Theme 1K

Learning from the Spelling of < love >


Ability to spell and to understanding the reasons for spellings is a mode of thinking; orthography is cognitive and every engagement with it is a thinking activity. Real spellers know that uninformed mechanical ‘correctness’ has no equivalence with understanding; we learn from words whose spelling we already know because they are a rich and productive source of evidence for determining how the system really works. 

This theme explains: 

  • that there is much to learn from single words even when we are quite sure how to write them; 
  • that complete English words do not have final < v >; 
  • that < uv > is not an allowable letter sequence in English words — < ov > is used instead; 
  • that only suffixes that have an initial vowel letter replace a final single non-syllabic < e >.

An Overview of the Contents


Preparing for this theme

The essential orderliness of English orthography

Be constructive: treat known spellings as evidence
To understand one spelling is to understand many others
Justifying known spellings
The framework of the orthographic conceptual map
The importance of the properly focused question

The concept of the ‘default’ choice

Choice of the default grapheme

The letters < v > < u > and < w >

The letter < þ > (called ‘wyn’)
Spelling conventions related to < w >
Of black letters and graphological minims

The main theme

Posing the productive questions

Phonological analysis

Accounting for the final < e > of < love >

The final < v > convention

Accounting for the presence of < o > in < love >

The < uv > convention
Other cases of < o > replacing an expected < u >
A summary of < u > and < v > orthographic conventions

The non-standard spelling < loveable >

More about the < u > / < o > interrelationship


Functions of the final single non-syllabic < e >

Word studies that involve conventions concerning < u >

Preparing for this Theme

Much schooling practice is obsessed with words that students can not spell (and with spellings that the industry cannot explain and consequently treats as ‘tricky’ or ‘exceptions), real spellers learn from words whose spelling we already know.

We understand that analysing and justifying spellings that we already know extends and consolidates orthographic understanding.

The essential orderliness of English orthography

The English spelling system has continuously evolved alongside, and in organic interaction with, the development of the language itself.

handRightNo one person or institution invented specifically English spelling and it is a fundamental error to talk of the spelling system having been ‘designed’.

That being so we should approach any spelling with the assumption that there is a reason for it even though, for the moment or even for some time to come, we do not know or cannot yet determine that reason.

One of the many detrimental consequences of the phonics fallacy is that the many spellings that its tunnel-visioned ideology cannot account for are classed as ‘exceptions’ or, even more absurdly, as ‘tricky’.

frownCalling a spelling that one can not explain an ‘exception’ is simply intellectual resignation.

Faced with a spelling that we cannot (yet) explain, real spellers:

  • proceed on the assumption that there is a reason for every spelling, even if we do not as yet know that reason;
  • treat the search for that reason as a rich learning opportunity.
Be constructive: treat known spellings as evidence

Orthography concerns the spelling choices that represent the sense and meaning of words to native speakers of the language being represented. Spellings also signal connections of sense and meaning between words.


 Spellings must never be analysed in isolation; general criteria and system-wide organic structures account for specific spellings.
To understand one spelling is to understand many others

To adapt the famous opening of John Donne’s Sermon, no word is an island entire and of itself. What is true of the reason or reasons for one word’s spelling could well be true for hundreds of others. And this is the case even with apparently simple and basic words.

So, for example, once you understand the reason for the doubled < gg > in < egg > you can not only account for the spellings of such words as < inn >, < odd > and < butt > but you also consolidate and extend your understanding of the relative orthographic conventions that apply to lexical and function words.

Justifying known spellings

The term ‘justification’ has the denotation “show or prove to be right”. In the context of orthography it refers to the ability to explain and account for every part, and every letter, of a given spelling. Here is one diagrammatic summary of the criteria that govern orthographic justification.


The framework of the orthographic conceptual map

goldBall4The structure of your investigations must be firmly based on, and correspond with, the conceptual map of orthography, the integrated interrelationship between morphology, etymology and phonology. Click on the golden ball for a reminder of this conceptual map.

