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11.15: Sometimes [r] is < wr >, Sometimes < rh >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Sometimes [r] is <wr>, Sometimes <rh>

1. There are only two other spellings of [r] – and they occur in only a few words. The first of the two is <wr>. Several hundred years ago both the <r> and the <w> were pronounced, but in time people simplified things and quit pronouncing the <w>. Here are the most common words in which <wr> occurs:


You might try pronouncing the <w> and the <r> in some of these words, just to see what a mouthful they can be.

2. In what part of the word do you find the <wr>? at the front. Three of the words have to do with putting words down on paper. The three are write, wrote, and written. You can use a wrench to loosen a nut and bolt. When two cars run into on another, it is called a wreck . Your hand is connected to your arm at the wrist . At Christmas some people put a wreath on their door. You use an iron to remove wrinkles from your clothes. If an answer is not right, it is wrong.

3. Rewrite the sixteen <wr> words in alphabetical order:

1. wrap

2. wrath

3. wreath

4. wreck

5. wren

6. wrench

7. wrestle

8. wretch

9. wriggle

10. wring

11. wrinkle

12. wrist

13. write

14. written

15. wrong

16. wrote

3. Words in which [r] is spelled <wr> all come from the German side of our language's family. In some words that come from Greek [r] is spelled <rh>. The Greek alphabet contained a letter called rho, pronounced [ro¯]. When Greek words were written in our alphabet, the rho was represented by <rh>. The most common words with <rh> are these:


Arrange these nine words in alphabetical order:

1. rhapsody

2. rheostat

3. rhetoric

4. rheumatism

5. rhinestone

6. rhinoceros

7. rhubarb

8. rhyme

9. rhythm

4. In the word rhinoceros the first element, rhino , in Greek meant “nose,” and the second element, ceros, meant “horn.” So rhinoceros meant what?

(the animal with) a horn on its nose

5. In the word rhapsody the first element, rhaps, meant “stitch, sew,” and the second element, ody, meant “song.” So rhapsody meant what?

a sewing together of songs

6. You have worked with four ways of spelling [r]. They are <r> , <rr>, <wr> , and <rh> . Of these four spellings which is the most common? <r> . Which is the second most common? <rr> . Which are the two least common? <wr> and <rh>.

Teaching Notes.

Item 3. In the word rheostat the first element, rheo , in Greek meant “flow,” and the second element, stat , meant “to cause to stand.” So a rheostat is something that stops a flow, or causes it to stand (still). In the word rhododendron the first element, rhodo, in Greek meant “rose,” and the second element, dendron , meant “tree.” So a rhododendron was a rose tree. In the word rhubarb the first element, rhu, came from the old Greek name for what we now call the Volga River, in Russia. The second element, barb , meant “barbarian,” which to the Greeks meant anyone who wasn't Greek. So rhubarb was the the plant from the barbarian Rhu River. A rhinestone was originally a stone from a town near the Rhine River, where they were first manufactured, so this <rh> comes from German, not Greek.

In a very few modern, usually technical, words whose Greek sources had double rho, we have [r] spelled <rrh>. Relatively common words with <rrh> are arrhythmia, diarrhea, gonorrhea, hemorrhage, myrhh.

For more on the minor spellings <wr> and <rh>, see AES, pp. 448-49.

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