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8.6: The Reasons For Some Unusual Spellings of [t]

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The Reasons For Some Unusual Spellings of [t]

1. So far you have worked with three spellings of [t]: <t>, \begin{align*}\underline{<tt>}\end{align*}, and <ed>.

The sound [t] is spelled one of these three ways more than ninety-nine times out of a hundred. And if you remember the places where \begin{align*}<\mathrm{tt}>\end{align*} occurs and remember that -ed is always a verb suffix, you should have little trouble knowing which spelling to use.

There are some other spellings of [t], though, that are very rare but still worth looking at:

2. [t] = <ght> in several words. Underline the letters that are spelling [t] in the following words:

\begin{align*}& \text{ali\underline{ght}} && \text{fi\underline{ght}} && \text{li\underline{ght}ning} && \text{si\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{au\underline{ght}} && \text{fli\underline{ght}} && \text{midni\underline{ght}} && \text{slei\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{bou\underline{ght}} && \text{fou\underline{ght}} && \text{mi\underline{ght}} && \text{sli\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{bri\underline{ght}} && \text{frei\underline{ght}} && \text{nau\underline{ght}} && \text{slau\underline{ght}er} \\ & \text{brou\underline{ght}} && \text{fri\underline{ght}} && \text{nau\underline{ght}y} && \text{sou\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{cau\underline{ght}} && \text{hau\underline{ght}y} && \text{ni\underline{ght}} && \text{strai\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{dau\underline{ght}er} && \text{hei\underline{ght}} && \text{ou\underline{ght}} && \text{tau\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{deli\underline{ght}} && \text{kni\underline{ght}} && \text{pli\underline{ght}} && \text{thou\underline{ght}} \\ & \text{ei\underline{ght}} && \text{li\underline{ght}} && \text{ri\underline{ght}} && \text{wei\underline{ght}}\end{align*}

Sort the words into the following four groups:

Words with...

[i] spelled

\begin{align*}<\mathrm{i}>\end{align*} or <ei>

\begin{align*}[\bar{\mathrm{a}}]\end{align*} spelled

<ai> or <ei>

alight height night eight
bright knight plight freight
delight light right straight
fight lightning sight weight
flight midnight sleight
fright might slight
Words with [o] spelled. . .
<au> <ou>
aught naught bought ought
caught naughty brought sought
daughter slaughter fought thought
haughty taught

3. The sound [t] is spelled <ght> only after \begin{align*}\underline{[\bar{\mathrm{i}}]}\end{align*} spelled \begin{align*}\underline{<i>}\end{align*} or <ei>, or after \begin{align*}[\bar{\mathrm{a}}]\end{align*} spelled <ai> or <ei>, or after [o] spelled <au> or <ou>.

4. [t] = <tw>. The sound [t] is spelled <tw> in only one word: two. Long ago two was pronounced \begin{align*}[\mathrm{tw}\bar{\mathrm{o}}]\end{align*}. Several words related to two contain <tw>, and all contain the meaning “two.” Answer Yes or No:

Word Do you hear the <w>?
twice Yes
twin Yes
twelve Yes
between Yes
twilight Yes
twist Yes
twine Yes
twig Yes
twenty Yes

5. [t] = <bt>. The sound [t] is spelled <bt> in only three common words: debt, doubt, and subtle. All three came from Latin words, used a long time ago by the Romans. Our word debt comes from the Latin word debitum. Our word doubt comes from the Latin word dubitare. Our word subtle comes from the Latin word subtilis. In Latin both the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{b}>\end{align*} and the <t> were pronounced in these words. But we would find [bt] difficult to pronounce, so we've simplified it to [t].

6. [t] = <cht>. Long ago the Dutch called a fast sailing ship a jaghte. The English borrowed the word and spelled it several different ways, including <yaught>. Back then the <gh> was pronounced with a sound a little like our [ch], so in time the <gh> spelling changed to <ch>. But then over the centuries people stopped pronouncing the <ch>, so we now have a word pronounced [yot] and spelled yacht. This is the only word we have in which [t] is spelled <cht>!

In words like two, doubt, and yacht we can see that when we spell, we do more than spell sounds. Our spelling also shows something about words' sources and their life stories. This can make spelling harder than it might be, but there is always some reason for the spellings we use — even if sometimes the reasons seem a little strange.

7. The sound [t] is spelled <ght> only after [i] spelled \begin{align*}<\mathrm{i}>\end{align*} or <ei>, or after \begin{align*}\underline{[\bar{\mathrm{a}}]}\end{align*} spelled <ai> or <ei>, or after [o] spelled <au> or <ou>. The word in which [t] is spelled <tw> is two. The three words in which [t] is spelled <bt> are debt, doubt, and subtle. The one word in which [t] is spelled <cht> is yacht.

Word Changes. Follow the instructions very carefully and then fill in the blanks to complete the sentence at the end:

  1. Write the word debt - debt
  2. Change the vowel from <e> to <ou>: - doubt
  3. Change the first consonant to the letter that comes two letters before it in the alphabet, and change the letter before the <t> to <gh>: - bought
  4. Change the first consonant to the letter that comes right after \begin{align*}<\mathrm{s}>\end{align*} in the alphabet, and change the first vowel to the first letter of the alphabet: - taught
  5. Change the first consonant to the second consonant in the alphabet: - caught
  6. Change the first consonant to the next-to-last letter in the alphabet; delete the second vowel letter; and change the second consonant to the letter that comes four places before it in the alphabet: - yacht

The sailor went into \begin{align*}\frac{debt}{\mathrm{Word} \ \#1}\end{align*} when he \begin{align*}\frac{bought}{\mathrm{Word} \ \#3}\end{align*} a \begin{align*}\frac{yacht}{\mathrm{Word} \ \#6}\end{align*}

Teaching Notes.

