ie has the sound of i long, as in lie, and of e long, as in belief, and of i short, as in sieve;

ai has the sound of a long, as in laid, bail, train, etc., and of a short, as in plaid;

ay has the sound of a long, as in play, betray, say, etc.;

oa has the sound of o long, as in moan, foam, coarse, etc.

There are also many peculiar and occasional substitutions of sounds as in any and many (a as e), women (o as i), busy (u as i), said (ai as e), people (eo as e:), build (u as i), gauge (au as a:), what (a as o), etc.

When any of these combinations are to be pronounced as separate vowels, in two syllables, two dots should be placed over the second, as in naive.

4. The chief modifications of the elementary sounds are the following:

before r each of the vowels e, i, o, u, and y has almost the same sound (marked like the Spanish n) as in her, birth, honor, burr, and myrtle; o before r sometimes has the sound of aw, as in or, for, etc.;

in unaccented syllables, each of the long vowels has a slightly shortened sound, as in fatality, negotiate, intonation, refutation, indicated by a dot above the sign for the long sound; (in a few words, such as digress, the sound is not shortened, however);

long a (a) is slightly modified in such words as care, fare, bare, etc., while e has the same sound in words like there, their, and where; (New Englan{d} g people give a the short sound in such words as care, etc., and pronounce there and where with the short sound of a, while their is pronounced with the short sound of e: this is not the best usage, however);

in pass, class, command, laugh, etc., we have a sound of a between Italian a and short a (indicated by a single dot over the a), though most Americans pronounce it as short, and most English give the Italian sound: the correct pronunciation is between these two.

The Sounds of the Consonants. We have already seen that there are two classes of consonant sounds, those which have a voice sound, as b, called sonant, and those which are mere breath sounds, like p, called surds or aspirates. The chief difference between b and p is that one has the voice sound and the other has not. Most of the other consonants also stand in pairs. We may say that the sonant consonant and its corresponding surd are the hard and soft forms of the same sound. The following table contains also simple consonant sounds represented by two letters: Sonant Surd b p d t v f g (hard) k j ch z s th (in thine) th (in thin) zh (or z as in azure) sh w y l m n r h

If we go down this list from the top to the bottom, we see that b is the most closed sound, while h is the most slight and open, and the others are graded in between (though not precisely as arranged above). These distinctions are important, because in making combinations of consonants in the same syllable or in successive syllables we cannot pass abruptly from a closed sound to an open sound, or the reverse, nor from a surd sound to a sonant, or the reverse. L, m, n, and r are called liquids, and easily combine with other consonants; and so do the sibilants (s, z, etc.). In the growth of the language, many changes have been made in letters to secure harmony of sound (as changing b to p in sub-port—-support, and s, to f in differ—-from dis and fero). Some combinations are not possible of pronunciation, others are not natural or easy; and hence the alterations. The student of the language must know how words are built; and then when he comes to a strange word he can reconstruct it for himself. While the short, common words may be irregular, the long, strange words are almost always formed quite regularly.

Most of the sonants have but one sound, and none of them has more than three sounds. The most important variations are as follows:

C and G have each a soft sound and a hard sound. The soft sound of c is the same as s, and the hard sound the same as k. The soft sound of g is the same as j, and the hard sound is the true sound of g as heard in gone, bug, struggle.

Important Rule. C and G are soft before e, i, and y, and hard before all the other vowels, before all the other consonants, and at the end of words.

The chief exceptions to this rule are a few common words in which g is hard before e or i. They include—-give, get, gill, gimlet, girl, gibberish, gelding, gerrymander, gewgaw, geyser, giddy, gibbon, gift, gig, giggle, gild, gimp, gingham, gird, girt, girth, eager, and begin. G is soft before a consonant in judgment{,} lodgment, acknowledgment, etc. Also in a few words from foreign languages c is soft before other vowels, though in such cases it should always be written with a cedilla (c).

N when marked n in words from the Spanish language is pronounced n-y (canon like canyon).

Ng has a peculiar nasal sound of its own, as heard in the syllable ing.

N alone also has the sound of ng sometimes before g and k, as in angle, ankle, single, etc. (pronounced ang-gle, ang-kle, sing-gle).

Ph has the sound of f, as in prophet.

Th has two sounds, a hard sound as in the, than, bathe, scythe, etc., and a soft sound as in thin, kith, bath, Smith, etc. Contrast breathe and breath, lath and lathe; and bath and baths, lath and laths, etc.

