Magic e

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Magic e is a short version of the sentence "silent final e makes the vowel say its name". This means that in face the a sounds A; in delete the middle e sounds E; in price the i sounds I; in home the o sounds O; in cute the u sounds U.

Summary[edit]

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
e
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
ɔɪ
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
understand
/ˌʌndərˈstænd/
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

English vowel letters AEIOU can be classified as having "a long sound" and "a short sound". See So-called “short” and “long” vowels. They also have more sounds, but the convention is as follows.

A E I O U
1. Short sound trap /æ/ dress /e/ kit /ɪ/ lot /ɒ/ strut /ʌ/
2.a Long sound or "name sound" face /eɪ/ theme /iː/ price /aɪ/ bone /əʊ/ cute /juː/, flute /uː/
2.b Long sound before "r" care /eə/ here /ɪə/ fire /aɪə/ store /ɔː/, /oə/ in some accents cure /jʊə/

In the first line each vowel has its "normal" sound, a short monophthong. In the second line each vowel has the same sound as the name of the letter in the English alphabet. The sounds of the second line are longer than the ones of the first line.

"Magic e" (silent e at the end of the word) makes the vowel "say its name",[1] or "makes the vowel long", which should be understood as moving in the table from the first row to the second, and not as lengthening the vowel. What is meant by “long E” is not that /iː/ is a long version of /e/, but actually "the long sound of the letter E".

Similarly, what is meant by “short I” is not that /ɪ/ is a short version of /aɪ/, but actually "the short sound of the letter I".

Therefore, "the long vowels" actually means "the long sounds of vowel letters", and "the short vowels" are "the short sounds of vowel letters".

Note that in phonetics "long vowel" means literally a vowel that is long, i.e., /ɑː, iː, ɔː, uː/ or /ɜː/.

Examples:

rat vs rate - cap vs cape - can vs cane
bed - hotel - stem - then - get vs theme - scene - complete
bit vs bite - quit vs quite
dog - alcohol - shop - lot vs code - smoke - home - phone - suppose
cub vs cube - cut vs cute

The pattern vowel + consonant + “e” = long sound of the vowel is reliable enough to be taught. Examples of exceptions are: have - college - machine - gone - lettuce.

The converse pattern vowel + consonants = short sound of the vowel is less reliable, but should also be taught.

Magic e exceptionally works in other situations:

  • more than one consonant: able - change - paste; title; noble;
  • no consonant: Mae - sundae
  • no consonant (redundant): bee - fee; lie - tie; doe - toe; clue - issue

The existence of magic e explains the necessity of double consonants.

A[edit]

See also Decoding the letter A

Minimal pairs: can - cane; cap - cape; hat - hate; mad - made; rat - rate;

A + consonant ending is /æ/ or /ə/[edit]

See also So-called “short a
  • /æ/: bad - bat - can - cap - fat - gas - hat - hang - jam - lack - man - pack - plan - program - rat - tax - trap
  • /æ/,AmE /ɑː/BrE: ask - bath - branch - demand - graph - laugh - plant
  • /ə/: Christmas
/əl/: general - local - political - several
/ən/: American - german - human - woman
  • Exceptions
/eɪ/: bass (music)
/ɔː/: chalk - salt - talk - walk
with "all": all - ball - call - fall - hall - mall - small

A + magic e is /eɪ/[edit]

See also So-called “long a
  • ache /eɪk/ - age - bathe - brake - embrace - face - fake - made - make - late - pane - place - race - replace - take - trade
  • Exceptions
E is pronounced: Apache - Gethsemane - karate - sesame - tamale
Other exceptions: cache - have - purchase - surface
with "age": advantage - average - damage - encourage - garage - garbage - image - language - manage - marriage - message - mortgage - package - percentage - village
with "ate": adequate - advocate (noun) - chocolate - climate - delicate - estimate (noun) - fortunate - graduate (noun) - moderate (adj.) - passage - private

E[edit]

See also Decoding the letter E

E + consonant ending is /e/ or /ə/[edit]

  • bed - best - cent - dress - get - hell - hotel - men - neck - parallel - personnel - red - scent - stem - ten - then - when
  • /ə/: happiness - kindness - trumpet - violet
/əl/: cancel - channel - counsel - hostel - label - level - model - novel - panel - vessel - travel
/ər/: after - cancer - letter - number - other
/əm/: item - problem - system
/ən/: even - garden - happen - often

