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16.2: Five Other Ways to Spell [f]

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Five Other Ways to Spell [f]

1. Underline the letters that spell [f] in the following words:

\begin{align*}& \text{\underline{ph}ysics} && \text{pro\underline{ph}et} && \text{\underline{ph}enomenon} && \text{xerogra\underline{ph}y}\\ & \text{ele\underline{ph}ant} && \text{as\underline{ph}alt} && \text{xeno\underline{ph}obia} && \text{paragra\underline{ph}}\\ & \text{s\underline{ph}ere} && \text{\underline{ph}iloso\underline{ph}y} && \text{tele\underline{ph}one} && \text{\underline{ph}otogra\underline{ph}}\\ & \text{\underline{ph}ase} && \text{\underline{ph}antom} && \text{\underline{ph}rase} && \text{ne\underline{ph}ew}\\ & \text{xylo\underline{ph}one} && \text{em\underline{ph}asis} && \text{sym\underline{ph}ony} && \text{trium\underline{ph}}\end{align*}

2. Sort the words into these three groups:

Words in which [f] is spelled <ph>...
at the front in the middle at the end
physics elephant xenophobia paragraph
phase sphere telephone photograph
philosophy xylophone symphony triumph
phantom prophet xerography
phenomenon asphalt nephew
phrase emphasis

The <ph> spelling of [f] usually comes from the Greek letter phi, which was translated into Latin and English as <ph>. In sapphire [f] is spelled <pph>. Sapphire comes from the Greek word \begin{align*}\sigma \acute{\alpha} \pi \phi \varepsilon l \rho o \varsigma\end{align*}, sappheiros, in which the first \begin{align*}<\mathrm{p}>\end{align*} was the Greek letter pi, \begin{align*}\pi\end{align*}, and the <ph> was phi, \begin{align*}\phi\end{align*}.

3. In a very few words [f] is spelled <gh>:

\begin{align*}\text{rough} && \text{laugh} && \text{trough} && \text{enough} && \text{cough} && \text{tough}\end{align*}

Where is the <gh> in all of these words — at the front, in the middle, at the end? at the end Is the vowel sound in front of the <gh> long or is it short? short. The vowel in front of the <gh> is spelled with two letters. What is the second of these letters in each word? \begin{align*}\underline{<u>}\end{align*}

Hundreds of years ago this ‘gh’ spelled a sound like that you hear at the end of the Scottish pronunciation of loch or the German pronunciation of Bach. In time that sound dropped out of English, but the <gh> usually stayed in the written words. After long vowels the <gh> came to be no longer pronounced, as in sigh and right. And after short vowels spelled with a digraph ending in \begin{align*}<\mathrm{u}>\end{align*} it came to be pronounced [f], as in the six words above.

4. In the words calf, behalf, and half [f] is spelled <lf>. The <l> used to be pronounced [l] — as it still is in words like golf and shelf— but in time people changed the pronunciation of calf, behalf, and half without changing their spellings.

5. In the words often and soften [f] is spelled <ft>. The <t> used to be pronounced. You still hear some people who pronounce the <t> in often. In fact, some dictionaries show two pronunciations for often, one with and one without the [t]. But usually the <ft> just spells [f].

6. Usually the sound [f] is spelled <f> or <ff>. Sometimes [f] is spelled <ff> because of twinning, assimilation, simple addition, VCC, or VCCle#. Words with <ff> due to twinning are iffy, iffier, and iffiest. Five other spellings of [f] are <ph>, <pph>, <gh>, <lf>, and <ft>.

Teaching Notes.

Item 1. Phantom has the variant spelling fantom. In Middle English it was spelled with an <f>; the <ph> spelling came later, probably as part of the enthusiasm for things Latin and Greek.

Item 2. Notice that even among the words with the <ph> in the middle, the <ph> is still usually at the beginning or end of an element: xylo + phone, pro+phet, em + phasis, xeno + phobia, tele + phone, sym + phony, xerograph + y.

Item 3. The use of <gh> to spell [g] at the front of words, as in ghost, ghoul, and ghastly is a late-comer to the language. For more on <gh> see the teaching notes in Book 5, Lesson 8.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Sep 13, 2016
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