Long-OO

There is no letter “OO” in the English alphabet, but Long-OO and Short-oo are part of the vowel system.

Short-oo

Short-oo is a unique vowel sound that is not represented by any other vowel letter. This vowel is explained in “Short-oo? What’s that?”

Long-OO

Long-OO does not have its own sound. It uses the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO is really more of a “helper” to Long-U — it’s an alternate way to spell the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO takes the place of the letter “U” in words that need a Long-U-2 instead of Long-U-1. (see Long-U: 1 or 2?). Here are some examples,

fool  — If we spelled this word with a “U”, the “F” would trigger a Long-U-1, and the word would end up sounding like the word “fuel”. So, in order to have a Long-U-2 sound in “fool”, the “OO” is used instead of a “U”.

boot — If this word had a “U” it would be “bute” — because a “B” also requires Long-U-1. So again, the “OO” helps out to keep a Long-U-2 sound.

coo — This word would sound like “cue”, if it had a “U” instead of “OO”.

Spelling Patterns

Long-OO and Short-oo also sometimes follow spelling patterns used by the other vowels. For example, the spelling rule in which an [-e] at the end of a word indicates a long vowel, can also be seen in some words with “OO”:

  • If you see an [-e] at the end of a word with “OO” you know for sure that it is Long-OO, as in the words “soothe”,  “goose” and “snooze”.
  • However, if you see a word that does not have an [-e] at the end, it could have either sound. Some have Long-OO, such as “food”, “school” and  “moon”. Some have Short-oo, such as “hook”, “wool” and “good”.

So that’s the scoop on Long-OO.

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Silent -e

Many students know about silent [-e], but I sometimes find a student who is not aware of it, so I want to make sure that it is clear for everyone. When there is just one [-e] at the end of a word, it is silent. Do not try to say it! This is true for 99% of the words with one [-e] at the end.

There is only just a handful words that have a single [-e] which is pronounced: psyche / recipe / apostrophe / catastrophe / simile / resume. And of course, one-syllable words with just one [-e], such as “me”, “he”, “we”, “she” or “be”, can’t have a silent vowel! Otherwise, there needs to be [-ee] at the end, to make the Long-E sound, as in “coffee” or “employee”.

Even though the [-e] at the ends of words is silent, it is not useless. Most of the time it plays an important function in indicating how other sounds should be pronounced. Here are some examples:

  • in the word “fence” the [-e] indicates that the [c] should have a /s/ sound, rather than a /k/ sound.
  • in “tense” the [-e] indicates that the [s] should keep the sound /s/ rather than shift to /z/ like in the word “tens”. (see more about S vs. Z)
  • in “edge” the [-e] indicates that the [g] should have a /j/ sound, rather than a /g/ sound.
  • in “rate” the [-e] indicates that the [a] should be pronounced as Long-A  — without the [-e] the word would be “rat” with Short-a-1.
  • in “toe” the [-e] indicates that the [o] should be Long-O, and not the word “to”.

Adding suffixes

Silent [-e] should stay silent, even when [-s] or [-ed] gets added, unless it is needed. For example, if I add [-s] to “save”, the [-e] stays silent, “saves”. However, if I add an [-s] to “case”, then the [-e] needs to have sound, in order to separate the first and the second “S”, so that both can be heard, “cases”.

Or if I add an [-ed] to “line”, the [-e] stays silent, “lined”, but with “wade” the [-e] activates, so that the first and the second “D” can both be heard, “waded”.

With the suffixes [-ly] or [-r], the [-e] always stays silent, so “brave” becomes “bravely” or “braver”.

So, silent [-e] is not just a crazy detail to make English more confusing, it often helps other sounds — perhaps it would be better to call it “helper [-e]”.