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 Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling

Lesson 5. Having Fun With English Words

Poets think it's sublime when the words they write rhyme,

But to Teachers and Students, they're trouble.

Is it right to write white or is it rite to right wight,

And when do those consonants double?

Is it  'i'  before 'e' except after 'c',

Or is it 'e' before 'i'  as in weird and seize,

But then what do you say 

When they sound like 'A'

As in neighbor and weight and sleigh?

We're told 'oo' sounds like 'u' as in shoot and cartoon,

But then blood, door and floor sing a different tune.

It's driving me mad, all those sayings and rules

To help us make sense (cents?) of it all.


Here are a few sentences which show how difficult it can be to figure out how to spell a word from its sound.  Sentence 1 uses six different ways to spell the Long U sound.  Sentence 2 uses three ways to spell the Long A sound.  Sentence 3 uses two different ways each to spell Long O, Long I  and Long E.  Sentence 4 uses three ways to spell the Short E sound.

1. I knew it was you who put his shoe through the flue.

2. We had to wait at the gate for the slow-moving freight.

3. With a mote in my eye and a fly in my throat, I could see the ship sail out to sea.

4. Fred  from his bed said, "I wish I were dead."

 Following are some word exercises known as tongue-twisters.  Persons training to become radio or television announcers or actors, as well as people with speech problems, use these exercises to improve their pronunciation.  Say each one quickly three to five times, if you can. 

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.  If Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
She sells sea shells down by the seashore.
Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
She ripped a sheet, a sheet she ripped.
Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter, sifted three thousand thistles by the thick of his thumb.

The following chart will give you examples of some of the most confusing aspects of English - words that are spelled exactly the same but are pronounced differently and have different meanings.  The first lesson has already touched on many of those pairs.  This chart will review those words and add some more.   Stressed syllables or letters pronounced differently will be in red.

address (noun) = where you live ; 

address (verb)= to make a speech

sewer [Long U, like newer] (noun) = channel for waste water

sewer [Long O, like lower] (noun) = person who stitches clothing.

abuse [S ](noun) = ill treatment ; abuse [Z] (verb) = to use badly, injure. perfect (adjective) = ideal, without a flaw ; perfect (verb) = to improve or make flawless
bow [Long O] (noun) = device to shoot arrows or play a violin ; 

bow [ OU as in cow] (verb) = tilt head or body forward as sign of respect

lead [Long E as seed ] (verb) = show the way, take charge ; 

lead [Short E as bed ] (noun) = a heavy, soft shiny gray metal

sow [Long O] (verb) = spread seeds for planting ; 

sow [OU as in cow] (noun) = female pig

tear [Long E as fear] (noun) = water made by eyes to show emotion ; 

tear [Long A as care] (verb) = to break the fiber of paper or cloth, rip.

object (verb) = to be opposed ; object (noun) = a body of matter or a thing reject (noun) = someone or something not approved or accepted ; 

reject (verb) = to refuse to accept

subject (noun) = topic of interest ; subject (verb) = to cause to submit or undergo refuse (noun) = remains having no value, garbage ; 

refuse (verb) = to decline to accept or submit to

wound [Long U as tune] (noun) = an injury wound [AU as sound] (verb) = past tense of wind, to tighten a spring by twisting

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Traditional Grammar Rules: "To follow them or not to follow them, that is the question."    You will hear many examples of incorrect usage in your daily life, among your friends, co-workers, and even on radio or television.  (There is a growing opinion among grammar experts that some of these uses are not so bad after all.)

"Never end a sentence with a preposition."    Examples of incorrect use:

Corrected examples:

"Who did you go to the movies with?" "With whom did you go to the movies?"
"What did you shut the door for?" "Why did you close the door?"
"Who did you give the book to?" "To whom did you give the book?"
"Where did you leave your jacket at?" "At what location did you leave your jacket?" or "Where did you leave your jacket?"

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"Never split an Infinitive."   Examples of incorrect use: Corrected examples:
"I want you to carefully put your clothes away." "I want you to put your clothes away carefully."
"John began to quietly sneak up the stairs." "John began to sneak up the stairs quietly." or "John quietly began to sneak up the stairs."
"The class was told to neatly and correctly fill out the forms." "The class was told to fill out the forms neatly and correctly."
"We were able to finally leave the meeting." "Finally, we were able to leave the meeting." or "We were finally able to leave the meeting."

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One of the best ways to decide which pronoun is correct will be to use the pronound alone with the verb.  Example: "The teacher told Jenny to collect the papers."  "The teacher told I to collect the papers."  I does not sound correct, so "Jenny and me" is the right form.

"Always use the correct Subject and Object Pronouns." 
 Not Correct:
Corrected examples:
"The teacher told Jenny and I to collect the papers." "The teacher told Jenny and me to collect the papers."
"Yesterday, John and me went to the junkyard." "Yesterday, John and I went to the junkyard."
"My little brother went with Mary and I to the show." "My little brother went with Mary and me to the show."
"All my friends and me decided to play baseball." "All my friends and I decided to play baseball."

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Fun Stuff with the Letter S

Adding an S at the end of these words changes the word completely. Adding an S to the beginning of these words changes them completely.
cares + S = caress ;
needles + S = needless ;

 deadlines + S = deadliness ; 

timelines + S = timeliness ; 

S + word = sword ;

S + laughter = slaughter ;

S + have = shave ;

S + lot = slot ;

S + pot = spot ;

S + not = snot ; 

S + pill = spill

S + even = seven ; 

S + nail = snail ;

S + tone = stone ;

S + wallow = swallow ;

S + table = stable ;

S + lash = slash ;

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When Contractions Sound Like Single Words

Contractions are formed from two or more words joined together, often with one or more letters left out, to make the pronunciation smoother or easier. An apostrophe ( ' ) is used to show were a letter or letters have been left out.     Here are some examples: 

was + not = wasn't  (pronounced  /wuzent/ )  O was left out are + not = aren't (pronounced /arnt/ )  ;  O was left out.
what + is = what's ; i was left out. I + have = I've  HA was left out.

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I + will = I'll ; sounds like isle, aisle he + will = he'll ; sounds like heel, heal
they + are = they're ; sounds like there, their we + will = we'll ; sounds like wheel
can + not = can't ; sounds like cant (tilt) you + will = you'll ; sounds like yule 
he + would or he + had = he'd ; sounds like heed we + are = we're ; sounds like weir (a fish trap)


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Serious Discussion: At first the situation may seem to be hopeless.   There are many words that are so illogical that no rules cover them. Every spelling book we have ever seen sooner or later resorts to this rule to learn to spell in English: Study! Study! Practice! Practice! Memorize! Memorize!
On the next page, we will discuss some Spelling Rules that can be relied on some of the time.  Click HERE to go to the next page.


Assignment: Practice making up rhymes or short poems with the words from these lessons. The rhymes can be silly or serious, but the more interesting they are, the easier they will be to remember.   Try to use the words you have the most trouble with, because they are the ones that you most need to practice and become familiar with. 

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