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:
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:
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>.
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.