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13.13: Spelling [k] in the Middle of Words

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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1. Often when a [k] is in the middle of a word, it is actually at the beginning or the end of a shorter word, or free stem, inside the longer one. For instance, there is a [k] in the middle of recall. But recall actually is made up of the prefix re- and the free stem call: recall = re + call. The [k] in call behaves just the way it is supposed to at the front of a word: It is spelled <c> rather than <k> because it does not have an <e> or <i> after it, and it is not spelled <ck> because words don't start with <ck>.

The word darkroom has a [k] in the middle. But darkroom is a compound that analyzes to the two free stems dark and room: darkroom = dark + room . So the [k]in darkroom is really at the end of the free stem dark – and it behaves just as it is supposed to: It is spelled <k> rather than <c> or <ck> because of the consonant in front of it.

2. All of the following words have a [k] somewhere in the middle. Each of the words actually contains a free stem that has the [k] either at the beginning or the end.

First, underline the letters that spell [k].

Second, analyze each word enough to show the free stem that begins or ends with [k].

Third, be ready to talk about why the [k] is spelled the way it is in the free stems.

Word Analysis
checkout check + out
unconscious un + conscious
unkindly un + kind + ly
remarkable remark + able
inconsistent in + consist + ent
unenthusiastically unenthusiastic + al + ly
trickiest trick + y + i + est
passkey pass + key
breakfast break + fast
musicality music + al + ity
encourage en + courage
trickster trick + ster
sickeningly sick + en + ing + ly
wreckage wreck + age
mistakenly mistake + en + ly
jackknife jack + knife
bookcase book + case
schlockiest schlock + y + i + est
backcast back + cast
unluckily un + luck + y + i + ly

3. <K>-insertion. In a very few words there is a <ck> spelling that occurs when a free stem that ends in <c> has a suffix added to it that starts with <e>, <i>, or <y>: A <k> is inserted after the <c>: For instance, panic + ed = panic + k + ed = panicked . The <k> is inserted to avoid having the <c> look as if it should be pronounced as a soft <c>, [s], before the <e>, <i>, or <y>, as it would in *paniced.

Here are some other words with <k> insertion. Analyze each one to show how the the <k> was inserted:

Word Analysis: Free stem + suffix
panicked panic + k + ed
panicky panic + k + y
picnicking picnic + k + ing
trafficker traffic + k + er
bivouacked bivouac + k + ed
sicked* sic + k + ed

As in “He sicked his dog on the burglar.”

Teaching Notes.

Item 2. Notice that in jackknife the second <k> is part of the <kn> spelling of [n]. Bookcase and backcast are both shown in dictionaries with two [k] sounds: [bu˙k-ka¯s] and [bak-kast]. But it seems likely that in relaxed everyday speech the two [k]’s merge into one. This merging would make for some odd spellings of [k]: <kc> and <ckc>.

Item 3. Forms of the verb sic have variant spellings, the less regular sicced, siccing. Again, we invoke the Principle of Preferred Regularity to choose the more ruly of variants: sicked, sicking with the regular <k>-insertion.

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