S has two sounds, one its own sound, as in sin, kiss, fist (the same as c in lace, rice, etc.), and the sound of z, as in rise (contrast with rice), is, baths, men's, etc.

X has two common sounds, one that of ks as in box, six, etc., and the other the sound of gs, as in exact, exaggerate (by the way, the first g in this word is silent). At the beginning of a word x has the sound of z as in Xerxes.

Ch has three sounds, as heard first in child, second in machine, and third in character. The first is peculiar to itself, the second is that of sh, and the third that of k.

The sound of sh is variously represented:

by sh{,} as in share, shift, shirt, etc.

by ti, as in condition, mention, sanction, etc.

by si, as in tension, suspension, extension, etc.

by ci, as in suspicion. (Also, crucifixion.)

The kindred sound of zh is represented by z as in azure, and s as in pleasure, and by some combinations.

Y is always a consonant at the beginning of a word when followed by a vowel, as in yet, year, yell, etc.; but if followed by a consonant it is a vowel, as in Ypsilanti. At the end of a word it is {al}ways a vowel, as in all words ending in the syllable ly.

Exercises. It is very important that the student should master the sounds of the language and the symbols for them, or the diacritical marks, for several reasons:

First, because it is impossible to find out the true pronunciation of a word from the dictionary unless one clearly understands the meaning of the principal marks;

Second, because one of the essentials in accurate pronunciation and good spelling is the habit of analyzing the sounds which compose words, and training the ear to detect slight variations;

Third, because a thorough knowledge of the sounds and their natural symbols is the first step toward a study of the principles governing word formation, or spelling and pronunciation.

For purposes of instruction through correspondence or by means of a textbook, the diacritical marks representing distinct sounds of the language afford a substitute for the voice in dictation and similar exercises, and hence such work requires a mastery of what might at first sight seem a purely mechanical and useless system.

One of the best exercises for the mastery of this system is to open the unabridged dictionary at any point and copy out lists of words, writing the words as they ordinarily appear in one column, and in an adjoining column the phonetic form of the word. When the list is complete, cover one column and reproduce the other from an application of the principles that have been learned. After a few days, reproduce the phonetic forms from the words as ordinarily written, and again the ordinary word from the phonetic form. Avoid memorizing as much as possible, but work solely by the application of principles. Never write down a phonetic form without fully understanding its meaning in every detail. A key to the various marks will be found at the bottom of every page of the dictionary, and the student should refer to this frequently. In the front part of the dictionary there will also be found an explanation of all possible sounds that any letter may have; and every sound that any letter may have may be indicated by a peculiar mark, so that since several letters may represent the same sound there are a variety of symbols for the same sound. For the purposes of this book it has seemed best to offer only one symbol for each sound, and that symbol the one most frequently used. For that reason the following example will not correspond precisely with the forms given in the dictionary, but a study of the differences will afford a valuable exercise.


*In this exercise, vowels before r marked in webster with the double curve used over the Spanish n, are left unmarked. Double o with the short sound is also left unmarked.

The first place that I can well remember was a large, The' first pla:s tha't I ka'n we'l re:me'mber wo'z a: laerj,

pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some ple's'nt me'do: with a: po'nd o'v kle:r wo'ter in it. Su'm

shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies sha:di' tre:z le:nd o:ver i't, a'nd ru'she:z a'nd wo'ter-li'li'z

grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked gru: a't the' de:p e'nd. Over the: he'j o'n wu'n si:d we: lookt

into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a into: a: plowd fe:ld a'nd o'n the: o'ther we: lookt o:ver a:

gate at our master's house, which stood by the roadside. ga:t a't owr ma'ster'z hows, hwich stood bi: the: ro:dsi:d.

At the top of the meadow was a grove of fir-trees, A't the: to'p o'v the: me'do: wo'z a: gro:v o'v fir-tre:z,

and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank. and a't the: bo't'm a ru'ning brook o:verhu'ng bi: a: ste:p ba'nk.

Whilst I was young I lived upon my mother's milk, as I could Hwi:lst I wo'z yu'ng I livd u'po'n mi: mu'ther'z milk, a'z I kood

not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night no't e:t gra's. In the: da:ti:m I ra'n bi: her si:d, a'nd a't ni:t

I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand I la: down klo:s bi: her. Hwe'n it wo'z ho't we: u:zd to: sta'nd

by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold bi: the: po'nd in the: sha:d o'v the: tre:z a'nd hwe'n it wo'z ko:ld

we had a nice, warm shed near the grove. we: ha'd a: ni:s, wawrm she'd ne:r the: gro:v.