Item 2. In the words with [t] spelled <ght>, the <gh> at one time spelled the [ch]-like sound mentioned in Item 6, the sound heard at the end of the Scottish pronunciation of loch and the German pronunciation of Bach.. That specific sound disappeared from English, becoming [f] in words like laugh and rough and falling silent in words like high and sigh. It also fell silent before the sount [t], with the <gh> becoming part of the spelling of [t]. Some of the <ght> words in Item 2 are worth a special note:

aught. There are really two words spelled <aught>: One means “anything whatever,” as in “For aught I know ....” The other, which has the variant form ought, means “zero, nothing.” Ought meaning “should,” as in “I ought to go now,” is always spelled with an <o>.

naught, nought These are two variants of a word also meaning “nothing, zero.”

Slight means “small, slender,” and as a verb it means “to treat someone or something as unimportant.” Sleight means “skill, craft,” as in “sleight of hand.” It is related to sly.

Lightning does not have an <e> in it. It was actually formed from lightening (lighten+ing), but the <e> was dropped , distinguishing it from the verb form lightening. The reason for dropping the <e> is not clear.

The following is a fairly complete list of the remaining words in which [t] is spelled <ght>: Bedight, dight, hight are all archaic, wight very nearly so:

\begin{align*}& \text{bedight “array”} && \text{sprightly} && \text{fraught} \\ & \text{bight} && \text{tight} && \text{onslaught}\\ & \text{blight} && \text{wight “human”} \\ & \text{dight “adorn”} && \text{wright} && \text{doughty} \\ & \text{flighty} &&&& \text{wrought} \\ & \text{hight “named”} && \text{distraught}\end{align*}

Item 4. A good discussion question could be, <Why does the text say that all the words in the table contain the meaning “two”? Some are very straightforward: twice, twin. Others are slightly more subtle: between, twilight, twist, twine, twig. Twenty(twen+ty) means “two tens.” Twelve (twe+lve) means “two left over (past ten)”; the fragment Ive is related to leave and left. (Eleven (e+leven) means “one left over”; the fragment e echoes Old English \begin{align*}\bar{a}\end{align*}n “one.”) All of these words contain the descendant of an ancient Indo-European root, *dwo-, which meant “two.”

Item 5. All three of these words were in Middle English usually spelled without the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{b}>\end{align*}. The \begin{align*}<\mathrm{b}>\end{align*}'s were added in the \begin{align*}15^{\mathrm{th}}\end{align*} or \begin{align*}16^{\mathrm{th}}\end{align*} centuries, because of the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{b}>\end{align*}'s in the Latin source words.

Item 6. The “sound a little like our [ch]” is the sound you hear at the end of the Scottish pronunciation of loch and the German pronunciation of Bach.

After the very predictable major spellings <t>, \begin{align*}<\mathrm{tt}>\end{align*}, and <ed>, the spelling of [t] is complcated by a number of different minor spellings like the four discussed in the lesson. Here are some others that you may or may not want to discuss with the students:

1. [t] = [dt] in veldt, which comes from South African Afrikaans, and finally from the Dutch word veldt “field.” Veldt has a variant spelling veld, in which we would have to say that [t] = <d>.

2. [t] = <ct>. The only stem word in which [t] is spelled <ct> is indict, as in indictment. Indict has always been pronounced much as it is today: [ind\begin{align*}\bar{\mathrm{i}}\end{align*}t]. It used to be spelled <indite>, which fit the pronunciation better. But people came to feel that its base should be dict, the same as that in predict and dictate, to reflect its Latin source, indict\begin{align*}\bar{a}\end{align*}re. They changed the spelling to <indict>, but they didn't change the pronunciation. The earlier spelling <indite> still lives in the related word indite, “to compose or write, especially poetry.” Dictionaries show a [kt] in adjective, though in rapid speech it probably sounds more like [ædjətiv], with [t] spelled <ct>. Notice that <ct> is usually [kt]: affect, collect, electric, etc.

3. [t] = <th> in Thomas, Thames, and thyme. For more on the [t]-[th] confusion in earlier English, see AES, p. 343.

4. [t] = <pt> in receipt and in words that contain or were taken to contain the Greek base pter “wing”: pterodactyl, pterosaur, ptarmigan. (In helicopter the syllable division leads to [pt] rather than [t].) The <pt> spelling also occurs in ptomaine, the base of which ptom, descends from the Greek word ptoma “corpse.”. In Middle English receipt was usually spelled without the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{p}>\end{align*}, but after the \begin{align*}16^{\mathrm{th}}\end{align*} century the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{p}>\end{align*} became standard because of its presence in the Latin source word, recepta. It is related to conceit and deceit, which did not reintroduce the \begin{align*}<\mathrm{p}>\end{align*}.

For more on the minor spellings of [t] see AES, pp. 343-46.

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Feb 23, 2012
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