From the archives...
The following question was originally posted on the (now discontinued) LOE Forum.
Is -ow in snow and plow considered "one vowel, followed by one consonant" (from Spelling Rule 14)? Having trouble with explaining all of the suffix rules.
That is exactly the right question to ask! No, OW is a two-letter vowel that says two sounds: /ow/ and /ō/. There is no consonant sound at the end of 'snow' or 'plow.'
For those reading along who may be unfamiliar with the suffixing rules, here is the rule the customer who sent this question is asking about:
Spelling Rule 14
Double the last consonant when adding a vowel suffix to words ending in one vowel followed by one consonant only if the syllable before the suffix is accented.*
*This is always true for one-syllable words.
The suffixing rules are probably the most complicated and the most difficult to apply. There is a whole chapter in Uncovering the Logic of English for this one spelling rule (Chapter Eight).
The "one vowel followed by one consonant" rule requires one single-letter vowel phonogram making a single vowel sound, followed by one single-letter consonant phonogram making a single consonant sound. If a single phonogram makes two sounds (for example, x, which says /ks/), then the word doesn't meet the criteria for doubling the consonant. If a phonogram contains two letters (for example, ck, which says /k/, or ee, which says /ē/, or ow, which says /ow/ or /ō/), then the word doesn't meet the criteria for doubling the consonant.
So, when using the test "Does it end in one vowel followed by one consonant (seen and heard)?" from the Phonogram & Spelling Rule Quick Reference's suffixing flow chart...
Word --> ends with ------------> MEETS CRITERIA? --> add suffix like this
Slip --> one vowel and one consonant --> YES --> slipping
Trap --> one vowel and one consonant --> YES --> trapper
Soft --> one vowel and two consonants --> NO --> softer
Fish --> one vowel and a multi-letter consonant --> NO --> fishing
Fox --> ends in two consonant sounds --> NO --> foxes
Snow --> multi-letter vowel --> NO --> snowy
Seek --> multi-letter vowel followed by one consonant --> NO --> seeking