Note. In Webster's dictionary letters which are unmarked have an obscure sound often not unlike uh, or are silent, and letters printed in italics are nearly elided, so very slight is the sound they have if it can be said to exist at all. In the illustration above, all very obscure sounds have been replaced by the apostrophe, while no distinction has been made between short vowels in accented and unaccented syllables.

Studies from the Dictionary.

The following are taken from Webster's Dictionary:

Ab-do'm'-i-nou's: The a in ab is only a little shorter than a in at, and the i is short being unaccented, while the o is silent, the syllable having the sound nus as indicated by the mark over the u.

Le'ss'en, (le's'n), le's'son, (le's'sn), le'ss'er, le's'sor: Each of these words has two distinct syllables, though there is no recognizable vowel sound in the last syllables of the first two. This eliding of the vowel is shown by printing the e and the o of the final syllables in italics. In the last two words the vowels of the final syllables are not marked, but have nearly the sound they would have if marked in the usual way for e and o before r. As the syllables are not accented the vowel sound is slightly obscured. Or in lessor has the sound of the word or (nearly), not the sound of or in honor, which will be found re-spelled (o'n'ur). It will be noted that the double s is divided in two of the words and not in the other two. In lesser and lessen all possible stress is placed on the first syllables, since the terminations have the least possible value in speaking; but in lesson and lessor we put a little more stress on the final syllables, due to the greater dignity of the letter o, and this draws over a part of the s sound.

Hon'-ey-co:mb (hu'n'y-ko:m): The heavy{ second} hyphen indicates that this is a compound word and the hyphen must always be written. The hyphens printed lightly in the dictionary merely serve to separate the syllables and show how a word may be divided at the end of a line. The student will also note that the o in -comb has its full long value instead of being slighted. This slight added stress on the o is the way we have in speaking of indicating that -comb was once a word by itself, with an accent of its own.

Exercise. Select other words from the dictionary, and analyse as we have done above, giving some explanation for every peculiarity found in the printing and marks. Continue this until there is no doubt or hesitation in regard to the meaning of any mark that may be found.



English speaking peoples have been inclined to exaggerate the irregularities of the English word-formation. The fact is, only a small number of common words and roots are irregular in formation, while fully nine tenths of all the words in the language are formed according to regular principles, or are regularly derived from the small number of irregular words. We use the irregular words so much more frequently that they do indeed constitute the greater part of our speech, but it is very necessary that we should master the regular principles of word-building, since they give us a key to the less frequently used, but far more numerous, class which fills the dictionary, teaching us both the spelling of words of which we know the sound, and the pronunciation of words which we meet for the first time in reading.

Accent. In English, accent is an essential part of every word. It is something of an art to learn to throw it on to any syllable we choose, for unless we are able to do this we cannot get the true pronunciation of a word from the dictionary and we are helpless when we are called on to pronounce a word we have never heard.

Perhaps the best way to learn the art of throwing accent is by comparing words in which we are in the habit of shifting the accent to one syllable or another according to the meaning, as for instance the following:

1. Accent.

a. What ac'cent has this word?

b. With what accent'uation do you accent' this word?

2. Concert.

a. Did you go to the con'cert last night?

b. By concert'ed action we can do anything.

3. Contrast.

{a} b. What a con'trast between the rich man and the poor man!

b. Contrast' good with bad, black with white, greatness with littleness.

4. Permit.

a. I have a building-per'mit.

b. My mother will not permit' me to go.

5. Present.

a. He received a beautiful Christmas pres'ent.

b. She was present'ed at court.

6. Prefix.

a. Sub is a common pre'fix.

b. Prefix' sub to port and you get support.

7. Compound.

a. He can compound' medicine like a druggist.

b. Nitroglycerine is a dangerous com'pound.

As a further illustration, read the following stanza of poetry, especially accenting the syllables as marked:

Tell' me not' in mourn'ful num'bers, "Life' is but' an emp'ty dream'!" For' the soul' is dead' that slum'bers, And' things are' not what' they seem'.

This is called scanning, and all verse may be scanned in the same way. It is an excellent drill in learning the art of throwing the stress of the voice on any syllable that may be desired.

Two Laws of Word-Formation.

We are now prepared to consider the two great laws governing word-formation. These are:

1. Law: All vowels in combination with consonants are naturally short unless the long sound is given by combination with other vowels, by accent, or by position in the syllable with reference to consonants.

