by C. Wilson Anderson
Learning to read and spell English may seem very difficult because there don’t seem to be any consistent patterns or “rules.” But in English, there actually are several more phonics “rules” than are normally taught in school. With them, our language becomes more logical and much easier to master. For example, what do the letter combinations: “ck,” “tch,” and “dge” have in common? For the answer, look at generalizations 3-5 on this download.
The Six Basic Syllable Types
about Spelling and the English Language
by C. Wilson Anderson, Jr., MAT
(modified by Stephanie Bieberly, 2008)
I. CLOSED SYLLABLE (cl)
- When a vowel is closed in (or blocked) by one or more consonants, it is a closed syllable.
- The vowel is short, such as in “dad, mom, it, black, and hunt.”
- In upper level phonics, the vowel can have the schwa sound of “uh,” such as in “son, at-tach, as-sist, and com-plete.” The schwa sound is in the unaccented syllable.
GENERALIZATIONS FOR CLOSED SYLLABLES
- A single vowel in the middle of a syllable is usually short (e.g., not, cat, picnic, cabin).
- “Q” is always followed by a “u” and at least one other vowel (e.g., quit, quack).
- Use “-ck” for /k/ at the end of a one-syllable word after one short vowel (e.g., back, deck, sick, cluck).
- Use “-tch” for /ch/ at the end of a one-syllable word after one short vowel (e.g., patch, etch, ditch). Common exceptions: such. much, which, and rich.
- Use “-dge” for /j/ on the end of a one-syllable word after one short vowel (e.g., badge, edge, bridge).
- In one-syllable words, double the final “f, l, s, z” after one short vowel (e.g., tell, mill, fluff, bluff, class, fizz, fuzz). (FLOSS rule)
- For most words, add “s” to make them plural (e.g., dogs, cats, cars, figs).
- When a noun ends in “s,” “x,” “z,” “ch,” and “sh,” add “es” to make them plural (e.g., gases, taxes, buzzes, marches, brushes).
- When a vowel comes before a double consonant, it is almost always short (e.g., dipper, supper, bonnet).
- Use “c” for the final /k/ sound when the word has two or more syllables (e.g., magic, terrific, Atlantic).
- When two consonants stand between two vowels, the syllable division usually occurs between the two consonants. (e.g., nap/kin, ten/nis, but/ter).
- When three consonants stand between two vowels, the division occurs between a blend and the other consonant (e.g., mon/ster, pump/kin).
- Doubling Rule: (1+1+1) – In a one-syllable word, with one short vowel, ending in one consonant, double the final consonant before adding a suffix beginning with a vowel (-ing, -y, er) (e.g., sad, sadder, saddest). Note: Do not double the final consonant when adding a suffix beginning with a consonant (e.g., sadly, manly, sinful). Never double “v” or “x.”
- Doubling Rule: (2+1+1) – In a two or more syllable word, if the final syllable is accented, double the final consonant before adding a suffix beginning with a vowel (-ing, -er, -est) (e.g., confer, conferring, omit, omitted, begin, beginning).
Generalizations 7 and 8 apply to most of the 6 Syllable Types.
II. OPEN SYLLABLE (op)
- The most common syllable in English is the open syllable.
- It is called the open syllable because the vowel is at the end of the syllable and says its name as in “hi, me, so, bi-.”
- In upper level phonics, the open syllable can also be pronounced another way. When the vowel says its name, the accent is on that vowel.
- When the vowel says “ih” or “uh,” the syllable is unaccented, such as in “di/vorce.”
GENERALIZATIONS FOR OPEN SYLLABLES
- A vowel at the end of a syllable is usually long (e.g., hi, me, by, va/ca/tion, pre/tend, pi/lot, lo/cate).
- If a word ends in a consonant followed by a “y,” change the final “-y” to “i” whenever adding suffixes (e.g., try, tried, rely, relied, reliable).
