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10.11: Two Unusual Spellings of [m]: < mn > and < mb >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

Two Unusual Spellings of [m]: <mn> and <mb>

1. The sound [m] is spelled <mn> in six words:

& \text{autumn} && \text{condemn} && \text{hymn} \\& \text{column} && \text{damn} && \text{solemn.}

In all six words the <mn> is in the same place. Is it at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word? ___________

2. All six of these words come from Latin:

English Word Latin Source
autumn autumnus
column columna
condemn condemnare
damn damnare
hymn hymnus
solemn solemnis

Was the <mn> in the beginning, end, or in the middle of the Latin source words? ____________

The Latin words all had the <mn> in the middle, where it was easy to pronounce the [n], but in English the <mn> is at the end of the word, where it is hard to pronounce. So we just leave out the [n] and pronounce the <mn> as [m].

3. But when you add certain suffixes to these six words so the <mn> is in the middle as it is in Latin, you pronounce both the <m> and the <n>, so the <mn> is pronounced [mn]. Say each of the following words carefully to see how the <mn> is pronounced. Then analyze each of the words into its free stem word and suffix:

Words How is <mn> pronounced? Stem word + Prefix
autumnal [mn] autumn + al

4. The sound [m] is spelled <mb> in the following eleven words:

& \text{bomb} && \text{crumb} && \text{limb} && \text{tomb} \\& \text{climb} && \text{dumb} && \text{numb} && \text{womb} \\& \text{comb} && \text{lamb} && \text{thumb}

In all eleven the <mb> comes at the end of the word. All eleven come from Latin or Old English words. Fill in the blanks so as to show which modern words came from each of the Latin or Old English originals:

Original Words Modern Words with <mb>
Latin, bombus
Old English, climban
Old English, comb
Old English, cruma
Old English, dumb
Old English, lamb
Old English, lim
Old English, niman
Old English, thuma
Latin, tumba
Old English, wamb

5. Sort the eleven English words into these three groups:

6. Just as with <mn>, sometimes you can hear the <\text{b}> in <mb> if you add a suffix to the word so that the <mb> doesn't come right at the end. Put these words together and see how the <mb> is pronounced in the longer word you make:

Stem word + suffix = New Word How is <mb> pronounced in the new word?
bomb + ard =
crumb + le =

The word thumb is related to the word thimble. In thimble how is the <mb> pronounced? ________

7. It is hard to tell why people started putting <\text{b}>'s in the words crumb, limb, numb, and thumb. But sometimes when people see a pattern, they try to make other things fit that pattern. They may have noticed the other words that end in <mb> and decided that these four ought to be spelled the same.

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Jan 16, 2015
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