2. Law: Words derived from other words by the addition of prefixes or suffixes always retain the original form as far as possible.

1. We are likely to suppose that the natural or original sound of a vowel is the long sound, because that is the sound we give it when naming it in the alphabet. If we will examine a number of words, however, we shall soon see that in combination with consonants all vowels have a tendency to a short or obscure pronunciation. The sounds of the consonants are naturally obscure, and they draw the vowels to a similar obscurity.

Since such is the case, when a vowel is given its long sound there is always a special reason for it. In the simple words not, pin, her, rip, rid, cut, met, we have the short sounds of the vowels; but if we desire the long sounds we must add a silent e, which is not pronounced as e, but has its sound value in the greater stress put upon the vowel with which it is connected. By adding silent e to the above words we have note, pine, here, ripe, ride, mete. In each of these cases the e follows the consonant, though really combining with the vowel before the consonant; but if we place the additional e just after the first e in met we have meet, which is a word even more common than mete. E is the only vowel that may be placed after the consonant and still combine with the vowel before it {while being silent}; but nearly all the other vowels may be placed beside the vowel that would otherwise be short in order to make it long, and sometimes this added vowel is placed before as well as after the vowel to be lengthened. Thus we have boat, bait, beat, field, chief, etc. There are a very, very few irregular words in which the vowel sound has been kept short in spite of the added vowel, as for instance, head, sieve, etc. It appears that with certain consonants the long sound is especially difficult, and so in the case of very common words the wear of common speech has shortened the vowels in spite of original efforts to strengthen them. This is peculiarly true of the consonant v, and the combination th, and less so of s and z. So in {(I)}live, have, give, love, shove, move, etc., the vowel sound is more or less obscured even in spite of the silent e, though in the less common words alive, behave, etc., the long sound strengthened by accent has not been lost. So as a rule two silent vowels are now used to make the vowel before the v long, as in leave, believe, receive, beeves, weave, etc. In the single word sieve the vowel remains short in spite of two silent vowels added to strengthen it. Two vowels are also sometimes required to strengthen a long vowel before th, as in breathe, though when the vowel itself is a strong one, as a in bathe, the second vowel is not required, and o in both is so easily increased in sound that the two consonants alone are sufficient. It will be seen, therefore, that much depends on the quality of the vowel. A and o are the strongest vowels, i the weakest (which accounts for sieve). After s and z we must also have a silent e in addition to the silent vowel with which the sounded vowel is combined, as we may see in cheese, increase, freeze, etc. The added vowel in combination with the long vowel is not always needed, however, as we may see in contrasting raise and rise.

Not only vowels but consonants may serve to lengthen vowel sounds, as we see in right, night, bright, and in scold, roll, etc. Only o is capable of being lengthened by two simple consonants such as we have in scold and roll. In calm and ball, for instance, the a has one of its extra values rather than its long sound. The gh is of course a powerful combination. Once it was pronounced; but it became so difficult that we have learned to give its value by dwelling a little on the vowel sound.

Another powerful means of lengthening a vowel is accent. When a vowel receives the full force of the accent by coming at the end of an accented syllable it is almost invariably made long. We see this in monosyllables such as he, no, etc. It is often necessary to strengthen by an additional silent vowel, however, as in tie, sue, view, etc., and a has a peculiarity in that when it comes at the end of a syllable alone it has the sound of ah, or a Italian, rather than that of a long, and we have pa, ma, etc., and for the long sound y is added, as in say, day, ray. I has a great disinclination to appear at the end of a word, and so is n usually changed to y when such a position is necessary, or it takes silent e as indicated above; while this service on the part of y is reciprocated by i's taking the place of y inside a word, as may be illustrated by city and cities.

When a vowel gets the full force of the accent in a word of two or more syllables it is bound to be long, as for instance the first a in ma'di a. Even the stress necessary to keep the vowel from running into the next syllable will make it long, though the sound is somewhat obscured, some other syllable receiving the chief accent, as the first a in ma gi'cian. In this last word i seems to have the full force of the accent, yet it is not long; and we note the same in such words as condi'tion, etc. The fact is, however, that i being a weak vowel easily runs into the consonant sound of the next syllable, and if we note the sounds as we pronounce condition we shall see that the sh sound represented by ti blends with the i and takes the force of the accent. We cannot separate the ti or ci from the following portion of the syllable, since if so separated they could not have their sh value; but in pronunciation this separation is made in part and the sh sound serves both for the syllable that precedes and the syllable that follows. In a word like di men'sion we find the i of the first syllable long even without the accent, since the accent on men attaches the m so closely to it that it cannot in any way relieve the i. So we see that in an accented syllable the consonant before a short vowel, as well as the consonant following it, receives part of the stress. This is especially noticeable in the word ma gi'cian as compared with mag'ic. In magic the syllable ic is in itself so complete that the g is kept with the a and takes the force of the accent, leaving the a short. In magician the g is drawn away from the a to help out the short i followed by an sh sound, and the a is lengthened even to altering the form of the simple word. In the word ma'gi an, again, we find a long, the g being needed to help out the i.

