Great Questions Are Especially Fun To Answer!

Well, I’m back from an intense, yet exhilarating 3 day workshop on Structured Word Inquiry. In the serene setting of Wolfe Island, Canada, Pete Bowers enthusiastically convinced the participants by use of evidence that the language we have been taught to think of as quirky, nonsensical, irregular and incomprehensible, is in fact a well ordered writing system that adheres to rules.  Now, these are not rules with exceptions (one thing many of us have been erroneously taught), but rules that do not allow exceptions.   It turns out that the English language has structure that we can count on and spellings that we can explain by means of scientific inquiry.  How refreshing!


I left the workshop with a better understanding of how to turn word inquiries into focused lessons, as well as how to more effectively use the resources available to me.  In other words, my curiosity is super charged!  I’m looking forward to the question I can’t answer straight away.  I’m looking forward to being part of the search  and to listen to students draw conclusions based on evidence gathered.  I’m looking forward to my classroom being a place where we celebrate words, their meanings, and our new understandings of their spellings.

With all of that super charged enthusiasm surrounding me, imagine my delight when checking my email upon my return and finding a message from a student.  It seems Hailee was writing a story.  While writing, she began wondering about the word <especially>.  She wondered why the <l> was doubled.  She knew that in monosyllablic words that have a single vowel in front of a final consonant, the final consonant is doubled.  But she also knew that that was not the case in <especially>.

So … in response to Hailee’s excellent question …

The first thing I did  was to think of a word sum hypothesis.  I recognize the word <special>, so I can guess that <e> is a clip of <ex> and is a prefix.  Besides, that would make sense that if something is referred to as <especially>, it is being pulled “out” as being extra special or being set aside as being extra special.

And because I recognized <special>, I suspect that <ly> might be a suffix.  So far my hypothesis is  <e> + <special> + <ly>.  But then I wondered about <special>.  Is that the base, or can I peel off another affix.

At this point I went to etymonline and looked up <especially>.  This is what I found:

There’s my proof that <ly> is a suffix.  (And that is also a big clue to the answer to Hailee’s question – but I’ll explain better at the end.)
From there I clicked on <especial>.

That gave me an idea that perhaps <special> might not be the base.  So then I clicked on <species>.

If you notice, <species> comes from the Latin word <species> and is related to <specere> meaning to look at, to see, behold. (Which also fits with what we think of when we think of something as special!  Now, if you remember that Old Grouch taught us that <ere> is a latin suffix, that means the base of <species> and <special> and <especially> is <spec>!

Back to my hypothesis about it’s word sum.  I’m going to change it to <e> + <spec> + <ial> + <ly>.

Just to make sure that <ial> is indeed a suffix, I went to Word Searcher and put in <ial$>.  Three words I found that have <ial> as a suffix are burial (<bury> + <ial>), facial (<face> + <ial>), and partial ( <part> + <ial>).  Since this post, my students and I have done further research and discovered that <ial> is NOT a suffix.  The suffix is <al>.  The <i> in some words is a connecting vowel.  In other words it was once a <y> and has been changed to an <i> before adding an <es> suffix.  In other words the <i> is part of the base.

Phrew!  Now to answer Hailee’s question about the double <l>.  As you can see, there is an <l> in the final position of the suffix <al> and an <l> in the initial position of the suffix <ly>, so the <l> has not been doubled.  NOW in a word like stopping, the base is <stop> and the suffix is <ing>, and when we add that suffix, we do indeed double the consonant<p> because of the reason Hailee brilliantly stated in her question.  When I sent a reply to Hailee, I also asked her to write word sums and then to create a matrix for the base <spec>.  Below is her matrix.


The next wonderful thing that came from all this was that I presented this matrix to my summer school orthography students and asked them to write word sums.  Then we had a great discussion about “checking the joins”.  That means that when adding suffixes, we may need to apply some suffixing rules and make some spelling adjustments.  The students became familiar with the structure of a matrix and how the suffixes are arranged in a particular order to accommodate the spelling of many words.

