I recently received a very productive question from a participant after the first session in one of my 5-session courses. By the end of each session I model an activity participants can try between sessions with whatever student population they work with. And the call at the end of each session is for everyone to go for a quest for their questions! 

This is a major advantage of having a week between sessions. People have time to try things -- and most importantly -- identify questions they cannot resolve. This is the job of the scientists; to identify the edge of their understanding. 

Teachers and tutors are much more likely to have a go with this new work when they know they can ask questions within a week. It's like having a rope when rock climbing. We are happy to reach for things that might make us fall -- if there is a safety rope to catch us!

Here is the text of the question I received..

Is 'n' in grown.... considered a suffix? 

I usually tell my kids it implied that something has already happened/past tense but we often run into as in words like ingrown nail, blown glass... so it's an adjective not a verb.

This question tells us that she has already noticed a good number of key orthographic concepts. But one thing that I think helps enormously is to be absolutely specific when we pose scientific questions. The more evidence and detail we give in our question, the more we learn even before we get a response. 

So my first response was to compose a revised version of her question.

My goal in constructing this new question was not to add anything that I didn’t perceive in her original question, but just to be as explicit in describing the hypotheses and evidence she had considered. 

Revised Version

I am wondering whether there is evidence for an <-n> suffix.

I usually tell my kids it implied that something has already happened/past tense but we often run into as in phrases like "ingrown nail,” or  "blown glass”.

The <-n> seems like it could be a suffix based on word sums with these two words:

in + grown + n —> ingrown

blow + n —> blown

So the hypothesis of an <-n> suffix in those words passes the “structure test” of the word sum in more than one family. 

But in those phrases, the words are adjectives not a verbs. I’m not sure if this passes the ‘meaning test’. If <-n> is a suffix in those words, we would need this suffix to be able to act both as verb-forming suffix and an adjective-forming suffix. Can the same suffix play more than one grammatical in different sentences?

Instead of responding to this question yet, I thought I’d just post this revised question to see what others think both about how you would come to a decision on this question - and perhaps to note and describe if this revised wording provoked ideas that might have been missed in the original question. 

I hope to share my own thinking on this question soon — but before I do, I thought I’d share the revision and see what others have to share.



PS: I also just responded to a great discussion on Real Spellers about the spelling of the word 'proper' adn why it is not spelled *<propper>. I recommend exploring that string (here) for more illustrations of posing scientific questions that are as productive as possible. 

PS: Go to www.wordworkskingston.com if you want to see if I have any courses coming up. As of writing, the next 5 session course will be Friday evenings at 5:30 EST Oct 15, 22, 29, Nov 5, 12.