-ch or -tch, which witch?


-tch after a short vowel 

Don’t you love that we have a pattern that is so simple to follow?  Yes, but people ask me, what about much and sandwich?  Let’s take a look at the historical aspects of these spellings because, as we all know, etymology holds the answers to everything! 

To better understand the reasoning behind this pattern, let’s take a brief peek into the history of /ch/, as in inch. To do this, we have to go back to the Romans; they used <ch> only to transliterate the Greek letter <chi> 𝟀. During the Middle Ages <ch> was seen in many languages, with many pronunciations; however, it was rarely used in Old English. <ch> was represented by <c> or <cc>. It was the Normal scribes that introduced <ch> in both French and English words. In early Middle English, a word containing a short vowel preceding /ch/ was spelled <cch>.  Eventually, due to spelling reform, <tch> became the standard spelling after a short vowel.

The words such, much, rich, and which were all holdouts from the spelling reform of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is purposed that which remained <ch> not to be confused with witch. The word witch has uncertain originals but possibly from Old English wicca. Additionally, note the spellings of which in the illustration below; more on <hw> here

I know you are still wondering about sandwich, spinach, and ostrich. The explanation is rather simple when you think about it, the second syllable is unstressed, making the vowel a schwa sound rather than a short vowel! 

So, to be clear, we use <tch> after a short vowel. Examples of this are patch, notch, and switch.  <ch> is used everywhere else, such as lunchbeach,  and march, with remarkably few holdouts. 

This is how I teach /ch/. I am very intentional with /ch/; to avoid confusion with spelling patterns, I do not introduce <ch> and <tch at the same time. If you noticed, I don’t say, “<tch> is used at the end of a one-syllable word after a short vowel.” I simply say, “<tch> after a short vowel.” I feel that is all the information they need to master the spelling of the majority of words!  I would be remiss in not mentioning that you should check that your student understands the verbiage you are using with your instruction, such as short vowels, after, and consonants. Those are all terms they should be able to demonstrate.

When introducing <ch>, I like to follow this path. To understand this illustration better, my student has been taught all the short vowels and <ee>. Later on, I will introduce <wh>, <or>, and <ar>.

Later down the road, I will introduce <tch>. At this point, the previous patterns have had enough practice that adding this new grapheme should be easy for the student to grasp. When adding suffixes and word endings I always teach word case and connected meanings. 

I will add final <ch> into my lesson again for review and contrast to the <tch> spelling. I will read controlled sentences with /ch/ and play a fun game at the end of my lesson to reinforce this new pattern. If you want the perfect game to accompany this concept, check out Catch Up Ketchup! Students love this fast-paced boom game!  

So, I would love to hear about your experience with teaching /ch/ as <tch>!

Happy /ch/!

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