Words with Latin endings can be confusing to spell. To get a handle on them, I like to organise them into groups:
“sh” sound Latin endings
- Many, many words have the sound “sh” spelt “ti” as in “action”, “cautious” and “patient”.
- Some others are spelt with “ci” as in “special”, “magician” and “vicious”.
- A third group are spelt with “si” as n “mansion”, “tension” and “extension”.
- A fourth group are spelt with “ssi” as in “mission”, “passion” and “discussion”.
Some spelling reformers would have us spell all these words with “sh” – “acshon”, “speshal”, “manshon”, “mishon” etc, like rappers do. But I hope this table makes their current spellings seem more logical:
It’s important to remember that these are common patterns, not reliable rules. Tell me any spelling rule and I’ll tell you about its exceptions. In this case, we also have substance-substantial, licence-licentious, permit-permission and recede-recession.
However, patterns are useful things to learn, to get your head around the majority of words. Once you have the main patterns down pat (so to speak) the words that don’t fit these patterns stand out, and are also easier to learn in small groups.
To teach “sh” sound Latin suffixes, I’d rule up my whiteboard into four columns just like the table above, with the same headings (ti, ci, si, ssi).
Next, I’d write lots of words containing these spellings on little bits of paper or card (maybe post-it notes, which can be stuck under the headings on the board) and get the student(s) to sort them into each of the categories. I’d choose words the students are likely to know from the lists on this website, and you can do this too:
- Click here for words with “ti” spellings of the sound “sh”,
- Click here for words with “ci” spellings of the sound “sh”,
- Click here for words with the “ssi” spelling of the sound “sh”,
- Click here for words with the “si” spelling of the sound “sh”,
Once you have all the words grouped in categories on the board, ask the students to rule these four columns up on their own page, and write the words down, saying each sound as they write it. They should always say the unstressed vowels as they are spelt e.g. “tensiOn” but “patiEnt” and “magiciAn”.
If you have learners in the class who finish well ahead of the others, and you don’t have any pencils needing sharpening or errands needing to be run, ask them to ponder a mixture of additional words with the following spellings:
- “ce” as in “cetacean”, “crustacean” and “herbaceous” – click here for more,
- “sci” as in “conscious” and “luscious”
- “xi” as in “anxious”, “complexion” and “obnoxious” – click here for more.
- “shi” as in “cushion” and “fashion”
They might need to make some new headings over the page, and write extra lists.
“zh” sound Latin endings
There are also a few words in English which have “si” representing the sound “zh”, as in “Asia”, “vision” and “decision”.
This sound can also be represented with just an “s” as in “treasure”, “exposure” and “usual”.
It’s possible to do a similar sorting activity with these words, perhaps throwing in the “ge” spelling of this sound, and maybe a few outliers like “seizure” and “equation”. Click here for all the different ways this French sound is spelt in English.
These are all middle or ending spellings, as we don’t put the sound “zh” at the start of words in English, though it’s common in French (think “gendarme”, “jardin” and “Je suis un rockstar”).
“ch” sound Latin endings
Another very common Latin ending is “-ture”, as in “did you capture a picture of the vulture?”, which in Australian English is nowadays pronounced “chuh”. This probably makes the Samuel Johnson with no “t” spin in his grave, but there you go, language is dynamic. If we went around saying the “ture” to rhyme with “pure” these days, other people would think we had tickets on ourselves.
However, when they are spelling words with this ending, I like to encourage learners to say these words in their “spelling voices” in the way that Dr Johnson probably did, with a “t” not a “ch”, and rhyming with “pure” and “cure”.
Click here for a list of words with this spelling pattern.
“j” sound Latin endings
A few words are spelt with a “gi” for the sound “j”, as in “region”, “contagious” and “hemiplegia”.
Click here if you want a list.
I think that’s the main Latin endings covered, but if you know of others, or know of better ways to teach these, I’d be very interested to hear about them.