Since accent makes a vowel long if no consonant intervenes at the end of a syllable, and as a single consonant following such a vowel in a word of two syllables (though not in words of three or more) is likely to be drawn into the syllable following, a single consonant following a single short vowel must be doubled. If two or more consonants follow the vowel, as in masking, standing, wilting, the vowel even in an accented syllable remains short. But in pining with one n following the i in the accented syllable, we know that the vowel must be long, for if it were short the word would be written pinning.

Universal Rule: Monosyllables in which, a single vowel is followed by a single consonant (except v and h never doubled) double the final consonant when a single syllable beginning with a vowel is added, and all words so ending double the final consonant on the addition of a syllable beginning with a vowel if the syllable containing the single vowel followed by a single consonant is to be accented.

Thus we have can—-canning, run—-running, fun—-funny, flat—-flattish; and also sin—-sinned (for the ed is counted a syllable though not pronounced as such nowadays); preferred, but preference, since the accent is thrown back from the syllable containing the single vowel followed by a single consonant in the word preference, though not in preferred; and of course the vowel is not doubled in murmured, wondered, covered, etc.

If, however, the accented syllable is followed by two or more syllables, the tendency of accent is to shorten the vowel. Thus we have grammat'ical, etc., in which the short vowel in the accented syllable is followed by a single consonant not doubled. The word na'tion (with a long a) becomes na'tional (short a) when the addition of a syllable throws the accent on to the antepenult. The vowel u is never shortened in this way, however, and we have lu'bricate, not lub'ricate. We also find such words as no'tional (long o). While accented syllables which are followed by two or more syllables seldom if ever double the single consonant, in pronunciation we often find the vowel long if the two syllables following contain short and weak vowels. Thus we have pe'riod (long e), ma'niac (long a), and o'rient'al (long o).

In words of two syllables and other words in which the accent comes on the next to the last syllable, a short vowel in an accented syllable should logically always be followed by more than one consonant or a double consonant. We find the double consonant in such words as summer, pretty, mammal, etc. Unfortunately, our second law, which requires all derived words to preserve the form of the original root, interferes with this principle very seriously in a large number of English words. The roots are often derived from languages in which this principle did not apply, or else these roots originally had very different sound values from those they have with us. So we have body, with one d, though we have shoddy and toddy regularly formed with two d's, and we have finish, exhibit, etc.; in col'onnade the n is doubled in a syllable that is not accented.

The chief exception to the general principle is the entire class of words ending in ic, such as colic, cynic, civic, antithetic, peripatetic, etc. If the root is long, however, it will remain long after the addition of the termination ic, as music (from muse), basic (from base), etc.

But in the case of words which we form ourselves, we will find practically no exceptions to the rule that a short vowel in a syllable next to the last must be followed by a double consonant when accented, while a short vowel in a syllable before the next to the last is not followed by a double consonant when the syllable is accented.

2. Our second law tells us that the original form of a word or of its root must be preserved as far as possible. Most of the words referred to above in which single consonants are doubled or not doubled in violation of the general rule are derived from the Latin, usually through the French, and if we were familiar with those languages we should have a key to their correct spelling. But even without such thorough knowledge, we may learn a few of the methods of derivation in those languages, especially the Latin, as well as the simpler methods in use in the English.

Certain changes in the derived words are always made, as, for instance, the dropping of the silent e when a syllable beginning with a vowel is added.

Rule. Silent e at the end of a word is dropped whenever a syllable beginning with a vowel is added.

This rule is not quite universal, though nearly so. The silent e is always retained when the vowel at the beginning of the added syllable would make a soft c or g hard, as in serviceable, changeable, etc. In changing, chancing, etc., the i of the added syllable is sufficient to make the c or g retain its soft sound. In such words as cringe and singe the silent e is retained even before i in order to avoid confusing the words so formed with other words in which the ng has a nasal sound; thus we have singeing to avoid confusion with singing, though we have singed in which the e is dropped before ed because the dropping of it causes no confusion. Formerly the silent e was retained in moveable; but now we write movable, according to the rule.

