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# 15.11: VCV and the Third Vowel Rule

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

## VCV and the Third Vowel Rule

1. You have seen that the rule that calls for a long vowel in a VCV string can be overruled by the rule that calls for a short vowel in front of the suffix -ity. The Suffix -ity Rule is part of a larger rule that explains why many other words have VCV strings with short head vowels. Notice that in a word like general the short <a>\begin{align*}<\mathrm{a}>\end{align*} is the third vowel sound from the end of the word:

sanity     3 2 1\begin{align*}& \text{sanity} \\ & \ \uparrow \ \uparrow \ \uparrow \\ & \ \ 3 \ 2 \ 1 \end{align*}

There is a very strong tendency for the third vowel sound from the end of a word to be short if it is stressed, even if it is the head vowel in a VCV string.

2. Notice the length of the vowels spelled by the letters in bold type in the pairs of words below:

nationcompetecrimenaturerationgraderitesolosupremenavylegalnationalcompetitorcriminalnaturalrationalgradualritualsolitudesupremacynavigatelegacy\begin{align*}& \text{nation} && \text{national} \\ & \text{compete} && \text{competitor} \\ & \text{crime} && \text{criminal} \\ & \text{nature} && \text{natural} \\ & \text{ration} && \text{rational} \\ & \text{grade} && \text{gradual} \\ & \text{rite} && \text{ritual} \\ & \text{solo} && \text{solitude} \\ & \text{supreme} && \text{supremacy} \\ & \text{navy} && \text{navigate} \\ & \text{legal} && \text{legacy}\end{align*}

The two words in each of the pairs are closely related. In most cases the word on the right is formed from the word on the left, by adding one or more suffixes. But you should hear a difference in how the vowels in bold letters are pronounced. In each pair one vowel will be long, one will be short.

a. In the left-hand column how many of the vowels in bold letters spell the third vowel sound from the end of the word? None of them.

b. In the right-hand column how many of the vowels in bold letters spell the third vowel sound from the end of the word? All of them.

c. Are the vowels in bold letters in the left-hand column long, or are they short? Long

d. Are the vowels in bold letters in the right-hand column long, or are they short? Short

e. Are the vowels in bold letters in the left-hand column the first vowels in VCV strings? Yes

f. Are the vowels in bold letters in the right-hand column the first vowels in VCV strings? Yes

g. Are the vowels in bold letters in the left column stressed? Yes

h. Are the vowels in bold letters in the right column stressed? Yes

3. Third Vowel Rule. The third vowel sound from the end of a word will often be short if it is stressed, even if it is the first vowel in a VCV string.

4. Each of the following words contains a vowel that is an example of the Third Vowel Rule at work. Underline the vowels sound that are examples of the rule and be ready to discuss why they are and the others vowels are not:

r\underline{e}ferencec\underline{i}tizenp\underline{o}sitiveacc\underline{e}lerateh\underline{e}sitatean\underline{a}lysisass\underline{i}milatecr\underline{i}ticize\begin{align*}& \text{r\underline{e}ference} && \text{p\underline{o}sitive} && \text{h\underline{e}sitate} && \text{ass\underline{i}milate} \\ & \text{c\underline{i}tizen} && \text{acc\underline{e}lerate} && \text{an\underline{a}lysis} && \text{cr\underline{i}ticize}\end{align*}

Teaching Notes.

1. The Suffix -ity Rule says that the vowel sound in front of -ity will be stressed and short. The Third Vowel Rule is somewhat weaker: It simply says that the third vowel sound from the end of the word will be short if it is stressed. Most instances of the Third Vowel Rule are words adopted from Latin or French, and they reflect the way Latin pronunciation was taught in British schools during late Middle Ages and Renaissance. A few instances, like holiday, are native English words, which reflect the fact that in Old English there was a strong tendency to shorten long vowel sounds in syllables three or more places back in a word. For more on the Third Vowel Rule, see AES, pp. 131-41.

2. Item 2: Remember that one-syllable words are assumed always to be stressed.

3. Item 4: Each of the underlined vowel letters spells the third vowel sound from the end of the word and is stressed; thus, each is short even though it is the first vowel sound in a VCV string. All of the vowel letters that are not underlined are not affected by Third Vowel Rule because they do not spell the third vowel sound from the end of the word (and at least some of them are not stressed).

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