Grammarbites ch 3

I seem to be on a roll about Grammarbites (I have now decided on Grammarbites rather than Microgrammar), especially about verbs, which I find more interesting than anything else – I don’t know why. The first two installments are here and here.

Vs and Ving – spelling and pronunciation

All main English verbs have at least V/plain present, Vs and Ving forms. Regular verbs also have a V-ps/V-pp form, which is made by adding –ed to the V form. Irregular verbs have either no, one or two additional forms for V-ps and/or V-pp. There are about 100 common and 50 uncommon irregular verbs.

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oneth, twoth, threeth, fourth …

Yesterday I wrote about the song ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ and since then I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the cardinal numbers (one, two, three …) and the ordinal numbers (first, second, third …)

eleven > eleventh, ten > tenth, seven > seventh, six > sixth and four > fourth simply apply the basic rule of adding ‘th’. nine > ninth has an extra spelling rule of dropping the ‘e’, broadly consistent with many other spelling rules which drop a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word when other letters are added. twelve > twelfth drops the ‘e’ and changes the ‘v’ to ‘f’. Here we move from simply considering the spelling, to considering the spelling and the pronunciation together. In all of these words, ‘th’ represents /θ/, which is an unvoiced consonant, whereas the ‘v’ of ‘five’ is voiced. Very often when an voiced and unvoiced consonant fall together in a word, one will change its voicing to match the other. Here, the ‘v’ /v/ of ‘twelve’ changes to ‘f’ /f/. five > fifth drops the ‘e’, changes the ‘v’ /v/ to ‘f’ /f/ and shortens the /aɪ/ to /ɪ/. eight > eighth is intriguing. It really should be ‘eight’ + ‘th’ = ‘eightth’ – and that’s actually the way we pronounce it, at least in careful speech. three > third are recognisable as being related, but something strange has happened; whether a change in pronunciation led to a change in spelling (probably), or vice versa. (There’s lots more information about Middle English and Old English and other Indo-European languages which I won’t go into.)

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