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The Funny Grammar Guide to Consonants

Many of the spelling and grammar problems that seem to plague writers of the English language arise from difficulties in understanding the rules associated with the uses of vowels and consonants, both independently and in combination with each other. This week, the funny grammar guide focuses on consonants, particularly picking out some of the most common mistakes they can cause writers to make, to help you master the simple grammar rules that will help you to avoid such errors in the future.

Word Endings

There are many words that end with a consonant followed by a vowel, and some that end in a consonant alone. Some consonants, like ‘t’, ‘s’, ‘d’ and ‘y’, are more likely to feature at the end of a word than others, like ‘c’ and ‘j’. Other consonants, like ‘h’, ‘b’ and ‘k’ are frequently used to end words if they are directly preceded by another consonant, but unlikely to end a word alone, preceded by a vowel.

For example: lamb, such, fork etc.

The most common consonant-vowel combination for the ending of a word is a consonant immediately followed by the letter ‘e’, so a great rule to remember for general spelling improvement is that the letter ‘e’ after a consonant softens the sound of that consonant and often changes it.

For example: nice, price, twice, dare, safe

So the ‘e’ at the end of the word ‘none’ on this parking sign unfortunately softens the desired hard consonant sound.

So if you are ending a word with a consonant that is not followed by the letter ‘e’, but is preceded directly by a vowel, then you are creating a hard, sharp consonant sound.

For example: authentic, attic, arid

Remember this rule of thumb to check that your spelling fits with the phonetic sound of the word you are trying to write and you should avoid the vast majority of mistakes associated with consonants and word endings (unlike this unfortunate dog school owner!)

P and B

The consonants ‘p’ and ‘b’ deserve a special mention because they change their sound when used in combination with another consonant at the end of the word.

When used on their own, or in combination with a vowel, these letters retain their usual phonetic sounds at the end of a word.

For example: Dab, snap, wipe, tube

However, in combination with a preceding consonant, they become silent, meaning that writers frequently make spelling mistakes by forgetting them, or adding them in the wrong place!

For example: lamb, bomb, aplomb, corp, coup

Another unexpected side effect of this is that writers frequently mix up ‘p’ and ‘b’, as they associate them so strongly with one another. This can lead to some rather embarrassing mistakes, as this supermarket found, so take extra care to make sure you are using the right one!

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