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Root Word "Prim"

Why is word "Prime" pronounced /praɪm/ but word "Primitive" pronounced /ˈprɪm.ɪ.tɪv/ or /ˈprɪm.ə.t̬ɪv/. Please help me, thanks!


  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited January 16

    English spelling has several regularities, but they only apply to some words.

    For words which have always been part of English, there's a set of 'rules' for Letter-i.

    • Letter i can represent short-i or long-i

    • In Modern English short-i is /ɪ/ and long-i is /aɪ/

    • At the end of a word, the spelling i + a consonant is short
      So the word grim is pronounced /grɪm/

    • At the end of a word the spelling i + a single consonance _ e is long
      So the word grime is pronounced /graɪm/

    • In the middle of a word, two consonants (or more) show that the spelling i is short
      So the word bitter is pronounced /ˈbɪtə/ or /ˈbɪtər/

    • In the middle of a word, one consonant alone show that the spelling i is long
      So the word biter is pronounced /ˈbaɪtə/ or /ˈbaɪtər/

    But many English words have been taken from other languages, without much change in spelling.

    English took primitive from French about six hundred years ago.
    The French spelling was primitif.
    French did not have (and still does not have) distinct short-i and long-i'
    English chose one of its sounds, and that sound was short-i.
    After a period with no standard spelling, English copied the spelling of the Latin word primitivus.
    But it kept to the pronunciation with short-i.

    English took prime from the Old French word prime and the Latin prīmus.
    The Latin pronunciation has long-i.
    The French spelling suggested long-i.

    There's another English word spelled prim and pronounced /prɪm/.
    It's an adjective, so it has a comparative form spelled primmer and pronounced /ˈprɪmə/ or /ˈprɪmər/.
    One of the words spelled prime and pronounced /praɪm/ is a verb.
    So a 'person or a thing that primes' is spelled primer and pronounced /ˈpraɪmə/ or /ˈpraɪmər/.

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