The Eight Spellings of Long O

By Maeve Maddox

English is blessed with many homophones:

one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (as all and awl; to, too, and two; rite, write, right, and wright) — called also homonym (Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary)

The sound of long o is especially rich in alternate spellings. Such spellings are best learned when we are children, before we’ve been around long enough to regard such facts of life as something to be complained about.

Here are the eight spellings of long o. (not counting exceptions, of course.)

o o says /ō/ at the end of a syllable: so, go, open
o+e Silent final e makes the o say /ō/: stone, throne, shone (Am.)
ow The spelling ow can represent two sounds: /ow/ as in cow and /ō/ as in show, slow, grow.
ou The spelling ou can represent four sounds: /ow/ as in round, /ō/ as in four, /oo/ as in you, and /ŭ/as in country. Note that the second sound of ou is long o.
oo The spelling oo can represent three sounds: /oo/ as in boot, /û/as in foot, and /ō/ as in floor.
oa This is the o of boat.
oe This is o of toe
ough
Ah, yes. This is the most ridiculed of all English spellings, good old ough. This spelling can represent six different vowel (or semi-vowel) sounds. The good news is that once you’ve learned the following six words, you’re home free:
/ō/ as in though
/oo/ as in through
/uf/ as in rough
/awf/ as in cough
/aw/ as in thought
/ow/ as in bough
Note that /ō/ is the first sound of ough: though

TIP: English spelling is not for sissies. It can, however, be mastered by people who use words for a living.

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2 Responses to “The Eight Spellings of Long O”

  • anne

    What about taupe chateau gateaux depot and apropos???

  • Bryan Fitzhenry

    First off I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Many thanks!

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