Of course when the added syllable begins with a consonant, the silent e is not dropped, since dropping it would have the effect of shortening the preceding vowel by making it stand before two consonants.

A few monosyllables ending in two vowels, one of which is silent e, are exceptions: duly, truly; also wholly.

Also final y is changed to i when a syllable is added, unless that added syllable begins with i and two i's would thus come together. I is a vowel never doubled. Th{u} is we have citified, but citifying.

We have already seen that final consonants may be doubled under certain circumstances when a syllable is added.

These are nearly all the changes in spelling that are possible when words are formed by adding syllables; but changes in pronunciation and vowel values are often affected, as we have seen in nation (a long) and national (a short).

Prefixes. But words may be formed by prefixing syllables, or by combining two or more words into one. Many of these formations were effected in the Latin before the words were introduced into English; but we can study the principles governing them and gain a key to the spelling of many English words.

In English we unite a preposition with a verb by placing it after the verb and treating it as an adverb. Thus we have "breaking in," "running over," etc. In Latin the preposition in such cases was prefixed to the word; and there were particles used as prefixes which were never used as prepositions. We should become familiar with the principal Latin prefixes and always take them into account in the spelling of English words. The principal Latin prefixes are:

ab (abs)—-from ad—-to ante—-before bi (bis)—-twice circum (circu)—-around con—-with contra(counter)—-against de—-down, from dis—-apart, not ex—-out of, away from extra—-beyond in—-in, into, on; also not (another word) inter—-between= non—-not ob—-in front of, in the way of per—-through post—-after pre—-before pro—-for, forth re—-back or again retro—-backward se—-aside semi—-half sub—-under super—-above, over trans—-over, beyond ultra—-beyond vice—-instead of.

Of these prefixes, those ending in a single consonant are likely to change that consonant for euphony to the consonant beginning the word to which the prefix is attached. Thus ad drops the d in ascend, becomes ac in accord, af in affiliate, an in annex, ap in appropriate, at in attend; con becomes com in commotion, also in compunction and compress, cor in correspond, col in collect, co in co-equal; dis becomes dif in differ; ex becomes e in eject, ec in eccentric, ef in effect; in becomes il in illuminate, im in import, ir in irreconcilable; ob becomes op in oppress, oc in occasion, of in offend; and sub becomes suc in succeed, sup in support, suf in suffix, sug in suggest, sus in sustain. The final consonant is changed to a consonant that can be easily pronounced before the consonant with which the following syllable begins. Following the rule that the root must be changed as little as possible, it is always the prefix, not the root, which is compelled to yield to the demands of euphony.

A little reflection upon the derivation of words will thus often give us a key to the spelling. For instance, suppose we are in doubt whether irredeemable has two r's or only one: we now that redeem is a root, and therefore the ir must be a prefix, and the two r's are accounted for,—- indeed are necessary in order to prevent our losing sight of the derivation and meaning of the word. In the same way, we can never be in doubt as to the two m's in commotion, commencement, etc.

We have already noted the tendency of y to become i in the middle of a word. The exceptional cases are chiefly derivatives from the Greek, and a study of the Greek prefixes will often give us a hint in regard to the spelling of words containing y. These prefixes, given here in full for convenience, are:

a (an)—-without, not amphi—-both, around ana—-up, back, through= anti—-against, opposite apo (ap)—-from cata—-down

dia—-through en (em)—-in epi (ep)—-upon hyper—-over, excessive hypo—-under= meta (met)—-beyond, change syn (sy, syl, sym)—-with, together

In Greek words also we will find ph with the sound of f. We know that symmetrical, hypophosphite, metaphysics, emphasis, etc., are Greek because of the key we find in the prefix, and we are thus prepared for the y's and ph's. F does not exist in the Greek alphabet (except as ph) and so we shall never find it in words derived from the Greek.

The English prefixes are not so often useful in determining peculiar spelling, but for completeness we give them here:

a—-at, in, on (ahead) be—-to make, by (benumb) en (em)—-in, on, to make (encircle, empower) for—-not, from (forbear) fore—-before (forewarn) mis—-wrong, wrongly (misstate) out—-beyond (outbreak) over—-above (overruling) to—-the, this (to-night) un—-not, opposite act (unable, undeceive) under—-beneath (undermine) with—-against, from (withstand)



There are a few rules and applications of the principles of word-formation which may be found fully treated in the chapter on "Orthography" at the beginning of the dictionary, but which we present here very briefly, together with a summary of principles already discussed.

