Casting a spell on English (part four)

Posted by on November 24, 2009

© Pat Lalli / Fotolia.comWhen you’re looking for a word that you’ve heard, or only half-remember having ever seen, it can be tricky using a paper dictionary. You might look up shedule, not realising that there’s a C involved; or if you want to make a clamour you might look for a claxon (though what you really need is a klaxon). Paper dictionaries can be rather unforgiving. You can spend as long as forever looking through the pages of words beginning with sh but to your great chagrin you won’t find the entry for chagrin.

Digital dictionaries, however, can be a boon. If you key in shedule to Macmillan Dictionary, it will redirect you to schedule. Key in shagrin, and it suggests chagrin.

Several visitors to the dictionary have tried to look up alledge or alledged, only to be redirected to allege or alleged. But you can see where they’re coming from. Edge, dredge, hedge, ledge, pledge, sedge, sledge all have the sound  /-edʒ/ and end in –edge. “Ah”, you might say. “They’re all monosyllabic, while allege has two syllables.” Well, looking at polysyllabic words, there don’t appear to be any that end in the sound /-edʒ/. There are a handful that are spelled –edge at the end (knowledge and its relatives, acknowledge, foreknowledge etc) but they all end with /-ɪdʒ/not /-edʒ/.

Other words that end in –ege have different pronunciations – sacrilege, privilege, college all end in /-ɪdʒ/; renege (/-eɪɡ/) rhymes with vague, and siege (/siːdʒ/) no longer sounds like French siège (if it ever did). Cortège still has its accent and ends in /-eɪʒ/ or /-eʒ/.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked the question “how many words in English end with the sound /-edʒ/ and have the spelling –ege?” but if they have, then the answer seems to be just one: allege.

Read more about common errors in English.

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