The importance of the properly focused question

The free base element of < question > is the noun < quest >. The orthographic quest is an informed and disciplined search for reasons, not the generation of ruses and mnemonics for ‘remembering’ individual spellings.

arrowThe fully informed focused question posed with rigorous precision contains the seeds of its own answer.

In the main part of this Theme we shall see this principle in action as we work towards the justification of the spelling of < love >.

The concept of the ‘default’ choice

The term ‘default’ is familiar from computing discourse.

default       a preselected option adopted by a computer program or other mechanism when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer

Choice of the default grapheme

When we talk of a phoneme being represented by such-and-such a grapheme ‘by default’ we mean that:

  • the phoneme will ordinarily be represented by that grapheme
  • unless there is a reason or circumstance for the phoneme to be represented by a different grapheme.

Here are examples of such default statements.

  • The grapheme < c > is the default for representing the phoneme / k / in initial and medial positions.
  • The grapheme < f > is the default for representing the phoneme / f / in all positions.

The default is only overridden by a relevant phonological or etymological circumstance, or an orthographic convention. For instance:

  • the grapheme < c > for kcan be overridden by the digraph < ch > in words of Greek origin, or by < k > if the following letter is < e > < i > or < y >;
  • the grapheme < f  >for / f / can be overridden by the digraph < ph > in words of Greek origin.


 In the main part of this Theme we shall see that the ‘default’ grapheme for the phoneme / ᴧ / is < u >. 


The letters < v > < u > and < w >

The Roman letter < V > is the ancestor of our letters < u > < v > and < w >.

  • In classical Latin the single letter< V > represented both the semi-vowel [w] and the vowel [u]. The consonant [v] developed later in Latin.
  • During Imperial times the allophones separated into two distinct phonemes / u / and / v /. But the same letter was still used for both the vowel and the consonant.
  • During the Middle Ages < V > developed a rounded alternative < U >, but those alternatives were just different forms of the same letter - allographs.

In early modern times upper and lower case letter forms emerged; but in upper or lower case form, the letter still represented either the vowel or the consonant.

VUAt the beginning of the printing era (just before 1500) the printers conformed to a newer convention for use of the two forms < v > and < u >.

  • The pointed form < v > was used initially in a word, whether it was the vowel or the consonant that was being represented.
  • The form < u > was used medially, again irrespective of whether the vowel or the consonant was meant.
  • Neither form was used finally.

The letter forms < v > and < u > were ‘positional variants’. These examples show how the convention applied in practice.

vnder      house      vsual
 very       haue      viuacity

It was in the seventeenth century that the vowel and consonant came to be generally distinguished, with the rounded form reserved for the vowel. However, the upper case single form < V > lingered longer.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, English dictionaries conflated header entries with initial < u > and < v > into a single reference section. The upper case form of both was < V >.

handRightIt was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that < u > and < v > were finally treated as separate letters, each with its own identity. Dictionaries rearranged their structure accordingly.


The letter < Þ > (called ‘wyn’)

The earliest system of writing Old English was the Runic alphabet that was used by the peoples of northern Europe.

When the Roman Church imposed its control on England its scribes rendered the English language with the Imperial Roman alphabet. Latin had a significantly different phonology from Germanic Old English, so the twenty-three letters of the Roman alphabet were not the best of fits for representing English.

As well as adjusting the functions of some Roman letters to serve English, other letters were invented. One of these was at first written as a ligatured form of a double < v > or < u > (then still just variations of the same letter). The result was < vv > or < uu >.


 In the eighth century, the new letter < vv > began to be superseded by the older runic letter < w >, called ‘wyn’.

The letter wyn remained in use until the eleventh century when the French- speaking Norman scribes, who knew little of < þ > and probably regarded it as barbarous, reintroduced the forms < vv > or < uu >.

Spelling conventions related to < w >

Since the letter < w > is an adaptation of previously existing letter forms from the alphabet that still retain an individual identity of their own there are a number of writing conventions that preserve distinctiveness of < w > itself. It is because the letter < w > is in essence < u + u > that we avoid writing < uu > in a word of English origin.

OwlMedThe need for, and application of, this convention is best seen in its relevance to a particular spelling. Click on the owl to view a Monty-Pythonesque podcast that explains the completely regular spelling of < rough >.

