Workt up about a few words

There are some words that just make me go “Hmm…” especially with pronunciation or subtle differences.

The title of this post includes the non-word “workt.”  Well, the actual word “worked” is pronounced like the spelling of the non-word: \ˈwərkt\ [1].  It made me think of a few words in the past tense that end in “t”  in British English, but are essentially non-existent in American English.

Consider the word “learnt.”  It is described as the (chiefly British) past participle AND the past tense of the word “learn.” [1]  Naturally, since I was raised in America, I had always used the mono-syllabic word “learned” as the past tense of the word “learn.”  I think that some Americans may see the word “learnt” for the first time reading Harry Potter, but since I never read that book, I found the word in two other ways.  In the video game series Dragon Quest, the English used is British English, including spelling of words (e.g. honour, realise).  Also, in my Physics 451 class (E&M), one of Prof. Adenwalla’s instructions included, “The quiz will cover everything that you have learnt from Chapters 1 and 2.”

Funny… the word “learnt” also gets the red squiggles on this WordPress editor.

Returning to the word “worked”, as in, “I worked hard all day.”  In that word, the morpheme “ed” is a strange addendum to the morpheme “work.”  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, it is even properly pronounced as if it were spelt “workt!”  (And also, “pronounced” has that same “ed” sounding like “t,” but spelling rules show the same incongruity as “worked.”)  Thinking that there might be a similar thing in British English, I searched in [1] and no results turned up.  Go figure–it seems that in English, there are more exceptions than there are rules in grammar, spelling, and pronunciation.

And one other word that sort of bothers me: “dreamt.”  Sound it out: the “mt” is such an odd morpheme (phoneme?) that it ONLY appears “dreamt” and a few derivatives of it [2].

OK… so now I have to throw in a bad math pun.  One derivative of the word “dreamt” is “undreamt,” but since there’s no real word derived from “undreamt,” what sort of singularity is within the undreamt domain?

You may now throw a pie toward me.

Returning to what I was saying, the word “dreamt” with that strange “mt,” as pronounced, seems to get a phantom “p” in between the “m” and “t,” so as to rhyme with the word “attempt.”  American English avoids this idiosyncrasy in pronunciation by simply using the word “dreamed” for the past tense and participle of the word “dream.”  And, unlike the word “learned” which has both an adjective and a verb form (bi- and mono-syllabic, respectively), “dreamed” has only the (mono-syllabic) verb form.

Well, there’s another common word that has an “-ed” ending in American English, but a “-t” ending in British English: “spelled” vs. “spelt.”  I have NEVER used the word “spelt,” since not even the pronunciation of the American version of “spelled” gives any hint of the “t.” (Well, clearly earlier in this post, I did use it to drive the point home.  So, there’s yet another reason to “never say never.”  Sheesh!)

I could go off on a homily about some other words that are pronounced in two different ways, but I mainly wanted to touch on the words “learnt,” “dreamt,” and the way that the word “worked” sounds like it should be spelled “workt.”





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