1. You have seen that we have two suffixes spelled <er>: One adds the meaning “more” to adjectives: The adjective calm plus -er becomes calmer, “more calm.” The other changes verbs to nouns with the meaning “one that does”, so a teacher is one who teaches and a computer is something that computes.
When two different words or elements are spelled the same but have different meanings, they are called homographs. The base homo+ means “same”, and the base graph means “letter or writing.” So homographs are words or elements that have the same letters or spellings but different meanings.
Because homographs look the same, it can be easy to overlook important differences in what they mean. Homographs remind us that we always have to worry not just about sounds and spellings but also about meanings.
A good example of homographs are the different suffixes that are all spelled <en>. There are five of them. We'll discuss three in this lesson, the other two in the next.
2. -en1“more than one.” Long ago the English sometimes used -en to form plurals just as we use -s today. Only three words still have the old -en plural: oxen,children, and brethren.
3. -en2“consisting of.” This suffix turns nouns into adjectives: The noun wax plus the suffix -en gives us the adjective waxen.
One way to describe a noun is to say that it is the name of a person, place, or thing. Another way is to say that it makes sense when we put it into the blank of this sentence: “The____________seemed okay.” Any word that makes sense in that blank is a noun. For instance, “The gold seemed okay.”
An adjective is a word that describes or identifies a noun. Any word is an adjective if it will fit into this blank and make sense: “The________thing seemed okay.” For instance, “The golden thing seemed okay.”
4. -en3,turns adjectives into verbs. For example, the adjective bright plus -en gives us the verb brighten.
The following are three different ways of describing a verb:
1. A verb is a word that changes its spelling and pronunciation to show a change in time: “Yesterday it seemed okay” vs. “Right now it seems okay.”
2. A verb is a word that shows action or a state of being.
3. Most verbs will make sense in one of the following blanks:
= fat + t
= flat + t
5. Now try some the other way around, showing any changes:
sad + d
Item 1. The two suffixes -er are introduced in Book 1, Lessons 28-29.
There are three related terms: homograph, homophone,homonym. Notice that the two homographic suffixes -er have the same spelling, different meanings, and the same pronunciation. Some homographs have different pronunciations: buffet [bu´fət] “to strike” vs. buffet [bəfa¯] “a type of meal,” for instance, or bow [bo¯] vs. bow [bou˙].
Homophones are words that have the same sound but different spellings and meanings - for instance, the infamous there, their, they're or to, too, two. The elements in homophone are homo “same” + phone “sound.”
The word homonym (homo “same” + onym “name”) is sometimes used to mean either homophone or, less often, homograph. But technically, homonyms are words that are both homographs and homophones—for instance, bear “the animal that lives in the woods” and bear “to carry or endure.” In this sense the two suffixes -er and the five suffixes -en would be homonyms, but it seems better to reserve the word homonym to refer just to words, so we call the suffixes in question homographs not homonyms.
Item 2. Actually, the <r> in children is also an old plural ending: In Old English a few nouns formed their plural with the -r suffix: child, childer. In the case of children, the original plural with -r was later not recognized as a plural, so the then-more-common plural suffix -en was added. Thus, children is actually a double plural. In Old English the singular brother was brōthor, the plural was sometimes brōthor, sometimes brōthru. By Middle English brother had acquired three different plural forms: brōtheres, brēther (as with goose, geese), and brēthren, with the -en ending. In time the old plural brethren took on the specialized religious meaning it has today, and the more general plural form was with the regular -s plural, brothers. So brethren is also a double plural.
Item 3. Nouns are introduced in Book 2, Lesson 24. The definition given here of adjective is a good starter, but it “leaks” a bit. For instance, although a sentence like “That clock thing seemed okay” makes sense, clock is not an adjective. It is a noun used attributively - that is, to provide much the same kind of detail that adjectives provide. But clock does not behave the way adjectives do. For instance, from the phrase “that golden thing” we can say “that thing is golden”, but from thatclockthing we can't say *“that thing is clock”. Also we can say “that very golden thing”, but not *“that very clock thing”. And we can say “that thing is more golden”, but we cannot say *“that thing is more clock”. Golden is an adjective, but clock is not; it is a noun. This is probably more grammar than you need to get into.
For fun you might ask the students the difference between a wood stove and a wooden stove, the former being a stove that burns wood, the latter a stove made of wood, which would probably not be too practical.