Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hey all,

I received a great question from a teacher at a school I've worked with in the past tha tI wanted to share in this forum. 

They told me that Grade 1 and Grade 3 students at thier school have been studying the use of 'y' in words. Here's what the teacher wrote to me:

"Both classes have come across 'cycle' and are asking  why cycle is spelt with a y rather than and 'i'.  The best I could find was that it comes from the Greek 'kyklos'."

Well, I have to say, the best you could find, was pretty good! 

If you were using this chart I try t foist on everyone, your hypothesis grows from the second type of "relatives" on that chart - etymological connections. And this is a great place to look!

By looking into the history of <cycle> you found a Greek root 'kyklos' and thus were able to suggest thta the <y> in the root may be a clue to the <y> in the current English word. I checked in etymonline and found this same information: 


cycle (n.) Look up cycle at
late 14c., from L.L. cyclus, from Gk. kyklos "circle, wheel, any circular body, circular motion, cycle of events,"

Interestingly, my Oxford gave me this information:

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French, from late Latin cyclus, from Greek kuklos ‘circle.’

It's a good thing I checked more than one sourse, I'm sure there is more to this than I understand as these two references use different spellings of the Greek root. 

But the importnat thing is you were faced with an interesting spelling question, you knew that one way to try and resolve that question was to look into word origin. Now I can add some more information that I suspect your students will be pleased to learn - especially since it shows that you are on the right track.

If you look at the Real Spelling Theme 3F "The < i > / < y > conventions the full story" you will find that a medial <y> (a <y> that is not initial or final in base - or any morpheme for that matter) it is likely a sign of a word of Greek origin. 

I suspect that you were working with Theme 1A "The < i > / < y > conventions the basic pattern" which doesn't get to that point yet.

What I love about your question is that you found a word with an unexpected spelling, you correctly assumed there must be a reason for that spelling, and -- critically -- you had a go at looking for a possible answer before asking your question. 

I suspect that your students will be quite delighted to find that your hypothesis was exactly on the right track. Because you took this opportunity to try an "inquiry-led" investigation with your students, you reinforced so many important messages for your students. They now have more evidence that there are answers to spelling questions, they just have to look! You have given themselves -- and yourself -- good reason to ask more questions, to look at word origin in case that can help find an answer, and to seek for additional help from me or others once you have had a go yoursleves.

Please congratulate your word slueths for me. 


PS, If you don't have that "stuck on a spelling chart" up in your class, you could use this as an opportunity to do so, and point the part of the chart that helped you with this question about <cycle>. That way, they may start to refer to this chart more in the future.


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