E + magic e is /iː/[edit]

  • athlete - compete - complete - concrete - delete - extreme - gene - scene - scheme - supreme - theme
  • Exceptions
E is pronounced: machete - Selene
Other exceptions: allege - college - eye - privilege

I[edit]

See also Decoding the letter I and Decoding and spelling exercises: /ɪ/ vs /aɪ/

Minimal pairs: bit - bite; kit - kite; quit - quite

I + consonant ending is /ɪ/ or /ə/[edit]

  • bit - fit - hit - kick - kit - mill - mist - pill - sick - six - swim - thin - will - wit - wind (noun)
  • /əl/: council - civil - pupil
  • /ən/: cousin - Wisconsin

Exceptions

  • /aɪ/
climb - mild - pint - rewind - wild
with "ind": behind - bind - blind - child - find - kind - mankind - mind - remind - wind (verb)
with "ight": delight - fight - light - night - tight
with "ign": align - assign - sign

I + magic e is /aɪ/[edit]

  • bike - bite - five - kite - mine - nine - pile - pipe - price - quite - write
Exceptions
  • E is pronounced: aborigine - recipe
  • Silent e.
I as /ɪ/: definite - favourite - infinite - opposite - premise - promise
with "ice": justice - notice - office - practice - service
with "ine": determine - discipline - engine - examine - imagine
with "ive": active - adjective - alternative - give - live (verb)
I as /ə/: medicine
I as /iː/: cuisine - machine - magazine - police - submarine

O[edit]

See also Decoding the letter O

Minimal pairs: rot - rote

O + consonant ending is /ɒ/ or /ə/[edit]

  • alcohol - boss - box - cloth - cost - dog - doll - floss - job - long - loss - lost - lot - odd - shop - song - stop
  • /ə/: develop - method - pilot - symbol
  • Exceptions
/əʊ/: both - control - fold - ghost - gold - gross - host - Job - most - poll - post - roll - stroll - scroll
/ʌ/: front - son
/uː/ whom

O + magic e is /əʊ/[edit]

  • code - dove (verb) - home - joke - phone - rose - smoke - suppose - stove
  • Exceptions
E is pronounced: adobe, apostrophe, catastrophe, epitome, hyperbole
Other exceptions
/ʌ/: come - done - dove (bird) - love - one - some
/ɒ/: catalogue - gone

U[edit]

See also Decoding the letter U

Minimal pairs: cub - cube; cut - cute;

U + consonant ending is /ʌ/ or /ə/[edit]

  • /ʌ/: bun - bus - but - cut - fun - jump - gun - luck - lunch - null - run - skunk - strut - sun - thunder - truck - up - us
  • /ə/: album - Connecticut - focus - maximum

Exceptions

/ʊ/: bull - bush - full - pull - push - put

U + magic e is /(j)uː/[edit]

  • /juː/: commute - cube - cute - dispute - excuse - huge - mule - refuse - tune
  • /uː/: flute - June - rude - rule
  • Exceptions
lettuce - minute

Y[edit]

See also Decoding the letter Y

Y + consonant ending is /ɪ/ or /ə/[edit]

  • gym, hymn, lynch, lynx, myth, sync

Y + magic e is /aɪ/[edit]

  • byte, hype, rhyme, style, thyme, type

R and magic e[edit]

So-called "long" vowels change their sound before r in the following way

A (/eə/) - E (/ɪə/) - I (/ə/) - O (/ɔː/) - U (/jʊə/).

Examples: care - here - fire - store - pure;

Many polysyllabic words ending in "ure" have a special pronunciation

  • "ture" is pronounced /tʃər/ (/tj/ became /tʃ/): adventure - culture - future - manufacture - nature - picture - structure
  • "dure" is pronounced /dʒər/ (/dj/ became /dʒ/): procedure
  • "sure" is pronounced /ʒər/ (/zj/ became /ʒ/): exposure - measure - pleasure
  • "ssure" is pronounced /ʃər/ (/sj/ became /ʃ/): pressure
  • in other cases "ure" is pronounced /jər/: failure - figureAmE
Exceptions
  • with "a": are (verb to be)
  • with "e": there - were - where
  • with "u": figureBrE
  • words ending in "ure" and pronounced /ɔː/ (such as "sure") are not considered exceptions. See IPA phoneme /ʊə/.

References[edit]

  1. DailyWritingTips, Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E”