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10.5: Digraph Spellings of Long < o >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Digraph Spellings of Long <o>

1. You have seen that long <oo>, [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{u}}\end{align*}u¯], is often spelled with digraphs, or two vowel letters, in patterns where you might expectort vowels. For instance, soup has [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{u}}\end{align*}u¯] spelled <ou> in what looks like a VC# pattern and balloon has it spelled <oo> in an apparent VC# pattern. Although patterns like VC# and VCC are very useful when vowels are spelled by single letters, they are not useful when vowels are spelled with vowel digraphs. But it is still possible to sort things out so that they make more sense. Underline the letters that are spelling [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] in the following words. In those words that contain <ough> do not underline the <gh>.

\begin{align*}& \text{c\underline{ou}rse} && \text{c\underline{oa}rse} && \text{unkn\underline{ow}n} && \text{d\underline{ou}ghnut} && \text{minn\underline{ow}} \\ & \text{gr\underline{ow}th} && \text{alth\underline{ou}gh} && \text{t\underline{oa}ster} && \text{b\underline{ow}l} && \text{l\underline{oa}ned} \\ & \text{overc\underline{oa}t} && \text{kn\underline{ow}s} && \text{p\underline{ou}ltry} && \text{wind\underline{ow}} && \text{overfl\underline{ow}} \\ & \text{sh\underline{ou}lder} && \text{scrubb\underline{oa}rd} && \text{undergr\underline{ow}th} && \text{l\underline{oa}ded} && \text{fl\underline{oa}ting} \\ & \text{tomorr\underline{ow}} && \text{s\underline{ou}l} && \text{thr\underline{oa}t} && \text{y\underline{ou}r} && \text{\underline{ow}ner}\end{align*}c\underline{ou}rsegr\underline{ow}thoverc\underline{oa}tsh\underline{ou}ldertomorr\underline{ow}c\underline{oa}rsealth\underline{ou}ghkn\underline{ow}sscrubb\underline{oa}rds\underline{ou}lunkn\underline{ow}nt\underline{oa}sterp\underline{ou}ltryundergr\underline{ow}ththr\underline{oa}td\underline{ou}ghnutb\underline{ow}lwind\underline{ow}l\underline{oa}dedy\underline{ou}rminn\underline{ow}l\underline{oa}nedoverfl\underline{ow}fl\underline{oa}ting\underline{ow}ner

You should have found three digraph spellings of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯]:

Spelling #1, <ow>, occurs in ten words.

Spelling #2, <oa>, occurs in eight words.

Spelling #3, <ou>, occurs in seven words.

2. Sort the twenty-five words into these three groups:

Words with [
Spelling #1 Spelling #2 Spelling #3
growth overcoat course
tomorrow coarse shoulder
knows scrubboard although
unknown toaster soul
undergrowth throat poultry
bowl loaded doughnut
window loaned your
minnow floating

3. Although the most common spelling of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] is <o>, three important digraph spellings of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] are <ow>, <oa>, and <ou>.

4. Two other digraph spellings of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] occur in the words sew and chauffeur. These two digraph spellings are <ew> and <au>.

The digraph <ew> nearly always spells either [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{u}}\end{align*}u¯] as in dew or [y\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{u}}\end{align*}u¯] as in few. Sew is the only modern word in which it spells [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯]. The digraph <au> normally spells short <o>, [o], as in author. Though it spells [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] in some other words we got from French, chauffeuris the only common one.

5. Digraphs are two letters spelling a single sound. In a trigraph a single sound is spelled by three letters. The following words all contain a trigraph spelling of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] that we have borrowed from French. Underline the letters that spell [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯]:

\begin{align*}& \text{bur\underline{eau}} && \text{chat\underline{eau}} && \text{chap\underline{eau}} \\ & \text{plat\underline{eau}} && \text{b\underline{eau}} && \text{trouss\underline{eau}}\end{align*}bur\underline{eau}plat\underline{eau}chat\underline{eau}b\underline{eau}chap\underline{eau}trouss\underline{eau}

The trigraph spelling of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] is <eau>. Where does it always occur in the word? At the end.