- If the word ends in an “i” or the “y” has a vowel in front of it, just add the suffix (e.g., play, playing, played, player).
- Nouns ending in a vowel ”-o” combination are made plural by adding “s” (e.g., radios, studios). Note: Nouns ending in a consonant “-o” combination have no generalization, therefore, the dictionary must be used in each case.
- When one consonant stands between two vowels, the consonant may belong to the first syllable (trav/el, reb/el) which is a closed syllable, or it may belong to the second syllable (be/long, re/bel) which is an open syllable.
III. SILENT “E” SYLLABLE (s-e)
- It is often called the “magic e.” The “e” indicates that the preceding vowel is long (or says its name).
- In beginning phonics, if the student counts back three letters beginning with the final “e” and lands on a vowel, then the vowel says its name (e.g., bake, like, compete).
- In upper level phonics, the silent “e” syllable may take on the sound of the schwa such as in “sur-face,” or a semi-schwa short sound such as “consider-ate.” Either way, it is a silent “e” syllable.
GENERALIZATIONS FOR SILENT “E” SYLLABLES
- Silent “e” on the end of a word usually makes the preceding vowel long (e.g., name, mule, Pete, compose, imitate).
- Usually drop the final “e” on words when you add a suffix beginning with a vowel (e.g., late, later, shine, shiner, fame, famous).
- Keep the final “e” when adding suffixes beginning with a consonant (e.g., shameless, movement).
- Never end a word with a single “z.” Use “-ze” after a long vowel sound or a double vowel (e.g., freeze).
Unusual Silent “e” Generalizations
- Use “se” at the end of a one-syllable word with a vowel pair instead of “s” so words are not confused as plural (e.g., grease, grouse, house). Also see Double Vowel Syllable #5 (-se).
- No words in English end in “v.” They end with “-ve” no matter whether the vowel is long or short (e.g., have, gave, drove, live). The silent “e” generalization is not consistent with “-ve” words. Also see Other Generalizations category #4 (-ve).
IV. DOUBLE VOWEL SYLLABLE (dv) (or Vowel Pair Syllable)
- The most difficult of all of the syllable types is the vowel pair syllable.
- There are 24 sub-types.
- Vowel pairs can have up to four pronunciations, or a single unique pronunciation, and each combination has to be learned very carefully (e.g., August, say, shoulder, couple, avoid, meat, head, eight).
GENERALIZATIONS FOR DOUBLE VOWEL SYLLABLES
- Use “i” before “e” except after “c” or when it says /a/ as in neighbor or weigh (e.g., priest, chief, receive, ceiling, vein, freight).
- “Ai” is most often followed by an “n” or “l” or “d” (e.g., rain, sail, aid).
- “Oa” is almost always used in one-syllable words (e.g., boar, roast, oat).
- “Ough”, “augh” and “igh” are usually followed by a “t” (e.g., ought, caught, night).
- Use “se” at the end of a one-syllable word with a vowel pair instead of “s” so words are not confused as plural (e.g., grease, grouse, house).
- Nouns ending in a vowel “-y” combination (ay, oy, ey) are made plural by adding “s” (e.g., days, boys, donkeys).
Note: Nouns ending in a consonant “-y” combination (dy, by, ny) are made plural by changing the “y” to “i” and adding “es” (lady, ladies, baby, babies, pony, ponies).
V. CONSONANT-LE SYLLABLE (cle)
- Any time there is a consonant-le, the “e is usually not pronounced.
- This is true in words such as “terri-ble, cud-dle, Bi-ble, swiz-zle, and gig-gle, but NOT in nu-cle-ous.
GENERALIZATIONS FOR CONSONANT-LE SYLLABLES
- Most nouns ending in a consonant-le form their plurals by adding “s” (e.g., puzzles, ruffles, candles).
- Usually drop the final “e” when you add a suffix beginning with a vowel (e.g., cuddle, cuddling, sizzle, sizzling)
VI. R-CONTROLLED SYLLABLE (rc)
- When a syllable has a vowel followed by an “r”, it is called an r-controlled syllable.
- The letter “r” is so strong in English that it totally controls the vowel sound so that it is no longer short (e.g., arc, start, car, bird, turn, early).
NO SPECIFIC R-CONTROLLED GENERALIZATIONS
The Plus Category is a garbage can for anything that does not fit into the other six patterns. Note that English is a very rich language and eagerly “borrows” words from other languages.
- The letter “c” has the soft sound of /s/ when “e,” i,” or “y” follows it (e.g., center, city, cyclone).
- The letter “g” has the soft sound of /j/ when “e,”, “i,” or “y” follows it (e.g., gentle, ginger, gym).
- To keep the hard sound for “g,” follow the “g” with a “u” when used before an “i” or “e” (e.g., guide, guess, guest).
- No words in English end in “v.” They end with “-ve” no matter whether the vowel is long or short (e.g., have, gave, drove, live). The silent “e” generalization is not consistent with “-ve” words.
- Most nouns ending in “f” form their plurals by adding “s” (e.g., roofs, chiefs).
- Some common nouns have irregular plural forms (e.g., man, men; mouse, mice; goose, geese, tooth, teeth).
- Separate prefixes and suffixes as syllables (e.g., pre/vent/ing, trans/por/ta/tion)
Hard c /k/, Hard g /g/ they’re so blue, their best friends are a, o, u (e.g., cat, cow, cup, gal, got, gut).
Soft c /s/, Soft g /j/ they’re so shy, their best friends are e, i, y. (See 1-2 above for examples.)
- Use “-er” for the suffix when comparing two things (e.g., taller, younger, nicer). Use “-est” for the suffix when comparing three or more things (e.g., tallest, youngest, nicest).
- Use “-ist” for people (nouns) who do things (e.g., artist, projectionist, activist).
- Usually use the suffix “-able” when you are adding to a whole word and it means “able” (e.g., serviceable, workable, manageable). Usually use the suffix “-able” when the root word ends in a hard “c” or “g” (e.g., despicable).
- Use the suffix “-ible” when adding to a root word (e.g., visible, edible). Also use the suffix “-ible” when the root word ends in a soft “c” or “g” ( e.g., forcible, legible).
- Use “-ous” as the suffix when the word is an adjective (e.g., dangerous, marvelous). Use “-us” as the suffix when the word is a noun (e.g., sinus, ruckus).
- For the suffix sound (n) that indicates a person, a nationality, or a religion, use “-an” (e.g., American, Lutheran). For the suffix sound /eyun/ that indicates a person, a nationality, or a religion use “-ian” (e.g., Indian, Cambodian). For the suffix saying the sound (n), having a verbish quality, usually use “-en” (e.g., ripen, redden, deaden).
- Usually use “-er” as a suffix for one-syllable words when you mean a person who “does” (e.g., diner, jumper, hopper). Use “-or” for two or more syllable words when you mean a person or thing that “does” (e.g., professor, editor, incinerator). Tractor, doctor, and actor are common one-syllable exceptions. Use “-ar” to form an adjective (e.g., singular, regular, popular). Use “-ure” for all others (e.g. manure).
- These suffixes mean people who do: -ist, -ee, -cian, -eer, -ier, -er (e.g., typist, employee. physician, engineer, brigadier, runner) . Use “-or” with two or more syllable words (e.g., editor). Use “-ess” to denote female (e.g., princess, countess).
- Use “wr” as opposed to “r” for words that imply the meaning “twist” (e.g., wrench, wrestle, wrist, write, wrought, wrap, wrong, wreck, wry).
- Use “-ize” as the suffix to add to whole words or to roots (e.g., modernize, authorize, criticize).
- “Cise” is a common Latin root and not really a suffix at all because it cannot stand alone. The root “cise” means “to cut,” but only makes sense when used with a prefix (e.g., incise, excise) and with a suffix (e.g., incising, excised).