Rule 1. F, l, and s at the end of a monosyllable after a single vowel are commonly doubled. The exceptions are the cases in which s forms the plural or possessive case of a noun, or third person singular of the verb, and the following words: clef, if, of, pal, sol, as, gas, has, was, yes, gris, his, is, thus, us. L is not doubled at the end of words of more than one syllable, as parallel, willful, etc.

Rule 2. No other consonants thus situated are doubled. Exceptions: ebb, add, odd, egg, inn, bunn, err, burr, purr, butt, fizz, fuzz, buzz, and a few very uncommon words, for which see the chapter in the dictionary above referred to.

Rule 3. A consonant standing at the end of a word immediately after a diphthong or double vowel is never doubled. The word guess is only an apparent exception, since u does not form a combination with e but merely makes the g hard.

Rule 4. Monosyllables ending in the sound of ic represented by c usually take k after the c, as in back, knock, etc. Exceptions: talc, zinc, roc, arc, and a few very uncommon words. Words of more than one syllable ending in ic or iac do not take k after the c (except derrick), as for example elegiac, cubic, music, etc. If the c is preceded by any other vowel than i or ia, k is added to the c, as in barrack, hammock, wedlock. Exceptions: almanac, havoc, and a very few uncommon words.

Rule 5. To preserve the hard sound of c when a syllable is added which begins with e, i, or y, k is placed after final c, as in trafficking, zincky, colicky.

Rule 6. X and h are never doubled, v and j seldom. G with the soft sound cannot be doubled, because then the first g would be made hard. Example: mag'ic. Q always appears with u following it, and here u has the value of the consonant w and in no way combines or is counted with the vowel which may follow it. For instance squatting is written as if squat contained but one vowel.

Rule 7. In simple derivatives a single final consonant following a single vowel in a syllable that receives an accent is doubled when another syllable beginning with a vowel is added.

Rule 8. When accent comes on a syllable standing next to the last, it has a tendency to lengthen the vowel; but on syllables farther from the end, the tendency is to shorten the vowel without doubling the consonant. For example, na'tion (a long), but na'tional (a short); gram'mar, but grammat'ical.

Rule 9. Silent e at the end of a word is usually dropped when a syllable beginning with a vowel is added. The chief exceptions are words in which the silent e is retained to preserve the soft sound of c or g.

Rule 10. Plurals are regularly formed by adding s; but if the word end in a sibilant sound (sh, zh, z, s, j, ch, x), the plural is formed by adding es, which is pronounced as a separate syllable. If the word end{s} in a sibilant sound followed by silent e, that e unites with the s to form a separate syllable. Examples: seas, cans; boxes, churches, brushes; changes, services.

Rule 11. Final y is regularly changed to i when a syllable is added. In plurals it is changed to ies, except when preceded by a vowel, when a simple s is added without change of the y. Examples: clumsy, clumsily; city, cities; chimney, chimneys. We have colloquies because u after q has the value of the consonant w. There are a few exceptions to the above rule. When two i's would come together, the y is not changed, as in carrying.

Rule 12. Words ending, in a double consonant commonly retain the double consonant in derivatives. The chief exception is all, which drops one l, as in almighty, already, although, etc. According to English usage other words ending in double l drop one l in derivatives, and we have skilful (for skillful), wilful (for willful), etc., but Webster does not approve this custom. Ful is an affix, not the word full in a compound.


1. Though in the case of simple words ending in a double consonant the derivatives usually retain the double consonant, pontific and pontifical (from pontiff) are exceptions, and when three letters of the same kind would come together, one is usually dropped, as in agreed (agree plus ed), illy (ill plus ly), belless, etc. We may write bell-less, etc., however, in the case of words in which three l's come together, separating the syllables by a hyphen.

2. To prevent two i's coming together, we change i to y in dying, tying, vying, etc., from die, tie, and vie.

3. Derivatives from adjectives ending in y do not change y to i, and we have shyly, shyness, slyly, etc., though drier and driest from dry are used. The y is not changed before ship, as in secretaryship, ladyship, etc., nor in babyhood and ladykin.

4. We have already seen that y is not changed in derivatives when it is preceded by another vowel, as in the case of joyful, etc.; but we find exceptions to this principle in daily, laid, paid, said, saith, slain, and staid; and many write gaily and gaiety, though Webster prefers gayly and gayety.

