John Larrysson Column: No English words end with the letter i?

Yet another fake rule.

Some teachers have told their students that "No English words end with the letter i." Such rules are not very helpful. To force students to memorise it is cruel, because it just is not true. The basis of this so-called rule is that certain spelling patterns tend not to have the letter i at the end of a word. The oy/oi-sound found in oil, boil and toy commonly uses the 'oy' spelling at the end of a word and the 'oi' spelling at the beginning or in the middle. There are several exceptions, such as 'poi' (a Hawaiian dish of taro root paste) and koi (the fish). 'ai' is uncommon at the end of a word. Exceptions include chai (a sweet tea) and bonsai (a small specially grown tree). (However the 'ai' spelling is usually a long A-sound. These two examples are both borrowed Asian words and both have a long I-sound, not long A-sound.) There are many words that do not even have these spelling patterns.

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The many common exceptions to the so-called rule include, I, hi, taxi, ski, kiwi (the bird), origami, cognoscenti, frangipani (flowering tree), parcheesi, maxi, zamboni, corgi and the Illuminati. Foods include: chili, macaroni, spaghetti, sushi, sashimi, kiwi (the fruit), lichi, pepperoni, chapatti, salami, zucchini, muesli, rigatoni and martini. Scientific and computing words include: ascii, pi, wiki, nuclei, mi (musical scale), alkali, radii, wifi, and wii. Place names include: Shanghai, Taipei, Hawaii, Fiji, Cincinnati, Missouri, Hanoi, Helsinki, Mississippi and Mali. Adjective forms of ethnic names include: Israeli, Pakistani, Iraqi, Bangladeshi, Bai, Farsi, Parsi and Hindi. Personal names include: Montessori, Lori, Fermi, Bambi and the Norse god Loki... I could go on for the entire page if I needed to.

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There is however a pattern here, most of these words are borrowed from other languages (or are abbreviations). So does the rule hold true? Most words used in English today have been borrowed from other languages. So check if there are any Old English words ending with the letter 'i'. The word 'why' in Old English was 'hwi,' (instrumental case) and the word 'we' was 'wi' (Old Saxon dialect). It seems that it is not just foreign words that can end in the letter 'i'.

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There are other versions of this fake rule, such as: No English words ends with the letters 'v', 'j' or 'q'. For the letter 'v', I can think of TV, IV, CV, rev, Molotov, HIV, UV, AV, ATV, CCTV, HPV, RV, and SUV. (television, intravenous, resume, revolutions/sec in a machine, an explosive, the virus that causes AIDS, ultraviolet light, audiovisual, all-terrain-vehicle, Chinese Central Television, human papillomavirus, recreational vehicle, sports utility vehicle) For the letter 'j', I can think of DJ, OJ, haj and the British Raj. (disk jockey, orange juice, the pilgrimage to Mecca, British rule of India) For the letter 'q', I can think of FAQ, BBQ, IQ, Iraq... In these versions of the rule there are fewer exceptions than with the no letter 'i' ending rule. Very few common words end with these letters and most of them are abbreviations or foreign words.

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I have heard the same rule for the letter 'u'. Few common words end in the letter 'u', except you, thru, menu, flu, kungfu, bureau, tiramisu, plateau, gnu, cpu, jiujitsu... Also there are names such as Guangzhou, Hindu, Manchu, Honolulu... (For those in science, the element gold ends with the letter u, as in Au.) These are not all foreign words, consider 'thou', the older singular of the word 'you'. It is less common to end English words with the letter 'u', but there are some words.

Among the most common English words, only 'I' and 'hi' end with the letter 'i'. So the rule may still confuse students, even if some of the time it works. Few of the most common English words end with the letters v, j, u, q or i, but make sure that students understand that this is only a crude generalisation. Challenge them to find some exceptions. In the English language, absolute rules that something never happens are troublesome. The English language does not follow rules very well.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.