A is for ai, ay, eigh

I have noticed that there are a lot of ei or eigh words that have homonyms – words spelled alike but sound differently that DO have a more instinctive spelling.


Someone, responding to a previous blogpost in which I suggested that English could be a tricky language to learn, disagreed with me; he thought it was quite easy. Unfortunately, I don’t know what his native language was; perhaps if it were Chinese, with all of those symbols and differing pitches, that might be the case. Maybe my thinking comes from being in the midst of trying to help the Daughter with her spelling homework each week that I find it rather challenging to explain WHY certain words are spelled as they are.

For instance, one rule she’s learned is: “When two vowels go awalking, the first one does the talking.” Well, yeah, that’s quite true, except when it isn’t.

Take the sound of the long A: One of the reasons why children have so many spelling problems is because of their shaky knowledge of how to spell many of our long-vowel words.

The big problem with long vowels is that there is more than one way to spell the same sound. For example, long a can be spelled simply a as in apron, agent or April; or a-consonant-e, as in ate, page, or fame; or ai as in rain, waif, or maid; or ay as in day, gray, or play; or ei as in vein or rein; or eigh, as in eight or weight. Notice that in ei and eigh, there is not an a in sight. I imagine the French influence on the language is responsible.


Of course, local pronunciation may render a long A into a short A such as the potayto/potahto tomayto/tomahto issue, well documented in the Gershwin song Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (version by Louis ARMSTRONG and Ella Fitzgerald).

Common Spellings of the Long A Sound.

If one considers ai, ay and a-consonant-silent e as standard, then I have noticed that there are a lot of ei or eigh words that have homonyms – words spelled alike but sound differently that DO have a more instinctive spelling, such as

aweigh-away
deign-Dane
eight-ate
feint-faint
heir-air
lei-lay
neigh-nay
reign/rein-rain
sleigh-slay
vein-vain/vane
veil-vale
weigh-way

Now, the EI sound DOES show up in another convention: “I before E except after C or when the sound is AY as in neighbor and weigh.” Also not as true as it might be.

So I have a question for you, especially, but not limited to the non-native speakers. What aspect of the English language did/do you find most difficult in terms of pronunciation and spelling?
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We remember The Fonz most from giving a single or double thumbs up while saying his signature catchphrase “Aaaaayee!”


ABC Wednesday – Round 8