From the archives...
The following question was originally posted on the LOE Forum (now discontinued).
My husband was teaching the kids [their LOE lesson] today and felt that the sound the o makes in of has been left out. Is this a non-standard usage, non English word, or just some unexplained exception? It makes the same sound as the u in fluff.
Hello! Two parts to this answer:
1. The vowel sound in of is actually a very common English usage, but it's one many people were never taught. It is the schwa, the unstressed vowel sound, and it can be made by any vowel phonogram in an unstressed syllable or unstressed word. (For example, in this paragraph thus far the schwa sound has been spelled by A in 'a' and 'actually' and 'usage' and 'syllable,' and by E in 'vowel' and 'the').
Most multi-syllable English words have a schwa sound in them, and many of our small, unstressed single-syllable words do too (such as was, the, a, and even to sometimes when we're speaking quickly).
Since many phonograms can say schwa, we teach students about when and why schwa occurs rather than having them memorize it as an additional sound of each of these phonograms. We teach about schwa in Spelling Rule 31, and it's discussed in both Foundations (starting in Lesson 45) and Essentials (starting in Lesson 4).
2. However, the word of is in fact a true exception to the phonograms and spelling rules! It is the only common English word where F says the voiced sound /v/, instead of its usual unvoiced sound /f/. (The spelling of 'of' is also discussed both in Essentials and in Foundations B.)
About 98% of English words have a spelling that is completely consistent with the phonograms and spelling rules Logic of English. That leaves about 2% of words that, like of, contain some sound or spelling that breaks the rules.