rabbit or habit?

So, why are there two <b>s in rabbit and just one <b> in habit, and how do I teach this to my student? Have you asked yourself this question? I hope I can help you unravel this million-dollar question. I am not a fan of labeling groups of words with animal names, but for those of you that do, this article is about  the rabbit and camel words. I prefer to refer to them as the division patterns vc/cv, v/cv, and vc/v.

To begin research for this article, I created a list of words that double the medial consonant. I eliminated words that contained assimilated prefixes (also known as chameleon prefixes), e.g. connect, comment, addict, effect, and so on. These words are groups of their own and require different instruction, including morphology. Once I did that, the list was considerably smaller. I did not include words using the doubling rule for adding suffixes, such as dropped. Additionally, this article is about words with two closed syllables.

After going through the list, these were the remaining double medial consonant words. Not as many as I expected, I may have missed a word or two, but the list is rather small in the grand scheme of things! 

These lists do not contain names, suffixes or assimilated prefixes. * sudden is actually assimilated from sub- . Assimilated prefixes should be taught morphologically. 

So let’s now direct our attention to those syllable division patterns. We have been taught that the majority of vcv words are divided after the first vowel as in mo/ment, cu/pid, and ny/lon. Far fewer words are divided after the medial consonant, such as van/ish, cam/el, and lem/on

Did you know there is a reason why there are so few words with the cv/c pattern? It is all about the etymology of the word. Do you know about the French Lemon rule? This pattern affects hundreds of words, not just two syllable words. I am going to let DW Cummings explain this to you! 

 The French Lemon rule from Spelling for learning 


Going back to the list above, let’s look into the history behind these words. If you were to look up all the words listed above, which I did, using Origins, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, By Eric Partridge, you would see the majority of these words came into use around the 13th-14th centuries, perhaps with a different spelling. If we consider the evolution of English, we will remember that for hundreds of years, French was the primary language of the upper class in England. The peasants spoke English with a dialect of their own, depending on where they lived. At this time, English lacked continuity in both speech and spelling. When the Norman Conquest ended, English was brought back into vogue, bringing with it all the borrowed French words. With the onset of printing presses, the English language was normed.  It is not surprising we have situations like ‘ rabbit words” that acquired double letters. 

See how important it is that we understand English language structure? It is always about word origin. 

Now, let’s talk about teaching these words! First off, don’t get hung up here. A general rule of thumb to remember is we can’t hear double consonants, so let the students read them, but don’t expect them to spell them correctly. Without diving deeply into etymology with your student, they won’t understand why limit has one <m> and summit has two. So don’t dictate those words! Focus on the words they can spell and divide with ease. 

Happy syllable division! 

Nice, you read this far! Are you looking for a new word book with lists sorted by syllable division patterns and syllable types? Check out More Words. Use the code MW for 15% off this book! 

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