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Rationale for the Ending “e” Changes

By Rodney Everson • Updated Jul 27th, 2023

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Ms. Spalding devised five rules to be used to explain to a child the five “jobs” performed by the ending “e” in many English words. An alternative is to add to the stock of phonograms and do away with the five rules. Doing so requires teaching nine new digraphs, which is a considerable increase over the 70 that Ms. Spalding advocated, so such a change should not be considered lightly. That said, here is another alternative to each of the five rules governing the final “e.”

Rule 1 - Split Vowel Spellings

This rule covers split vowel spellings in words like time, late, and cute.

Ms. Spalding’s rule 1 goes as follows: “In time, underline the i, m and e. Underlining the vowel, consonant, and final silent e provides a visual signal that the e lets the vowel say its second sound (Job 1.)”

The modification, which accomplishes exactly the same end, is to tell a child that English words have a tendency to end in the letter "e" a lot, teach him the phonograms oe and ie in words like toe and tie and then tell him that when another sound follows those phonograms it gets tucked in the middle of the phonogram so that the letter e would end up at the end of the word. Then just underline the two vowel letters. Young children exposed to these patterns and this logic, buy into the logic and rapidly learn to recognize the patterns. No rule is necessary, nor does this occasion the need to add any additional phonograms, since ee, ie and oe are already taught as representing the sounds /ee/, /ie/ and /oe/ respectively. Words like cane and cute can easily be taught by analogy to the other three phonograms, though I will next make the case that ue deserves status as a phonogram as well.

Rule 2 - English Words Don’t End with u or v

This rule covers words like blue and cue and words like have and give.

The modification is to treat ue and ve as phonograms and have children learn them as they do all other phonograms. Older children might derive some benefit from being told that English words don’t tend to end in the letters "u" and "v," but all younger children need to know is that ue and ve are legitimate phonograms for English sounds.

Rule 3 - Endings ce and ge

This rule states that job 3 of the ending e is to allow the letters "c" and "g" to represent the sounds /s/ and /j/ respectively.

The modification is to treat the ce in chance and the ge in charge as phonograms for the sounds /s/ and /j/ respectively and again just have the children learn them.

Rule 4 - The Ending le

Job 4 in Ms. Spalding’s regimen exists to ensure that all syllables have at least one vowel letter. Thus, the letter "e" is added because without it, a word like little only has one vowel, though it has two syllables.

The modification is again similar to the previous ones. Simply teach le as a phonogram. It’s important, though, to realize that this is a phonogram that represents two sounds, just as qu represents the two sounds /k/w/.

Explanation: The word pull has three sounds, denoted here as /p/+/oul/+/l/, or just /p/oul/l/. (The /oul/ sound is the vowel sound in would, should, could, push and book.) To illustrate that pull has three sounds, compare push which clearly does (/p/oul/sh/.) Changing the /sh/ sound to the /l/ sound gives us the three-sound word pull. Assuming you buy this (some people manage to convince themselves that the "ull" in pull is one sound) then we could write purple as purpull and both spellings would clearly sound the same. Since pur is the first syllable, that leaves ple and pull as comparable second syllables, and comparing the two, leaving off the /p/ sound gives us le = ull, so clearly the phonogram le represents the two sounds in ull, or /oul/+/l/.

And, just as qu is taught as a phonogram because the letter "q" is always followed by the letter "u" and it would be awkward to treat the letter "q" as representing /k/ and the letter "u" as representing /w/, similarly le should be taught as a phonogram for /ul/ (/oul/+/l/) because otherwise the vowel spelling is on the wrong side of the consonant spelling.

Incidentally, the purpose of this explanation is just to convince you. All a child needs to know initially is that at the end of many words we see the phonogram le, and what to say when he sees it (two sounds, ull, as in pull.) He should also be told that it is two sounds, with pull as an example of those sounds.

Rule 5 - The “no job e”

This rule covers words like are, were and house which end in the letter "e," but which none of the first four rules cover.

The modification here remains close to the usage in WRTR. In words like are and were, just double-underline the ending "e" and explain that the guy who wrote the first widely-accepted dictionary really liked to see "e" at the ends of words, even if they weren’t needed sometimes. And, as long as we’re adding a few ending phonograms like ue, ve, ce and ge, the same can be done with the phonograms se in house as well as the ending ze in sneeze and the endings ne and me in none and some. Young children quickly learn the patterns of these ending phonograms for consonant sounds so the additional memorization load is not particularly burdensome.

The double-underline in WRTR can then be used solely for indicating extraneous letters that do not appear in common digraphs, so they must be noted and memorized for reading and spelling awareness.

Summary of the New Phonograms Created to Replace the Rules

Rule #1: None added. The "a-e" and "u-e" split vowels can be added by analogy with "i-e" and "o-e" words.

Rule #2: Add the phonograms ue and ve.

Rule #3: Add the phonograms ce and ge.

Rule #4: Add the phonogram le.

Rule #5: Retain the double underline for extraneous letters, but teach the additional phonograms me (come), ne (gone), se (house, cheese), and ze (breeze) to those explicitly taught, and note the phonogram te (waste, taste, infinite) when first encountered in the Ayres List or reading.


The appeal of the above modifications is that all five of the ending-e rules, which are difficult even for adults to sort out at times, get folded into the already familiar phonogram structure just by adding a few more phonograms to be used almost exclusively at the ends of words, but not always (for example, exclusively).

Note though where this leaves us, keeping the young child in mind as we discuss the end result. First, the numbering of phonograms is now limited strictly to designating a second, third or fourth sound, because the numbering of the five jobs of the ending-e has been eliminated. Numbers have one meaning only, that being to indicate the sound assigned to the phonogram when it is not the most common one.

Second, the single underline is now reserved exclusively for indicating phonograms consisting of more than one letter. The single underline under a long vowel letter has been changed to a number 2 over the letter for consistency, and the single underline under the consonant between the split vowel spellings has been dropped, so that only the phonogram for /ie/ in a word like time is underlined.

And third, replacing the rule-oriented structure with new phonograms avoids the need to explain the rule breakers that inevitably occur in English. Words such as come, some, none and done violate rule #1 about the ending-e permitting the preceding vowel to say its name, for instance, while the words flu and you violate rule #3 about no words ending with the letter "u."

All that is needed for implementation is the teaching of nine ending phonograms, most of which represent the one of the consonant sounds of the first letter of the phonogram so they are relatively easy to learn. For example, the phonogram s represents the sounds /s/z/ and so does the ending phonogram se.

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