When letters can make more than one sound, or sometimes be silent, and a sound can be made with different spellings, we know that English is Weird. The rules are more like guidelines that give us a clue. You can almost always expect exceptions.
Below is a round-up of some of the guidelines with some exceptions that I’ve come across. Can you think of some to add?
SHORT VOWEL Variations
Flossy words – the letters f, l, & s often double after a one syllable word with short vowel. Except: When final s makes sound of /z/: is, his, as, has, was. And except: gas, yes, if, this, us, bus. Also other letters double in the words: odd, add, egg, mitt.
a can say short o – watch the dog play squash with the ball.
after w – Except: wag, was. And except: Bossy R variations (ar = /or/ in war, warm, warn, wart, swarm. Also Silent e & vowel teams are more powerful: wave, wade, waist, way.
after qu – Except: quack, aqua, square, quart. Silent e & vowel teams are more powerful: quake, equate, quail.
o can say ŭ (Schwa) – my son won a ton of money a month from the lottery. Except: on, fond, pond.
Closed syllables often have a short vowel, Except: in some words when i or o are followed by two consonants. And Except: Flossy words: roll, words that end with ck: rock, and digraphs: fish.
Also, u can = /oo/ sometimes: sugar, put, push, bush, cushion, & pull, full, bull. U =/ĭ/: busy.
Silent e – Silent e at the end makes the vowel say it’s name. Except: have, give, been, gone, lose, whose, move, shoe. See also: o = /ŭ/ (Schwa sound) in some love gloves + more, and also i before e is weird: sometimes ie steals long e like a thief.
Bossy R Variations
Silent e vs. Bossy R – Silent e wins with -are and -ire. With a wīre in your tīre, ride on the spāre to the car cāre store for sure.
Schwa Bossy R
/ER/ can be spelled different ways: The pearl is worth a dollar
AR can say /ER/: dollar, collar
AR can say /OR/: warm, warn, wart
OR can say /ER/: motor, worth, worm, work
EAR: You will learn (er) not to fear (long e/r) the bear (“air”) with a big heart (ar)
/AIR/: It may be a very bad error to shoot an arrow at the pair of bears.
IR can say a long e: spirit, mirror.
Diphthongs – Two vowels work together to make a sound that’s new. Except: journey, country, cousin, touch, laugh, taught, caught, daughter. See also: Oh, Those OUGH Words!
OU: I thought (short o) our (ow-r) chicken soup (long u) for the young (short u) soul (long o) could (oo) be about (ow) cool enough (short u) to pour (long o-r).
OUgh: Although (long o) I ate when I was through (ew) ploughing (ow) the garden, the meat I bought (short o) was so tough (short u) it made me cough (short o).
OUld: Oh you should see the mould – could, would, should =/oo/ Except: mould, shoulder, boulder, smoulder.
Vowel Teams – Two vowels work as a team and the first one likes to speak. Except: said, pleasant, learn, pear, build, sew.
EA can also be short e: bread, head, breath, thread, and also long a: great, steak, break.
OW can also be a diphthong: down, town + more.
See also I before e is weird
Vowels that vary – Tricky Y
In one syllable words, y often = /ī/ like in fly. Except: key
In two syllable words, y often = /ē/ like in candy. Except: supply, reply, rely, deny, apply, July.
Digraphs – Two consonants work together to make a sound that’s new.
/ch/ is often spelled tch after a short vowel in a one syllable word. Except: such, much, rich, which.
CH can say /SH/: the chef with a mustache poured champagne down the chute of the machine. Also, ch = /k/: ache
Hard or Soft G – G is often hard before A, O & U. With the others, a soft G will often do. Except: gift, gill, give. g before e will often soft /j/ be. Except: get, gecko, geese.
/k/ at the beginning – K takes i & e, c the other three. Except: kale, skate, koala, skull.
/k/ at the end – the k sound is often spelled ck immediately after a short vowel in one syllable words. The duck said “quack” on the deck near the slick dock. Except: multi-syllable words like zodiac, maniac.
Two sounds of s – The letter S the sound of /s/ makes when you see snakes. Hear the sound of /z/ when your nose smells a rose. Except, s = /sh/: sure, sugar, tissue issue, mission.
Consonant-le – /ul/ -when the letter is long or tall (bdfghjklpty), it is often -le. Except: petal, bridal, global, jackal, sandal, hotel, legal. Also, c & z are often -le: circle, vehicle, uncle, article, cycle, cubicle, puzzle, drizzle.
Schwa: o can say “uh” before n, v, th – I love the other monkey. Except: on, frond, pond, drove (+more where silent e wins), broth, moth, bother.
Find more vowel sound exceptions at pronunciationcoach.blog.
The English language can be a nasty beast, but it is one that can be beat! Tame it with the sensible sequence followed by the Phonics Pow Toolkit. Learn strategies for reading: add fun with games, build skills with memorable rhymes, and use easy to follow color coding.