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15.6: Some Very Rare Spellings of [s]

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Some Very Rare Spellings of [s]

1. The sound [s] is spelled \begin{align*}<\mathrm{s}>\end{align*}, <ss>, or <c> just about all of the time. Occasionally it's spelled <sc>. Even more rarely it is spelled one of the ways illustrated in the following words. Underline the letters that spell [s]:

\begin{align*}& \text{ca\underline{st}le} && \text{\underline{ps}alm} && \text{\underline{ps}ychology} && \text{fa\underline{st}ener} \\ & \text{\underline{ps}ychiatrist} && \text{li\underline{s}ten} && \text{wre\underline{s}tle} && \text{moi\underline{st}en} \\ & \text{an\underline{sw}er} && \text{\underline{sw}ord} && \text{quart\underline{z}} && \text{ru\underline{st}ler} \\ & \text{ha\underline{st}en} && \text{walt\underline{z}} && \text{whi\underline{st}le} && \text{thi\underline{st}le} \end{align*}

2. You should have found four different spellings of [s]. The first spelling occurs in nine words. The second spelling occurs in three words, and the third and fourth spellings occur in two words each. Label the four groups below and sort the words into them:

Words with [s] spelled ...
<st> <ps> <sw> <z>
castle fastener psychiatrist answer waltz
hasten moisten psalm sword quartz
listen rustler psychology
wrestle thistle

3. In words like castle and fasten, where there is an <le> or an <en> right after the <st>, the <t> is not pronounced. It was pronounced a long time ago, but not anymore. Notice that we still pronounce the [t] in some words, like consistent or restless- though you can feel how hard it is to keep it in a word like restless. It is the loss of that earlier [t] that leads to the rare <st> spelling of [s].

The <ps> in psalm, psychology, and psychiatrist comes from the Greek letter psi, \begin{align*}\Psi\end{align*}, pronounced \begin{align*}[\mathrm{s}\bar{\mathrm{i}}]\end{align*}. When Greek words were taken into Latin and English, psi was represented by <ps>. The \begin{align*}<\mathrm{p}>\end{align*} was pronounced long ago, but gradually it came not to be, which leads to the rare <ps> spelling of [s].

The <w> is not pronounced in answer because the [w] sound tends to drop out when it is weakly stressed and is followed by [r]. Notice that there is also no [w] in conquer, with a following [r], but there is one in conquest, with no following [r]. The same pattern holds in liquor and liquid. Answer is related to the word swear, in which the <w> is pronounced, because swear is usually stressed. Remembering the relationship with swear can help you remember to put the <w> in answer.

The <w> is not pronounced in sword because [w] is sometimes lost in front of certain vowel sounds. This is the same thing that led to our dropping the [w] sound in two.

The [s] in words like waltz and quartz comes from German. In German <z> is pronounced [ts]. So in these words [s] is spelled <z>.

Teaching Notes.

Item 3. The [s] is spelled <st> in Christmas. In the words asthma and isthmus, the <th> originally spelled [t], as in Thames and Thomas. Now that the [t] has been dropped, so that in asthma <sh> spells [z] and in isthmus it spells [s]. In the city name Tucson [s] is spelled <cs>! It comes from an American Indian word Stjukshon, which suggests that an old [k] sound has dropped out while the <c> has remained.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Jul 07, 2015
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