Thanks Hailee!  And keep the questions coming!

6 thoughts on “Great Questions Are Especially Fun To Answer!

  1. Hey Mary Beth!
    I was so delighted to see not only this post after our course, but also to see the amazing work going on in your script classes.

    I wanted to chime in on the question Skot raises about the base for the word SPECIAL.

    So far, I have found no evidence of the need for a suffix -IAL, but of course we often find an -AL suffix following a base or stem with an I. (I’m using capitals in the place of angle brackets for this Edublog.)

    So before I accept that there is one in this word after all, I can think of at least two other options.

    spece/ + i + al –> special


    speci + al –> special

    The first would make use of the ‘connector vowel letter’ Skot mentioned.
    (I encourage readers to observe the Real Spelling tutorial film on connecting vowel letters in the Morphology Album of the Real Spelling Gallery at this link:

    Looking at SPECIAL in Etymonline pointed me to SPECIES and provided this etymological information: from Latin species “kind, sort,” originally “appearance, sight, a seeing,” related to specere “to look at, to see, behold,”

    So for something to be ‘special’ it is of a certain kind that stands out for to be sorted apart from other similar things. Originally, this seems to have been related to appearance, but that sense could be extended over time.

    If the Latin root ‘specere’ is the ultimate root of SPECIAL, I see that final ERE as a Latin suffix ‘spec(ere)’

    This evidence makes me think that the best analysis does not include the I in the base, but that it is as Skot suggests a connecting vowel letter. I often find final single, silent Es where there was an ERE suffix in the Latin Root, but before I could conclude that scientifically, I would need more evidence of the need for that final, single, silent E.

    I happen to know that connecting vowel letters do replace single, silent Es, but that they don’t cause doubling, so I can’t prove that there is an E with just this word sum. I’d need a word with the base SPECE from the same root, and one of the following characteristics:

    – no suffix at all
    – a consonant suffix
    – a vowel suffix that would force a doubling of that C.

    So that’s the state of my analysis to this point. I wonder if someone can find conclusive evidence of a base spelled SPEC or SPECE or whether another better answer is out there that I don’t yet see.

    Cheers and thanks for all your great work Mary Beth. How great that you teach so that your students ask such rich spelling questions on their own!

  2. Mrs.Steven
    I hope you had a great time at your workshop! I wish you can come to more of our softball games! How is your classroom moving going?

    • Hi Cieara,

      The workshop was fantastic! I learned so much!

      I hope to get to some more of your games soon. I really enjoy watching.

      The classroom moving is coming along fine. Everyday I move a little more.
      Mrs. Steven

  3. Thanks for your comments Skot! Your bubbling brain cells got our brain cells bubbling as well. We’ve spent the last two days looking at words that appear to have an ‘ial’ suffix. I’ve also found the section in Kit 6 that gives great information on connecting vowels. After we have more discussion, I’ll post an update on our investigation.

  4. Well, Mary Beth, I must begin by saying what a pleasure it was to meet you in person last week. My goodness, I have such admiration for the teaching I see through your blog. I am looking forward to sharing investigations this year.

    Great description of your investigation of this word. Hailee, that’s quite an impressive matrix!! What tools did you use to make it? I’m not so sure about the ‘ial’ suffix, though. Check the word sum for ‘burial’. Did you and Mrs. Stevens explore ‘connector vowels’ yet? This led met to a question about the word sum for ‘speculate’ that you have proposed a very reasonable solution to in your matrix. I’ve never encountered ‘ule’ before, so I’m looking at other words that appear to have it: ridicule, miniscule, spring to mind, and lead me along new paths.

    Also, I found myself wondering about the doubling rule when I looked at the base element ‘spec’. What should happen when a vowel suffix is added. What might account for the lack of a double c?

    Thanks for keeping my brain cells bubbling!

    • Thanks also for wondering about the doubling rule being applied to ‘spec’. We’ll be looking further into that as well. You made a great point, and our brain cells are bubbling bubbling bubbling.

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