The oi/oy sound is another English vowel without a letter of its own. In textbooks, most examples give words that begin with oy/oi. However only very few common English words begin with this sound. The words oink, ointment and oil are the only common root-words with this spelling at the beginning of the word.1 Of course there are also many compounds using oil, such as oilcloth, oilseed and so on. Only using examples beginning with the oi/oy sound creates a false impression of English spelling patterns. We need to teach this sound the way it normally appears.
The only common root-word beginning with oy- is oyster. There are also some compounds such as oystercatcher and oystercracker. Other words beginning with oy- include oyer2 and oyez3. Uncommon words and spelling patterns are not as useful in modern English lessons.
In most of these words the oi/oy sound has the -oi- spelling in the middle of the word and the -oy spelling at the end. Common words with the -oi- spelling in the middle include: avoid, boil, coin, choice, disappoint, hoist, join, noise, foil, toil, rejoice etc.4
There are many short common words that end with the -oy spelling. These include alloy, boy, carboy, convoy, corduroy, coy, decoy, deploy, employ, enjoy, envoy, ploy, sepoy, soy, toy, Troy, viceroy etc...
The -oi- spelling is found in the -oid suffix. It is used to describe an object that is similar to something, but not exactly the same thing. It comes from the Greek -oeides. Examples include: asteroid5 and factoid6. This suffix can easily be used to create new words.
There are a few exceptions to the oi/oy spelling pattern. The -oi- spelling is only used at the end of the word in uncommon words borrowed from other languages. These include: envoi7 and poi8. Only a few words have the -oy- spelling in the middle of the word; if it is at the end of a syllable as in royal and loyal or in a compound word such as soybean (soya bean). Even including those few words beginning with the oi/oy sound there are very few common exceptions.
There is a third spelling of the oi/oy sound, -uoy. However buoy is the only common root-word with the -uoy spelling for the oi/oy sound.9
Very few common root-words begin with this sound. Too often children are taught the exceptions and not the regular spelling pattern. Older children can also be taught the more common exceptions. The best examples given to younger children, should be those with -oi- in the middle of a word and -oy at the end. Words beginning with the oi/oy sound are poor examples and should be avoided.
1. The word oi (also spelt oy) is an exclamation used in British English, especially in the south-west.
2. An oyer is a type of court; this word has been out of use for about 800 years. The word oyer is from the Norman French oir meaning to hear.
3. The word oyez, is a shout used by a town crier to gain attention before reading an announcement. Before the invention of newspapers, governments hired a town crier to walk around and shout announcements. The word oyez is from the Norman French oyez meaning hear ye.
4. It should be noted that going is go + ing and does not have the oi/oy sound. The word moi, borrowed from French, does not have the oi/oy sound.
5. The word asteroid from aster (meaning star) and -oid. Asteroids look like stars that move.
6. The word factoid is from fact and -iod. A factoid is a piece of trivia of dubious reliability or an unimportant and probably untrue news item.
7. An envoi is a brief stanza at the end of a type of French poem called a ballade.
8. Poi is a type of food from Hawaii made of taro root paste.
9. Words such as buoyant and buoyancy are related to the root word, buoy, through the Spanish boyar meaning: to float.
Other Phonics Articles:
‧Silent D Is Not Always Silent
‧Stranger Pronunciations of C
‧The Letter C is Useless
‧The letter B
‧The Schwa Sound
‧The Letter A a
by John Larrysson
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.
NOTE:Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.
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