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The Importance of -tion

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Whenever I get talking to a teacher about spelling, I offer them my brilliant idea that every school should, in the first couple of weeks of the first term, have a "-tion Day" when each first year student and teacher will adopt a useful word ending in -tion. By the end of the day they will know what it means, how to say it naturally, say it for spelling, and, of course, spell it accurately.

I always end that conversation by saying something like, "I know there are other ways to spell the "shun" ending but -tion is by far the most common. I've been making that assertion based on experience rather than research so thought I'd dig a little deeper to back up my claims.

If you like words or at least like finding word patterns, then you probably know morewords.com. I usually get to it by searching for something like "words ending in" or "words with" and up it pops. This time it returned thousands of words ending -ion and arranged in order from most to least frequent. I scooped off the 720 most common, put them in alphabetical order and sorted them by <tion>, <sion>, <ssion>, <cion> and all the rest.

Without looking at the photo at the end of this post, what percentage of those 720 words do you think has the <tion> spelling? I was shocked, but it certainly backed up my gut feeling that, if every student coming into high school could spell -tion without thinking, then they would have mastered a whole lot of curriculum words without even trying. (They can also make up marvellous words like planification, as demonstrated by the instructions from my Air Transat app.)

Here's a selection from the S section. Note that the spellings of individual sounds are mostly those learned very early on in school. In most words, each sound has only one symbol to represent it except for <ph>, <ar>, <or> , <ci>, <er> and <pp>. There aren't even many unstressed vowels.

si tu a tion
so lu tion
so phis ti ca tion
spe cial i sa tion
spe cial i sa tion
spe ci fi ca tion
spe cu la tion
starv a tion
sta tion
stim u la tion
stip u la tion
strat i fi ca tion
sub or din a tion
sub scrip tion
sub sec tion
sub sti tu tion
sug ges tion
su per sti tion
su ppo si tion

Here's the entire word list (it will open as a pdf): Spelling words with tion sion ssion

Click the photo for an enlarged view then click beside it to reduce the size again.

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