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11.19: Lesson Nineteen

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Fossil Final <e>'s

1. Most of the time silent final <e>'s mark long vowels, or they mark soft <c>'s and <g>'s, or they mark voiced <th>, or they insulate <\mathrm{s}> , <z>, <\mathrm{u}> , or <v> at the end of words. But some silent final <e>'s have no function at all in their words. For instance, the <e> at the end of culture has no function, so culture could just as well end with <ur>, the way, for instance, murmur and occur do. Culture comes from an old French word that was spelled exactly the same way we spell it. After it was taken into English, people kept the French spelling, including the final <e>. Final <e>'s like the one in culture, which no longer have any function, are called fossils.

2. Some of the following words end with fossil final <e>'s; some with final <e>'s that have regular functions. Sort them into the two groups below. Remember that if a silent final <e> does not have a function, it is a fossil:

& \text{fertile} && \text{medicine} && \text{fortune} && \text{intertwine} && \text{some} \\& \text{chocolate} && \text{are} && \text{pirate} && \text{xylophone} && \text{cyclone} \\& \text{immune} && \text{appetite} && \text{rewrite} && \text{square} && \text{dome} \\& \text{annihilate} && \text{create} && \text{gasoline} && \text{definite} && \text{awhile} \\& \text{opposite} && \text{welcome} && \text{examine} && \text{done} && \text{gone}

Words in which silent final <e> ...
is a fossil has a function
fertile pirate immune intertwine
chocolate examine annihilate xylophone
opposite definite appetite square
medicine done create cyclone
are some rewrite dome
welcome gone gasoline awhile

3. Now sort the words with fossil final <e>'s into the following eight groups:

Words that end with the letters ...
<are> <ate> <ile> <ine>
are chocolate fertile medicine
pirate examine
Words that end with the letters ...
<ite> <ome> <one> <une>
opposite welcome done fortune
definite some gone

4. The ending <ate> is interesting because there are several pairs of words that end in <ate>, are spelled the same, and have closely related meanings. They differ slightly in pronunciation: One word in the pair will end with the sound [\bar{\mathrm{a}}\mathrm{t}] with a stressed long <\mathrm{a}> and a functional final <e>. The other word in the pair will end with a sound more like [it], with an unstressed short <\mathrm{i}> and a fossil final <e>. The word that ends [\bar{\mathrm{a}}\mathrm{t}] will be a verb; the word that ends [it] will be either a noun or an adjective. For instance, when you graduate (with [\bar{\mathrm{a}}\mathrm{t}]), you become a graduate (with [it]).

Read the following sentences. Listen to the sound of the word in bold face type and decide whether it is a verb or a noun or an adjective. Write either ‘[\bar{\mathrm{a}}\mathrm{t}]’ or ‘[it]’ in the Sound column. Write ‘Verb’, ‘Noun’, or ‘Adjective’ in the Part of Speech column. If the word ends with a fossil final <e>, put a check in the Fossil <e> column, as we have done with the first two:

Sentence Sound Part of Speech Fossil <e>
1. She will graduate in June. [\bar{a}t] Verb
2. Then she will be a graduate. [it] Noun


3. I can't estimate how much it will cost. [\bar{a}t] verb
4. The estimate will probably be too high. [it] Noun


5. The defendant could not elaborate on his alibi. [\bar{a}t] verb
6. It was not a very elaborate story. [it] Adjective


7. They had to sit in separate corners of the room. [it] Adjective \surd
8. Their teacher had to separate them. [\bar{a}t] verb
9. He has very moderate views on politics. [it] Adjective


10. He already did moderate his views. [\bar{a}t] verb
11. They only visit us on alternate weekends. [it] Adjective


12. The lessons alternate between being too easy and too hard [\bar{a}t] verb

5. Deleting Fossil Final <e>'s. The good thing about fossil final <e>'s is that you delete them just like most other final <e>'s: You delete fossil final <e> whenever you add a suffix that starts with a vowel.

Teaching Notes. The status of silent final <e> in stressed and unstressed final syllables, as in the verb graduate, with stress on the final syllable, vs. the noun graduate, with no stress on the last syllable, is discussed in Book 3, Lessons 40-41.

Item 1. Fertile has an alternate pronunciation with a stressed [\bar{\mathrm{i}}], though it is more typical of British than of American English.

Item 2. Most words with fossil <e>'s come from Latin and/or French and brought their final <e>'s with them, like culture. But there are a few native English words with fossil final <e>. Instances in this set are are, welcome, done, some, gone. Most native fossil final <e> are all that is left of Old English inflectional endings.

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Apr 29, 2014
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