Enter our superheros … Prefix and Suffix. What is their mission in life? To boldly build families of words from a single base! In this, our latest video, this dynamic duo help out a bystander who is curious about building a word family with <like> as its base.
Thinking that we had that video (and the information therein) tied up into a neat little package, we received a delightfully thoughtful email response from our Canadian friend Skot Caldwell.
He raised a great question: ” The Affix Squad’s wise advice to never blindly follow the rules has me wondering about <likeable>. Would the existing patterns not suffice to explain the dropping of silent <e> when forming <likable>? We are not troubled by the spelling of <liking> or <liked> and do not confuse these with <licking> or <licked>?”
Immediately I was drawn in. It’s true. I don’t need the <e> in <liking> to know it’s not <licking>, so why need it here? I took this rather intriguing point to my students today. They weren’t sure what to say at first. Falling into past practices for a moment, they were waiting for me to tell them which was right and which was wrong. Instead I said, “What do you think? Are we right? Are we wrong? Are both spellings right? What should we do next as we ponder this?”
Danica offered to look at Etymonline. Cooper looked in the Collins and Gage Canadian Dictionary. Hannah looked in the Webster’s Dictionary. While they looked I read more from Skot’s email:
“Perhaps this is a case of a spelling convention that needs to be solidified or altered. Am I correct in guessing that this is a regional difference like <centre> and <center>? As with <centre> and <center> the spelling <likable> and <likeable> are both attested and in use, as are <sizable> and <sizeable>. The Word Searcher includes versions of many similar pairs. But as with <centre + al> and <center + al>, only one spelling seems to satisfy suffixing conventions. I am searching for a word that always drops its silent <e> when adding <-able>, but haven’t found one as yet.”
Hmmmmm. This seemed very logical. When returning to the group, Danica, Cooper, and Hannah all reported the same thing. Both spellings were listed in each source. No matter which was listed first, the other was listed as an alternate spelling. I also shared what I had found at Word Searcher: both loveable and lovable, both liveable and livable. This definitely supports what Skot said. It seems very sensible that the <e> would be dropped when adding the <able> suffix. Austin said so in the video, and he was right. Why then did it look so wrong?
Then I asked the question, ” Before we knew to look at a word’s structure when considering its spelling, how many of you judged whether a word was spelled right by whether or not it looked right?” All hands went up, including mine. What did the word that we had worked so hard to memorize look like? What was the order of the letters? We wrote down the word and compared it to the picture in our head. Growing up, I had been taught to keep the <e> in <likeable>. Because I had written it so many times, it looked right to me and <likable> did not.
More from Skot: “I expect that the conventions that are not as sensible–whether British or American–are far too commonly used to combat in the countries where they are solidly accepted.” Boom! I agree with Skot on this one. The convention that is the most sensible is to drop the <e> when adding <able> (vowel suffix). The problem is that it has become common practice to keep the <e>, and since a dictionary is really only a reflection of the people who use it, both spellings are listed and considered alternate spellings.
So! We decided that <likable> is more sensible when considering the spelling conventions, but that both are considered acceptable spellings by dictionary resources. We also decided to keep the search on for a word that always drops the silent <e> when adding the suffix <able>. Who knows if we’ll find one. We’re still looking for that word in which <tion> is a definite suffix! We’re also interested in finding out more about the words <mileage> and <acreage> that keep the <e>. Are there more like that?
See? What a remarkable day it has been. And seeing as our school was celebrating the birthday of Dr. Suess today, all we could say was, “Oh! The Thinks You Can Think!”