Volume #90 • March 2010


I got an e-mail the other day from a teacher whose kids were confused by the two words, gentle and gently. How many syllables did each one have? To get” gently,” did you have to take off the le and substitute ly? Was gent the root word?

I explained that le cannot be a syllable because in English the final letter, e, is always silent, and a syllable is a piece of a word with a vowel sound in it- sometimes wrapped with consonants, sometimes not. But a syllable must contain a vowel sound. Not a vowel, but a vowel sound. Mountainous has six vowels, but only three vowel sounds, so only three syllables. On the other hand, idea, Iowa, oleo, area, all have a mere four letters but three syllables, and the words, stretched and scratched are nine letters long but contain only one syllable!

The real problem is that pesky letter, L, which can be pronounced two ways in English, one way on the beginning of a word like- well, like the L in like. To make it, you put just the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth and spit out a vowel-- la, le, loi, lor. First the L, then the vowel. The other pronunciation of L comes after a vowel. First the vowel and then the L. It is a heavy sound formed by putting both sides of your tongue against against the inside of your upper teeth in the middle, producing the sound in pull without the P .

So the real question is why on earth there is an e on the end of “candle” in the first place. Why isn’t it just spelled like the end of that Swedish tennis star’s name, Lendl? Don’t ask me. I don’t make up these rules. I just teach ‘em and complain a lot.

In the next newsletter I will explain my patented method of dealing with singulars, plurals, and another pesky letter, this time, S.

While you wait with baited breath, I hope some bunny (dare I say, Easter bunny these days?) brings you a chocolate egg all decorated up with punctuation marks in pink and green.

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