Spelling and Pronunciation

We all know that spelling is not a certain guide to pronunciation in English, but what follows is the best possible reminder of just how uncertain a guide it is.

Dearest creature in creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Suzy, busy
Make your head with heat grow dizzy:
Tear in eye, your dress will tear,
So shall I - Oh, hear my prayer -
Pray console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard and heard
Dies and diet, lord and word
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
[Mind the latter how its written]
Made has not the sound of bade
Say-said: pay-paid: lay but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
 With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir
Cloven, oven: how and low:
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore.
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Thames, examining, combining,
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From desire, desirable, admirable from admire,
Lumber, plumber: bier but brier
Chatham, brougham, renown , but known
From knowledge: done, but gone and tone;
One, anemone: Balmoral:
Kitchen, lichen; laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German; wind and mind
Scene, Melpomene, mankind;
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
READING, reading, heathen, heather;
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth and plinth

Billet does not sound like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet gives no clue to parquet
Which is said to rhyme with darky.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
Your pronunciation's okay
When you say, correctly, 'croquet'

Rounded, wounded; live and grieve;
Friend and fiend; alive and sleeve;
Liberty, library, heave and heaven;
Rachel, ache, moustache; eleven.
We say hallowed but allowed;
People, leopard; towed but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
'Twixt mover, plover, and then Dover.
Leeches, breaches; wise, precise;
Chalice but precise and lice.

Camel, constable, unstable:
Principle, disciple; label;
Petal, penal and canal;
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal,
Suit, suite, ruin; circuit, conduit,
Rhyme with 'shirk it' and 'beyond it'
But it's very hard to tell
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall
Muscle, muscular; gaol, iron;
Timber, climber; bullion, lion;

Worm and storm; chaise, chaos, chair;
Senator, spectator, mayor;
Ivy, privy; famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess;
Desert, dessert, and address.
Golf, wolf; countenance, lieutenants
Hoist instead of flags, lent pennants.
River, rival; tomb, bomb, comb;
Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not sound like anger
Neither does devour like clangour;
Soul but foul, and gaunt but aunt;
Font, front, wont: want, grand and grant;
Shoes, goes, does.   Now first say finger,
Then say, singer, ginger, linger.
Real and zeal: mauve, gauze and gauge;
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post: doth, cloth and loth;
Job, job; blossom, bosom; oath:
Though the difference seems little
We say actual but victual;

Seat and sweat; chaste, past and caste;
Leigh and eight and freight and height;
Put, but; granite and unite
Dull, bull; Geoffrey, George; ate late;
Hint, pint, senate and sedate.
Scenic, phrenic, and pacific;
Science, conscience; scientific;
Tour but our; and succour, four;
Core provides a rhyme for door

Gas, alas, and pass and was,
[Dickens started off as Boz]
Sea, idea, guinea, area;
Psalm and charm, Maria, malaria;
Youth south, southern; cleanse and clean;
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Look up alien and Italian;
Dandelion and batallion;
Sallied, allied; yea and ye-
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever;
Neither leisure, skein, deceiver.

Never guess, it is not safe
We say calves, valves, half  but Ralph
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device and eyrie;
Face but preface and efface;
Phlegm, phlegmatic; ass, glass, bass;
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust;  and scour and urging;
Ear but earn; and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but there;
Seven is right but so is even;
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk;
Asp, grasp. wasp; and cork and work.
Tunnel surely rhymes with funnel ?
Yes it does but so does gunwale.
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Aren't you mixed up reader rather
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally what rhymes with tough -
Though, through, plough or cough? Enough!
Hiccough has the sound of 'cup'
My advice is :- "Give it up!"

The  verses above were written during the War by a Hollander whose knowledge of British English, as will be noticed, was extensive.  They were published in London in the newspaper 'Vrij Nederland', the temporary organ of the Free Netherlands community in exile.

Another way of saying the same thing:

1) The bandage was wound around 

    the wound. 

2) The farm was used to produce produce 

3) The dump was so full that it had 

    to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture. 

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in 

    the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he 

    thought it was time to present the

     present . 

8) A bass was painted on the head of the

    bass  drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the 


10) I did not object to the object. 

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid. 

12) There was a row among the oarsmen 

      about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door 

      to close it. 

14) The buck does funny things when 

      the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into 

     a sewer line...

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught 

      his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail. 

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I 

      shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of 


20) How can I intimate this to my 

      most intimate friend? 

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France .. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. 

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? 

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? 

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on. 

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. 

PS. - Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this ... 

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is 

It's easy to understand
 UPmeaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? 
 At a meeting, why does a topic come UP ? 
Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report 
We call
 UP our friends. 
And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. 
We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. 
At other times the little word has real special meaning. 
People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. 
To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special  
A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP
We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. 

We seem to be pretty mixed
 UP about UP ! 
To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. 
In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.
If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. 
It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. 
When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP . 
When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP...
When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things 
When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it
 UPfor now my time is UP, so........it is time to shut UP