Language Arts Canadian Lead Primary School

Spelling and Morphemes

Now that you know what all the word parts are, the next task is to get them working together.

Adding morphemes to bases can get tricky. Bases and morphemes can change their form (their spelling or their pronunciation) according to who their neighbours are. We will start with some obvious examples and then get more subtle.

Chameleon prefixes

We’ve looked before at the prefixes that change their form according to the base. Have you noticed, though, that when they do that, the change emerges in spelling as a double consonant?

Take the prefix in-, meaning “not”: If we add it to the free base regular, instead of *in+regular we get ir+regular.

Take the prefix ad-, meaning “to, toward”: If we add it to the bound base “-gress-“, meaning step, we get ag+gressive, instead of ad+gressive.

Words that end with Final Silent E

Whatever you call word-final letter , you will have to teach how to deal with it when a base ends that way and you want to add a certain kind of suffix. Here is the mechanism:

Final Silent E word    +          vowel suffix                 =          delete Final Silent E

hope                                  +          -ing                                   =          hoping

Final Silent E word   +          consonant suffix       =          do not delete Final Silent E

hope                                 +          -less                                  =          hopeless

The words courage, advantage and outrage do not do this. Why not?

Take the prefix in-, meaning “not”: If we add it to the free base regular, instead of *in+regular we get ir+regular.

Take the prefix ad-, meaning “to, toward”: If we add it to the bound base “-gress-“, meaning step, we get ag+gressive, instead of ad+gressive.

Words that end with -y

The letter <y> is used word-finally to denote an /i:/ or an /aɪ/ sound (it is also a derivational suffix itself, often denoting nouns and adjectives).

We use <y> to replace <e> and <i>, as our orthographic rules state that word-final, syllabic <e> or <i> is not permitted.

However, since adding a suffix to a base means the last letter in the base is no longer the final letter in the word, our illegal <i> can return.  So no matter whether the base is consonant-initial or vowel-initial, Illegal <i> returns.

Worked examples:

happy                         +          -ness                          =          happiness

beauty                       +          -ful                              =          beautiful

A teachable moment arises when the suffixes happen to be non-syllabic, like -s or -th. That letter would collapse right into them, so a bit of additional space is made by adding the letter when forming words with this structure. 

Worked examples:

city                                +           -s                                 = cities

twenty                        +          -th                               = twentieth

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