The Clever “I-A-O” Rule in English

Ever wonder why we say “splish-splash-splosh” instead of “splash-splish-splosh”? Or why “ding-dong” sounds better than “dong-ding” when someone rings the doorbell?

It’s because of a sneaky little rule in English called “ablaut reduplication” (don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds!). It basically means our brains like certain sounds together, especially when we repeat words for emphasis.

When a word is repeated, the vowels often change according to a pattern we follow automatically: The I-A-O pattern

For three words, the vowels change like this: “splish-splash-splosh” or “ding-dang-dong.”

For two words, the first vowel is “I” and the second can be “A” or “O.” Like in “ping pong,” “King Kong,” “hip-hop,” “flip-flop,” “tick-tock,” “dilly-dally,” “chit-chat,” “zig-zag,” “riff-raff,” “wishy-washy,” “pitter-patter,” and “mish-mash.”

Now it’s your turn. Can you think of any other fun or cool-sounding examples of “ablaut reduplication” in English?


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Foto Christine Sparks

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