Buy, Bye, By

An analysis of a set of homophones can yield far more interesting results when using the four questions from the Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) framework as a guide, as opposed to just phonics rules for pronunciation or sight word memorization.

Let’s take a look at the homophones: buy, bye and by

It is difficult to say how phonics might analyze these in terms of syllable division. By would be considered an “open syllable” because the vowel is “long.” Buy and bye are considered “exceptions” or “sight words” in American phonics, and (not entirely sure) in the UK, the <y>, <uy> and <ye> are “code” for /aɪ/.

Regardless, a more complete analysis exists:

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 10.18.40 AM.pngThis graphic shows the differences in morphology and etymology, using comparison to show what is the same and what is different about these words.

Further, the graphic shows the generative nature of using SWI not as a curriculum, but as a framework to support meaningful discussions about the writing system as it is. Consider a discussion that might come up as to the relationship between buy ~ bought. This could lead to more comparative analysis of Old English strong verbs and conjugations from present to past tense verbs.

For second language learners, or struggling readers, using the lexical algorithm to repeatedly identify morphemes (i.e. <-s>, <-ing>, <-ed>) and write them out, spell them out, call them out, solidifies these structures in long term memory. Just because it isn’t rote memorization and drill routine doesn’t mean that neurological pathways aren’t taken into consideration.

From the lexical algorithm stem several lexemes that can extend conversations into phrase and sentence structure discussions.


I buy the apples. I bought the apples. The simple present and past tense relationships are clarified here.

The bystanders watched from afar. The man was a bystander to the accident. Here we see how bystander functions in two sentences. What is the relationship between bystander, bypass, byproduct and byway? More comparative analyses makes clear the function of the bound base <by>: as a preposition or adverb denoting ‘near, in, by, during, about.’

Finally, when considering phonology, the broad transcription in American IPA may be /baɪ/. Depending on the environment, the speaker, and the utterance, bye may be realized allophonically.

Regardless of these differences in pronunciation, the productive nature of a complete analysis that includes morphology and etymology can help deepen understanding of these homophones.