Teaching Notes.

Item 1. In many of your students' speech, and perhaps in yours as well, not all of the spellings underlined above spell a pure [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] sound. For many of the words in this lesson dictionaries show variant pronunciations with a sound more like short <o>. In some dialects, especially from the South, there may be a diphthong. Words like minnow and tomorrow may have a sound more like schwa for the <ow> spelling, because of the relatively weak stress. If students ask about these variations, tell them that indeed there is a fairly wide range of pronunciation of the sound we are calling long <o>. But we choose to treat it as if it were always [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] because it usually is and because our description in terms of [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] fits our more general rules and patterns of English spelling. This variation is particularly common when the [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] is immediately followed by [r], as in explore. An [r] usually has a strong affect on any vowel that comes right in front of it. For instance, notice that in a word like date , with \begin{align*}<\mathrm{a}>\end{align*}<a> in a VCV pattern, you hear the normal long \begin{align*}<\mathrm{a}>\end{align*}<a>, [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a¯]: [d\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a¯t]. But in a word like dare, with \begin{align*}<\mathrm{a}>\end{align*}<a> still in a VCV string, you hear a vowel that sounds more like short \begin{align*}<\mathrm{e}>\end{align*}<e>, [e]: [der]. The easing to [e] in dare is due to the [r] that comes right after the vowel.

In the VCV pattern (or in this case, or C) nearly all dictionaries show variation between [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯r] and [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^r] ([\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^] being one of the low back sounds we’ve collapsed into short <o>, [o]). In my dialect this [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^] is much clearer in words like borrow and sorry. It is also clear in one pronunciation of horrid, though I normally pronounce horrid with a vowel closer to long <o>.

Though most dictionaries show this same [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^] in most VCC and VC# words like cord, born, and for, some do show the same variation between [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^] and [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯], as in pork, for instance. Many students will be used to a pronunciation of the <o> in words like cord and born that is at least close to [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯]. In such pronunciations we would seem to be dealing with another case of a long <o> in a VCC pattern.

The simplest and most powerful point to make to the students, it seems to me, is that there is this variation between [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] and [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^] before [r] but that in the patterns where we would normally expect a long vowel, [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯] is always one of the acceptable variants, and in patterns where we would normally expect short vowels, [\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^], which has been collapsed into our short <o>, [o], is always one of the variants. So the patterns hold, it is just that there is so much variation in pronunciation that especially in some regions and dialects it is hard to tell whether the <o> is spelling a long or short vowel sound.

If the question of [r] does come up among your students and you feel the need for some work on it, the following lists contain several high frequency words with <or> in each of the patterns in which it can occur: VCC, VC#, and VCV.. The general strategy would be to give the youngsters lists containing various patterns and have them sort them according to pattern. Then you could have them decide whether what they are pronouncing and hearing sounds more like short <o> or long <o> or something in between. Expect considerable differences of opinion on this second task, and assure the students that that variation is quite okay, goes on among people of all ages in all regions, and has been going on for hundreds of years. The sound [r] just has a very strong and destabilizing affect on vowels that precede it.

Words with <or> in VCC patterns:

\begin{align*}& \text{absorb} && \text{enormous} && \text{horrid} && \text{order} && \text{short} \\ & \text{accord} && \text{escort} && \text{horror} && \text{ordinary} && \text{snort} \\ & \text{acorn} && \text{export} && \text{horse} && \text{organ} && \text{sort} \\ & \text{adorn} && \text{forbid} && \text{immortal} && \text{organize} && \text{sport} \\ & \text{afford} && \text{force} && \text{important} && \text{ornament} && \text{storm} \\ & \text{border} && \text{ford} && \text{incorporate} && \text{orphan} && \text{support} \\ & \text{born} && \text{forge} && \text{inform} && \text{perform} && \text{thorn} \\ & \text{borne} && \text{fork} && \text{landlord} && \text{porch} && \text{torch} \\ & \text{cord} && \text{forlorn} && \text{lord} && \text{pork} && \text{torment} \\ & \text{cordial} && \text{form} && \text{morning} && \text{park} && \text{torn} \\ & \text{cork} && \text{formula} && \text{mortal} && \text{portion} && \text{unfortunate} \\ & \text{corn} && \text{fort} && \text{mortgage} && \text{portrait} && \text{uniform} \\ & \text{corner} && \text{forth} && \text{normal} && \text{record(v.)} && \text{worn} \\ & \text{corporation} && \text{fortune} && \text{north} && \text{reform} \\ & \text{corpse} && \text{forty} && \text{orbit} && \text{report} \\ & \text{disorder} && \text{gorgeous} && \text{orchard} && \text{resort} \\ & \text{divorce} && \text{horn} && \text{orchestra} && \text{retort} \\ & \text{enforce} && \text{horrible} && \text{ordain} && \text{scorn}\end{align*}absorbaccordacornadornaffordborderbornbornecordcordialcorkcorncornercorporationcorpsedisorderdivorceenforceenormousescortexportforbidforcefordforgeforkforlornformformulafortforthfortunefortygorgeoushornhorriblehorridhorrorhorseimmortalimportantincorporateinformlandlordlordmorningmortalmortgagenormalnorthorbitorchardorchestraordainorderordinaryorganorganizeornamentorphanperformporchporkparkportionportraitrecord(v.)reformreportresortretortscornshortsnortsortsportstormsupportthorntorchtormenttornunfortunateuniformworn

Words with <or> spelling [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯r]-[\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^r] in VC# patterns: There are many high frequency words that end in <or>, but the only ones in which the <or> is pronounced with full stress are for, nor, and or.

Words with <or> spelling [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯r]-[\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^r] in VCV patterns:

\begin{align*}& \text{adore} && \text{explore} && \text{glory} && \text{moral} && \text{shore} \\ & \text{ashore} && \text{fore} && \text{historian} && \text{more} && \text{sore} \\ & \text{authority} && \text{forehead} && \text{historic(al)} && \text{oracle} && \text{storage} \\ & \text{before} && \text{foreign} && \text{ignore} && \text{orange} && \text{store} \\ & \text{bore} && \text{forest} && \text{implore} && \text{ore} && \text{story} \\ & \text{chorus} && \text{forever} && \text{majority} && \text{origin} && \text{swore} \\ & \text{coral} && \text{furthermore} && \text{memorial} && \text{restore} && \text{territory} \\ & \text{editorial} && \text{glorious} && \text{minority} && \text{score} && \text{therefore} \\ & \text{tore} \\ & \text{wore}\end{align*}adoreashoreauthoritybeforeborechoruscoraleditorialtoreworeexploreforeforeheadforeignforestforeverfurthermoregloriousgloryhistorianhistoric(al)ignoreimploremajoritymemorialminoritymoralmoreoracleorangeoreoriginrestorescoreshoresorestoragestorestorysworeterritorytherefore

Words with <oar> or <our> spelling [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}o¯r]-[\begin{align*}\hat {\mathrm{a}}\end{align*}a^r]:

\begin{align*}& \text{aboard} && \text{oar} && \text{course} && \text{fourteen} && \text{scourge} \\ & \text{boar} && \text{roar} && \text{court} && \text{fourth} && \text{source} \\ & \text{board} && \text{soar} && \text{courtier} && \text{mourn} && \text{your} \\ & \text{coarse} && \text{uproar} && \text{discourse} && \text{pour} && \text{yours} \\ & \text{hoard} && && \text{four} && \text{resource}\end{align*}aboardboarboardcoarsehoardoarroarsoaruproarcoursecourtcourtierdiscoursefourfourteenfourthmournpourresourcescourgesourceyouryours

For more on the effects of [r] on a preceding [\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{o}}\end{align*}], see AES, pp. 311-15.

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