Sarah Donarski · sophisticated spellings for GCSE · Wellington College

Sarah Donarski’s ‘Sophisticated spellings’ syllabified

The following lists are provided courtesy of Sarah Donarski’s perspectEd blog. Sarah is an English teacher at Wellington College in Crowhorne in Berkshire.  The lists are updated ‘sophisticated spellings’ for GCSE English. Many thanks to Sarah for sharing them!

All I have done is to syllabify the words in her lists and, in so doing, show how in almost every one of these words there is rarely more than one less frequently encountered spelling.

The stressed syllable in each of the polysyllabic words is indicated by an apostrophe, which precedes the stressed syllable. The intention here is to make teachers and students aware that unstressed syllables often contain a schwa, a weak vowel sound that is often not spelled as it sounds. Included in the notes below is advice on how to overcome the problem schwas cause students when they are spelling.

You can also access my analysis of the DfE’s statutory spelling lists for Year 3/4 and 5/6 here and, as a free download, on the Sounds-Write website here.

a | ‘cro | stic
a | ‘lli | te | ra | tion
au | ‘bade
a | ‘na | pho | ra
‘ba | llad
a | sso | nance
com | ‘plaint
ca | ‘co | pho | ny
‘do | gge | rel
‘ca | dence
‘e | le | gy
‘con | so | nance
free verse
e | ‘li | sion
e | pi | tha | ‘la | mi | on
‘eu | pho | ny
‘hai | ku
‘ho | mo | nym
la | ‘ment
‘ho | mo | phone
‘ly | ric
in | ‘flec | tion
‘mo | no | dy
o | no | ma | to | ‘poe | i | a      [light stress on the                                                             first syllable]
o | ‘cca | sion | al   verse
‘rhy | thm                           /r/ /i/ | /th/ /schwa/ /m/
‘pae | an        < ae > = /ee/, as in  ae | on    
‘si | bi | lance
‘pa | li | node
‘rhap | so | dy
‘syn | cope
‘so | nnet
i | ‘am | bic
‘thre | no | dy
tro | ‘cha | ic                     < ch > in Gk words = /k/
to | po | ‘gra | phi | cal
‘me | ter
Schwas are the most likely vowel sounds to cause pupils problems. This can happen when a pupil is reading: if a word containing a schwa is not within the pupil’s spoken repertoire, they may not know how to pronounce it. However, far more commonly, pupils tend to spell schwas as they sound. For example, the word ‘chicken’ is often spelled ‘chickin’ because, in most accents of UK English, that is how it sounds.

The best way of getting round this is to encourage pupils to use a spelling voice when they are writing words that contain schwas and which give them problems. This technique is NOT meant to change the way pupils talk. It is quite normal for schwas to appear in spoken language because English is a stress-timed language, which inclines us to lay stress on the dominant syllable in a polysyllabic word. If you want to identify where schwas occur in polysyllabic words, first find the stressed syllable. Then, very often but not always, the unstressed syllable or syllables will often contain a schwa. Schwas are the most common vowel sounds in the English language. For example, in the word list, the word ‘elegy’ has been split as ‘e | le| gy, with the stress on the first syllable. The second syllable contains an unstressed vowel sound, which, when spoken normally sounds like an /uh/ sound. If you ask the pupil to say the word with a spelling voice, they should emphasise the /e/ in this syllable.

If you find it helpful to go deeper, you might teach elements of meaning. Examples might be: ‘-phone’, meaning ‘sound’, from which we get ‘telephone’ (‘tele-‘ meaning ‘far away’); homophone (‘homo’ meaning ‘the same’ + ‘sound’); euphony (‘eu-‘ meaning ‘well, good’ + ‘sound’), etc. Many students find derivation very interesting and teaching it also also functions as a mnemonic, helping students remember both meaning and spelling. Another good example is ‘epithalamion’: ‘epi-‘ means ‘on, upon, in, near, by, against or over’ + ‘thalamium’ (‘a bed chamber mainly for women, marriage’), hence a poem written for a bride on her way to the bridal chamber.

The word ‘rhythm’ is bi-syllabic:  rhy | thm. There is a schwa between the /th/ (voiced) and the /m/ in the second syllable. This is probably because it is derived from the Greek ‘rhythmos’, which has been shortened to ‘rhythm’; in English, the word retains it’s two syllable structure by means of the schwa.
ro | ‘man | ti | ci | sm
Marx | i | sm
u | ‘to | pi | an
psy | cho | ‘a | na | ly | tic
dys | ‘to | pi | an
struc | tu | ra | list
‘hu | ma | ni | sm
se | mi | o | tics
ex | i | ‘sten | tia | li | sm     < ti > = /sh/
sto | i | ci | sm
‘Freu | di | an
i | de | a | li | sm
‘fe | mi | ni | sm
he | do | ni | sm
‘mo | der | ni | sm
‘ra | tion | a | li | sm
post | ‘mo | der | ni | sm
u | ti | li | ta | ri | a | ni | sm
co | ‘lo | ni | a | li | sm
con | se | ‘quen | tia | list    < ti > = /sh/
post | co | ‘lo | ni | a | li | sm
em | pi | ri | cist
re | ‘nai | ssance
Pla | to | nic
tran | scen | ‘den | ta | li | sm
ni | hi | li | sm
re | a | ‘li | sm
chi | val | ric
ca | va | li | er
Vic | to | ri | an
me | ta | ‘phy | si | cal
E | li | za | ‘be | than
‘con | scious | ness                < sci > = /sh/
Ja | co | be | an
As with the lists I produced for KS2, all words with ending in the suffix ‘-ism’ I have separated as a syllable. This is because we hear it as a syllable. It derives from a common noun-forming element through Middle English and French –ism(e) from Greek –(i)sm(os).
It means:         1. ‘An action or practice’: idealism Fauvism, Marxism
                        2. ‘A state or condition’: alcoholism, criticism, fetishism
  3. ‘Principles, doctrines, or beliefs, or an organisation founded to support   them’: structuralism, communism, modernism
  4. ‘A linguistic usage or characteristic: archaism, Anglicism, Americanism.

*There are many more words lists available in Wellington College’s English department’s ‘Student Booklet: spelling lists and key English vocabulary’, which are available here.
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