5. Nouns of one syllable ending in o usually take a silent e also, as toe, doe, shoe, etc, but other parts of speech do not take the e, as do, to, so, no, and the like, and nouns of more than one syllable, as potato, tomato, etc., omit the e. Monosyllables ending in oe usually retain the silent e in derivatives, and we have shoeing, toeing, etc. The commoner English nouns ending in o also have the peculiarity of forming the plural by adding es instead of s, and we have potatoes, tomatoes, heroes, echoes, cargoes, embargoes, mottoes; but nouns a trifle more foreign form their plurals regularly, as solos, zeros, pianos, etc. When a vowel precedes the o, the plural is always formed regularly. The third person singular of the verb woo is wooes, of do does, of go goes, etc., in analogy with the plurals of the nouns ending in o.

6. The following are exceptions to the rule that silent e is retained in derivatives when the added syllable begins with a consonant: judgment, acknowledgment, lodgment, wholly, abridgment, wisdom, etc.

7. Some nouns ending in f or fe change those terminations to ve in the plural, as beef—-beeves, leaf—-leaves, knife—-knives, loaf—-loaves, life—-lives, wife—-wives, thief—-thieves, wolf—-wolves, self—-selves, shelf—-shelves, calf—-calves, half—-halves, elf—-elves, sheaf—-sheaves. We have chief—-chiefs and handkerchief—-handkerchiefs, however, and the same is true of all nouns ending in f or fe except those given above.

8. A few nouns form their plurals by changing a single vowel, as man—-men, woman—-women, goose—-geese, foot—-feet, tooth—-teeth, etc. Compounds follow the rule of the simple form, but the plural of talisman is talismans, of German is Germans, of musselman is musselmans, because these are not compounds of men.

9. A few plurals are formed by adding en, as brother—-brethren, child—-children, ox—-oxen.

10. Brother, pea, die, and penny have each two plurals, which differ in meaning. Brothers refers to male children of the same parents, brethren to members of a religious body or the like; peas is used when a definite number is mentioned, pease when bulk is referred to; dies are instruments used for stamping, etc., dice cubical blocks used in games of chance; pennies refer to a given number of coins, pence to an amount reckoned by the coins. Acquaintance is sometimes used in the plural for acquaintances with no difference of meaning.

11. A few words are the same in the plural as in the singular, as sheep, deer, trout, etc.

12. Some words derived from foreign languages retain the plurals of those languages. For example: datum—-data criterion—-criteria genus—-genera larva—-larvae= crisis—-crises matrix—-matrices focus—-foci monsieur—-messieurs

13. A few allow either a regular plural or the plural retained from the foreign language: formula—-formulae or formulas beau—-beaux or beaus index—-indices or indexes stratum—-strata or stratums bandit—-banditti or bandits cherub—-cherubim or cherubs seraph—-seraphim or seraphs

14. In very loose compounds in which a noun is followed by an adjective or the like, the noun commonly takes the plural ending, as in courts-martial, sons-in-law, cousins-german. When the adjective is more closely joined, the plural ending must be placed at the end of the entire word. Thus we have cupfuls, handfuls, etc.

Different Spellings for the same Sound.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in spelling English words arises from the fact that words and syllables pronounced alike are often spelled differently, and there is no rule to guide us in distinguishing. In order to fix their spelling, in mind we should know what classes of words are doubtful, and when we come to them constantly refer to the dictionary. To try to master these except in the connections in which we wish to use them the writer believes to be worse than folly. By studying such words in pairs, confusion is very likely to be fixed forever in the mind. Most spelling-books commit this error, and so are responsible for a considerable amount of bad spelling, which their method has actually introduced and instilled into the child's mind.

Persons who read much are not likely to make these errors, since they remember words by the form as it appeals to the eye, not by the sound in which there is no distinction. The study of such words should therefore be conducted chiefly while writing or reading, not orally.

While we must memorize, one at a time as we come to them in reading or writing, the words or syllables in which the same sound is represented by different spellings, still we should know clearly what classes of words to be on the lookout for. We will now consider some of the classes of words in which a single syllable may be spelled in various ways.

Vowel Substitutions in Simple Words.

ea for e' short or e obscure before r.

already bread breakfast breast breadth death earth dead deaf dread= early earn earnest earth feather head health heaven heavy= heard lead learn leather meadow measure pearl pleasant read= search sergeant spread steady thread threaten tread wealth weather

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse