Past tense Spelling

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sun Oct 26 15:38:21 UTC 2008

On Oct 26, 2008, at 7:55 AM, Randy Alexander wrote in answer to David
Metevia about the spelling "kipnaped":

> Your examples aren't consistent.  Kidnaped (or kidnapped) is
> accented on the
> first syllable, but admitted is accented on the second syllable.  I
> believe
> that the "rule" is thus: consonants are doubled before the suffixes -
> ed,
> -es, -er, -est, -ing, and -y (I think that's all of them) if the
> following
> criteria are met:
> 1. The last (or only) syllable must end with one consonant letter
> and one
> vowel letter.  The letter Y can count as a vowel letter.
> 2. The last (or only syllable must be accented.
> W, X, and Y are never doubled.

(and consonant letters are not doubled otherwise.)

this is the rule that i got from the style sheet at the newspaper i
once worked at, but it's not entirely clear.  the problem is with
clause 2: what counts as "accented"?   the second syllable of "kidnap"
doesn't bear the primary accent of the verb, but it's not
*un*accented; it has a weak secondary accent (or tertiary, depending
on your analysis of accent in english).  so this word, unlike (say)
"travel", could go either way.

it took me a while to get used to things like "kidnaped", "kidnaper",
and "kidnaping".

further complexity: style guides differ on the accent condition.  some
call for doubling even for final unaccented syllables: "travelling",

my copy of the Italo Calvino book has it as "When on a Winter's Night
a Traveler", but you can find it cited as "Traveller".


The American Dialect Society -

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