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  • Think you know English?

  • Well, here's a challenge for you, have a look at these words,

  • what do they have in common and what don't they have in common?

  • Have you got it? Here's a clue. Listen and watch again.

  • What they have in common is that they all contain the same sound.

  • A long ee. And what they don't have in common is the spelling,

  • the same sound spelt in six different ways.

  • Thank you, English!

  • Now I've got that out of my system.

  • Is there a way to make sense of the English language's inability to

  • agree on spelling and pronunciation? First, let's look at some numbers.

  • English has twenty six letters, the alphabet, these are the symbols

  • we use to write English. However, English has more sounds than letters,

  • so we use another set of symbols to represent the sounds.

  • There are more than 40 of these.

  • The long ee sound is represented by this symbol.

  • And when it comes to writing, in all there are over 70 combinations

  • of letters that reflect the sounds of English. For example,

  • as we saw the sound ee can be written in six different ways. Why is this?

  • English vocabulary has many origins from Latin and Greek,

  • Norse, Norman, French, Anglo-Saxon and other world languages.

  • Often the original spellings were kept or only slightly adjusted.

  • So we end up with a wide collection of vocabulary,

  • pronunciation and spelling.

  • For hundreds of years, there have been different systems proposed to

  • reform English spelling so that it more closely matches pronunciation.

  • But so far none of these have been adopted. So for the foreseeable future,

  • we just have to accept it and look for what patterns we can.

  • Despite what you may think, there are some patterns in English spelling.

  • Let's go back to the spelling of the long ee sound.

  • Whenever you see double e in the spelling within a word,

  • that will always be [ee], for example: squeeze, between, thirteen.

  • At the end of single syllable words ee is also pronounced [ee]:

  • bee, free, three.

  • When you have a word with more than one syllable which ends in ee

  • and that last syllable is stressed, ee is also pronounced [ee]:

  • agree, degree, settee.

  • But if that last syllable is not stressed,

  • then the pronunciation is a little different. It's a shorter e: coffee, committee.

  • So there is a fairly regular pronunciation of the letters e e.

  • And one other useful way to predict an [ee] sound is what's known as

  • 'the magic e'.

  • If the word ends in this pattern:- e consonant e:

  • concede, delete, these,

  • the e at the end of the word is silent, but like magic,

  • it makes the vowel sound before the consonant long.

  • Compare pet and Pete.

  • But this doesn't work if the consonant is r,

  • then the pronunciation is [air]: there, where,

  • or [ear]: here, austere.

  • The long ee sound is also commonly pronounced when the spelling has

  • the letters e a, like in the words: beach, cream, feast.

  • But I'm afraid there are a few exceptions here as well,

  • like: head, health, swear.

  •   You may be familiar with the guide to spelling that goes:

  • 'I before E except after C'

  • Well there are a lot of exceptions to that rule,

  • but the one thing we do know is that when you do have e i after c,

  • that is also pronounced with the long ee sound: receipt, deceive, ceiling.

  • And some common words, spelt with i e are also pronounced as

  • [ee]: believe, field, piece. But many aren't: pie, friend, quiet.

  • So where does all this leave us?

  • Well, yes, English spelling is confusing and complicated,

  • but it does have some consistent patterns as we've seen with the [ee]sound.

  • But all of those patterns do have some exceptions.

  • Unfortunately, there are no rules that cover everything.

  • There is no simple key to unlock English spelling.

  • And what about the word key? It has the [ee] sound at the end.

  • Are there any rules or guidelines we can learn from that?

  • Well, yes, and this one is one hundred percent certain.

  • If a word is spelled k e y, it's pronounced key.

  • OK, I know that's not very helpful, but although there are a lot of

  • words that end in e y, very few are pronounced with the long ee.

  • In fact, key may be one of the only ones.

Think you know English?

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The Long 'e' in English Spelling and Pronunciation | A Quick Guide!

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/10/04
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