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10.20: Sometimes [n] is Spelled < kn >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Sometimes [n] is Spelled <kn>

1. The most common words with [n] spelled <kn> have know as their base. In the words below anything in front of the base is a prefix and anything behind the base is a suffix. Analyze each word into prefix (if it has one), base, and suffix:

Words = Analysis
knows = know + s
knowledge = know + ledge
known = know + n
foreknowledge = fore + know + ledge
unknown = un + know + n
knower = know + er
knowable = know + able

2. Here is another little group of <kn> words, all dealing with the knees:


3. Here are more <kn> words, all of which come from Old English words:


Below we give you the family tree for some of these <kn> words. We give you the Middle English word our Modern English word comes from, and the Old English word the Middle English word came from. Fill in the Modern English word for each of the Old English and Middle English ancestors:Old English did not use the letter <k>. In Old English and in Middle English the <k> and the <c> before the <n> were pronounced, like [k]. So all of the words that now start out with the sound [n] used to start out with the sounds [kn], which we today find awkward to say.

Old English Middle English Modern English
cnafa knave knave
cniht knyght knight
cnedan kneden knead
cnytten knitten knit
cnocian knokken knock
cnif knif knife
cnoll knolle knoll
cnotta knotte knot

4. Look at this word: pneumonia. How is [n] spelled at the beginning of pneumonia? <pn>. This odd spelling of [n] comes from old Greek and Latin words in which both the <p> and the <n> were pronounced. Today it only occurs in the bound base pneum. The only two words with that base that you should have to worry about are pneumonia and pneumatic. Pneum refers to wind or breath or air. So pneumatic tires are tires that are filled with air, like those on a bicycle, and pneumonia is a disease of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe air.

The base pneum also occurs in some really long and technical words. Here is one example, which we give you because it is the longest word in most dictionaries:pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It's the name of a lung disease that miners get from breathing a certain kind of dust. Along with pneum, you can see microscopic and volcano in that big long word.

5. In one English word [n] is spelled <mn>: mnemonic, [nimo´nik]. You use a mnemonic to help you remember something. For instance, common mnemonics are the jingles that start out “I before E except after C” and “Thirty days hath September.” Our word mnemonic comes from Mnemosyne, the name of the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses.

In English we have a prefix a- which means “not,” or “without.” It occurs, together with that same <mn> in words like amnesia and amnesty, both of which have a meaning close to “not remembering” or “without remembering.” In amnesia and amnesty the <mn> does not spell [n]. What does it spell? [mn]

Be ready to talk about this question: What do the words amnesia and amnesty have to do with “not remembering?”

Teaching Notes.

Item 1. The <n> at the end of known is the suffix -n, a shortened form of -en3, which forms past participles. The -n form is used with stems that end in a vowel sound. See the teaching notes for Book 4, Lesson 32 for more on -en and the past participle.

Item 2. A discussion question could be something like, “What does kneeling have to do with the knees?” Notice that knelt not only has a past tense suffix pronounced [t], but it is spelled <t>, too.

Item 3. In the Old and Middle English words for knight, both the <k> and the <gh> were pronounced, the <gh> spelling the sound heard at the end of the Scottish pronunciation of loch. Quite a mouthful.

Setting dates to the periods of English language history is necessarily arbitrary since the boundary lines are very fuzzy. People did not wake up one morning speaking, say, Middle English as opposed to Old English. The changes were gradual, almost imperceptible, even as they are today. But the following dates are those used by many historians:

Dates Works and Authors
Old English 449 AD-1100 AD Beowulf
Middle English 11001500 Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Early Modern English 15001700 Shakespeare, Milton
Modern English 1700 Jefferson, Hemingway

In Old and Middle English -an and -en were used to mark the infinitive form of verbs, rather the way we today use the free base to

Item 4. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary seems to be skeptical of this word, calling it “an obscure term ostensibly referring to a lung disease caused by silica dust, sometimes cited as one of the longest words in the English language” (at pneumonoultramicroscopicsilico volcanoconiosis).

Item 5. Amnesia refers to not being able to remember; amnesty is a pledge to forget, to not rember.

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