The Six Spellings of “Long E”
Some of you have had the opportunity to attend, but we wanted our members to have a sneak peak at what they have to offer.
The above quotation is from a club announcement.
The words “sneak peak” certainly seem as if they ought to match, but the word “peak” is a misspelling in this context.
The word meaning “a surreptitious look” is spelled peek.
A peak is “a projecting point.”
As I pointed out in English Spelling is Not Total Chaos, English has more phonograms (sound symbols) than it needs.
This multiplicity of spellings applies especially to the vowel sounds.
“Long E” is the vowel sound represented by the e in me.
This “long e” sound can also be represented by five other phonograms:
Achilles was wounded in his heel.
The “double e” spelling ee always represents the “long e” sound: see, kneel, feel, tee (golf term).
Physician, heal thyself.
“Long e” is the most common sound represented by ea: read, zeal, appeal, deal, meal, real. (The spelling ea can also represent two other vowel sounds.)
That man is filled with conceit.
This ei spelling for “long e” occurs in words in which the ei follows the letter c: ceiling, conceit, perceive, receipt, receive. (There’s a rule that often helps: “i before e except after c…”)
Let’s plant oats in that field.
“Long e” is spelled ie in several common words: believe, belief, brief, chief, field, niece, priest, siege, achieve, piece.
Follett wrote The Key to Rebecca.
The ey spelling for “long e” is not common in one-syllable words. Key is the only one I can think of. The phonogram ey to represent “long e” does appear at the end of two-syllable words like valley, alley, and galley. (The spelling ey more often represents the “long a” sound, as in they.)
It’s too bad that we have so many ways to spell the “long e” sound, but it’s probably too late to do anything about it–other than learn the variants.
Even Richard Mulcaster (1531-1611), an early advocate of English spelling reform, had to concede that
No set of rules can cover all points; some things must be left to observation and daily practice.*
*Baugh, A History of the English Language p. 255)
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