Of black letters and graphological minims

One further factor that we need to take into account is the history of letter forms and their impact on the establishment of printing.

In the three centuries that preceded the establishment of printing, the formal manuscript style had been the famous ‘black letter’ script, whose component of letter formation was the thick vertical downstroke called the minim.

vuBLThis stroke also formed letters that we now are led by the schooling manuals to think of as “round”. Here, in a typical black letter script, are the letters < u > and < v >, followed by the words < minim > and < nunnery >.

LuvBLConsider how this phonological representation of the word that we now spell as < love > would have been written in the minims of black letter script.

loveBLContrast this with the way in which it was written in conformity with the orthographic conventions that the sequence < uv > should be rewritten as < ov > and that a word whose final grapheme is < v > should be followed by a non-graphemic < e >.

LuvvingBLHere is what the result of the word sum < luv + ing > would have looked like without those graphological conventions.

Scribal conventions had evolved to improve the readability of black letter text, especially where several minims were in uninterrupted succession. These conventions were consolidated with the development of printing conventions, even as type faces were evolving to lighter and more rounded forms.

You need to have a comfortable familiarity with the history and evolution of the modern letters < v > < u > and < w > before moving on to the main part of this Theme. Viewing and reviewing this tutorial will help you to do that.

The Main Theme

Our Theme takes the well-known and basic word < love > whose spelling is entirely coherent and predictable and draws from that spelling the orthographic principles that are relevant to hundreds of other words.

Posing the productive questions

All valid orthographic investigation must begin with morphological analysis. The reason is fundamental.

handRightMorphology is the defining and delimiting component of the conceptual hierarchy; orthographic units are contained within, and do not cross or straddle, morphological boundaries.

 We begin by ensuring that we investigate this spelling element by element.

  • In the spelling < love > there are no possible prefixes or suffixes.
  • The word is not a compound.
  • It is, therefore, a single element.

We can now proceed to determine the orthographic phonology of this base.

Phonological analysis

lavPhonological analysis first identifies an element’s component phonemes. The spelling < love > represents the pronunciation / lᴧv / whose analysis as three single-phone phonemes is straightforward.

Assigning the ‘default’ grapheme corresponding to each phoneme gives the phonological representation < luv > that only partially corresponds to the standard spelling < love >.




The questions that need to be resolved can be represented like this.



First, we will establish the justification for the non-phonological final < e >

Accounting for the final < e > of < love >


If the final single < e > of the spelling < love > were fulfilling a phonological function it could only be as a signal that the previous single-letter grapheme < o > is representing the so-called ‘long O’ (as it actually does in such spelling as < bone > and < hope >).

arrowThe final < e > of < love > is fulfilling no phonological function. It must, therefore, be conforming to an orthographic convention.

The final < v > convention

The word pronounced [ lᴧv ] has three phonemes / l • ᴧ • v /. When the appropriate graphemes are applied, the ‘raw’ phonological spelling is < luv >, but a phonological representation is not necessarily a complete spelling.


 The fact that a provisional spelling has a final < > alerts real spellers to the orthographic convention that no complete word of English origin may have final < ->; we write < -ve >.

So we write < luve >. Here are more spellings that conform to the convention that complete words are not complete if they have final < v >.

have      give      nerve      twelve      solve

ArrowBlDigression: Letters other than < v > that are not found finally

The convention of avoiding final < i > in complete English words is explained in Kit 1 Theme A. The letter < j >, historically an allograph of < i >, is also not found finally in a complete word.

The single-letter grapheme < u >, like the letter < v > of which it was an allograph until comparatively recently, does not occur finally in complete English words.

  • The letter u > occurs finally in just two complete English words, the pronouns < thou > and < you > where it is a component of the digraph < ou >.

The single-letter grapheme < a > is not found finally. The short form < a > of the indefinite article < a(n) > is an abbreviation; the < n > has fallen away rather than been added (it has the same root as < one > - the Old English word for “one” and the indefinite article were the same word, as they still are in French, Italian, Spanish, German and other languages.

