English Word Patterns

The way we pronounce English words is often different from how words are spelt. A good example is the -ough ending, pronounced differently in the words “though”, “thought” and “tough”.

But there are also some common word patterns in English. When you know these patterns, you can expand your vocabulary and also improve your spelling and pronunciation. Here are three of these patterns.

1. Repeated consonants

In this pattern, there’s a repeated consonant sound, with a -le ending. The stress is on the first syllable, so the unstressed “le” ending has a schwa sound.

Repeated “b”

babble = to talk quickly in an excited way; also the sound of water in a stream
“I wish they’d stop babbling on about the football match!”

bubble = when air is trapped like a balloon; also being in an isolated group
“Babies and small children love to blow bubbles.”
“During Covid, there were six of us in our household bubble.”

Repeated “c” sound

cackle = an evil laugh (from a witch, etc)
“What are you two cackling about over there?”

cockle = a type of seafood which lives in a shell
“They’re selling cockles in the stand over there. We should buy some for dinner.”

Repeated “d” sound

doddle = something which is really easy
“The exam is a real doddle. You’ll easily pass it.”

doodle = when you do a little drawing because you’re bored (like in a lesson or a meeting)
“His notebook is full of doodles!”

Repeated “g” sound

giggle = a small, repeated laugh (often because of a “silly” situation or joke)
“They giggled like naughty children.”

google = the search engine
“You could always google the answer.”

goggles = what you wear to protect your eyes when you’re swimming
“Have you seen my goggles anywhere?”

Now listen to the audio to hear the pronunciation.

Repeated consonants

2. Long vowels followed by the schwa

In this pattern, there’s a long vowel sound in the first syllable, followed by a schwa in the second syllable. Here are some examples:

The “ooh” sound (u:)

humour, rumour, tumour, bloomer
(Notice that there’s also a “j” sound after the “h” and “t” in “humour” and “tumour”.)

The “eh” sound

sailor, failure, paler

The “eye” sound

higher, fire, wire, minor, diner

The “ee” sound (i:)

ear, fear, peer

Now listen to the audio for the pronunciation.

Long vowels

3. “En” verbs

Verbs can both start and end with “en”. When they end in “en” they often mean ‘to change the dimensions of something’.

“En” at the end of verbs:

lengthen = make longer
“The delays lengthened our journey.”

straighten = make straighter
“I never bother to straighten my hair at home.”

widen = make wider
“Police are widening their enquiries.”

shorten = make shorter
“I don’t want to shorten our holiday again.”

deepen = make deeper
“Since being here, I’ve deepened my knowledge of cyber security.”

Notice that the second syllable (with “en”) also has the schwa sound.

“En” at the beginning of verbs:

endanger = put someone / something in a dangerous position
“You could have endangered us all with your driving!”

enrage = make someone very angry
“You’re likely to enrage him if you talk about Brexit.”

ensure = make something certain
“Please ensure that all the doors are locked when you leave.”

encourage = support someone to do something
“I really encourage you to apply for the job.”

enlist = join the army / get someone to support you
“He enlisted straight after school.”
“We enlisted the help of a firm of city accountants.”

Now listen to the audio for the pronunciation

“En” verbs

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