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That damn final "e"

I had barely put up a post today on preserving the loath/loathe distinction when comments began to come in indicating that loath/loathe is merely one example of a widespread problem. The final silent e in English usually changes pronunciation, making the vowel longer, but also changes the meaning.

The result is confusion because of the spelling.

Bath is a noun for soaking oneself in a tub, bathe a verb for taking a bath or (in England) to go swimming. (And yes, some people have a bathe. You can’t stop them.)

Breath is a noun for respiration, breathe a verb for inhaling and exhaling.

Swath is a noun for a strip (coming from the width of the stroke of a scythe), swathe a verb for wrapping up in bandages or a blanket.

I’ve seen all of these confused in text. I haven’t myself seen GreenCaret’s lathe (machine for shaping wood) for lath (thin strip of wood), but I don’t doubt that it has been done.

Now that I’ve opened this gate, further examples may wander in.

Those of you who bear the burden of educating the young might take a moment to explain to them that a final silent e changes everything.



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