When the letter a > is found finally in complete English words it is a component of the digraph < ea >.


Accounting for the presence of < o > in < love >

Our still provisional spelling < luve > is subject to a further orthographic convention that concerns the juxtaposition of < u > and < v >.

The < uv > convention

Just as the practice arose of avoiding writing < uu > to avoid “collision” with the letter < w > ‘double U’, it similarly applied to the avoidance of < uv >; we are reminded again of the fact that, until comparatively recently, < u > and < v > were allophones of the same letter.

We can state this Modern English spelling convention like this.


 Avoid writing < uv > in a word of basic English origin.

The question then arises as to which letter is substituted for the < u >. We see from the standard spelling of < love > that the substitute letter is < o >.

lslashUve love

Here is the start of an evidence bank of words in which the pronunciation / ᴧv / would initially suggest the spelling < uv > but where it is actually < ov >.

love      dove      above      glove
oven      shovel

This convention is a result of the fact that the letters < v > and < u > are, in origin, variations of the same letter.

It is because, until comparatively recently, the letter forms < u > and < v > were variations of the same letter that the avoidance of writing < uu > also applies to avoiding writing < uv >.

We could represent our conclusions like this.


We might represent the development of the spelling of < love > a few centuries ago in a way that illustrates how the earlier spellings are visually less accessible than the much clearer modern standard form.


Other cases of < o > replacing an expected < u >

ouWe could regard < o > is a paired alternative to default < u >. Here are several common words in which < o > is used where, if the bogus ‘alphabetic principle’ of phonics were true, the letter < u > would be expected.

among      come      mother      other      ton
 won         some      honey        front   monkey

In several spellings where < o > is preferred to < u > there is a clear orthographic reason for the choice. The word < month > is related to < moon > and Monday. (< Sunday >, however, is not spelled with < o > as it is related to < sun >.)

  • You will find resources for understanding the spelling of the days of the week in Kit 2 Theme L .

The word < none > is the negative of < one >. The Old English negative was < ne >, so < none > can be regarded as a type of contraction of < ne + one >.

  • The reason for < o > in the spelling of < one > itself is given in Kit 3 Theme J which deals with the spelling of numbers.
A summary of < u > and < v > orthographic conventions

arrowApart from the pronouns < thou > and < you >, no
complete English word has final < u >.
arrowIn a phonological spelling (which is, by definition,
provisional) the sequence < uv > is rewritten as < ov >.
arrowIn a phonological spelling the sequence < uu > is
rewritten as < ou >.
arrowIn a phonological spelling the sequence < wu > is
rewritten as < wo >.

The non-standard spelling < loveable >

Given the fact that suffixes with an initial vowel letter replace an immediately previous single final non-syllabic < e >, here is the expected result of the construction < love + able >.

lovslashE + able lovable

The editing houses, however, are not unanimous; many stipulate the spelling < loveable > in their publications. This might be regarded as non-standard.

What is ‘standard’ conforms to the structures, patterns and conventions that apply to the overwhelming majority of spellings of English words (but not necessarily loan words, proper nouns, exclamations or slang).

You could organize a debate among students on the subject of the relative merits and demerits of the spellings < lovable > and < loveable >.

More about the < u > / < o > interrelationship

uuouThere was an increasing tendency to use o > instead of u > when that helped to make the spelling clearer. Compare the two examples on the left. The first < uv > is written in the script of the time, then as < ov >. The contrast in clarity is obvious.

Similar considerations of visual clarity have had an influence in the phoneme /  / coming to be represented by < o > when Modern English speakers might expect < u >.

among      come      mother      other
  ton           won         some       none
honey       front      monkey     month


♦ Functions of the final single non-syllabic < e >

In compliance with the convention that complete English words do not have final < v > we add a final single non-syllabic < e >. This is only one of the functions of this < e >. Here is a reminder of its other functions.

♦Word studies that involve conventions concerning < u >

Here are two further word studies that involve the orthography of < u >.

Click on the golden buttons to open them.

rough >     goldBall4

tuff >         goldBall4


Related Themes: Theme 1A, Theme To Come