Mastery of English

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 pardonerand 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 zoölogy 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 kx, which has the sound either of ks, gs, or zq, 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 straight line over the letter, and the short sound by a curve.

Long Short āte ăt gāve măn nāme băg

thēse pĕt mē tĕn (com)plēte brĕd

kīte sĭt rīce mĭll līme rĭp

nōte nŏt rōde rŏd sōle Tŏm

cūre bŭt cūte rŭn (a)būse crŭst

scұthe (like)lў

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:

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

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

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

long ōō as in room, soon, mood, etc.

short ŏŏ, 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 (ê, é) with the sound of a long, as in fête, abbé, 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 ĕ), women (o as ĭ), busy (u as ĭ), said (ai as ĕ), people (eo as ē), build (u as ĭ), gauge (au as ā), what(a as ŏ), 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 naïve.

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 ñ) 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 f_a_tality, n_e_gotiate, int_o_nation, ref_u_tation, indicated by a dot above the sign for the long sound; (in a few words, such as d_i_gress, the sound is not shortened, however);

long a (â) 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}פּ 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
    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 (ç).

N when marked ñ in words from the Spanish language is pronounced n-y (cañon 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,
  Thĕ first plās thăt I kan wĕl rēmĕmber woz ā lärj,

pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some plĕs′nt mĕdō with ā pŏnd ŏv klēr wŏter in it. Sŭm

shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies shādĭ trēz lēnd ōver it, ănd rŭshēz ănd wŏter-lĭliz

grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked grū ăt thē dēp ĕnd. Ōver thē hĕj ŏn wŭn sīd wē lookt

into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a intōō ā plowd fēld{,} ănd ŏn thē ŏther wē lookt ŏver ā

gate at our master's house, which stood by the roadside. gāt ăt owr măster'z hows, hwich stood bī thē rōdsīd.

At the top of the meadow was a grove of fir-trees, and at
At thē top ŏv the mēdō wŏz ā grōv ŏv fir-trēz, ănd ăt

the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank. thē bŏt′m a rŭning brook ōverhŭng bī a stēp bănk.

  Whilst I was young I lived upon my mother's milk, as I could
  Hwilst I wŏz yŭng I livd ŭpŏn mī mŭther'z milk, ăz I kood

not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night nŏt ēt grăs. In thē dātīm I răn bī her sīd, ănd ăt nīt

I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand
I lā down klōs bī her. Hwĕn it wŏz hŏt wē ūzd tōō stănd

by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold bī thē pŏnd in thē shād ŏv thē trēz, ănd hwēn it wŏz kōld

we had a nice, warm shed near the grove. wē hăd ā nīs, wawrm shĕd nēr thē grōv.

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-dŏm′-i-noŭs: 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 nŭs as indicated by the mark over the u.

Lĕss′en, (lĕs′n), lĕs′son, (lĕs′sn), lĕss′er, lĕs′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 (ŏn′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▬cōmb (hŭn′y–kōm): The heavy 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.