It is interesting if in English there is the notion of the check word? In Russian if we don't know how to spell a certain unstressed vowel in some cases we can find the check word ( проверочное слово ) which prompts us how to spell the word. For example, в лесу ( in the forest ) , the check word is "лес".Sometimes it is impossible to find the check word, for example, the word воробей( sparrow), the first vowel cannot be checked.

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    Given that even after reading your and CopperKettle's attempts at describing what a "check word" is, I still haven't the faintest clue what this strange juxtaposition of words means, I think the answer to your title question is an emphatic, if puzzled, "no".
    – Martha
    Mar 1, 2016 at 16:05
  • @Martha - I wrote a P.P.S. for you, hope it will make it a bit clearer. Mar 1, 2016 at 16:16
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    Do you mean a root word, the small center of a bigger word on which prefixes, suffixes, inflections, sounds changes are made? e.g. in english, 'drink' is the root word of 'drunkenness'
    – Mitch
    Mar 1, 2016 at 16:23
  • @Mitch - it's often a root word, but not always. Sometimes even the most "bare" word has the stress falling not on the vowel you wanted to check: "problema" should be written with "o" as its first vowel, but that vowel is pronounced as "a", and the stress never falls on it (in the basic form it falls on e), so you have to just memorize it. Such words are called "dictionary words": they have vowels that are impossible to check by putting them under stress. ('problema' means 'problem') Mar 1, 2016 at 16:55
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    As interesting as this is, this seems only marginally about English. It seems to be a very useful word in helping learners of Russian (native or foreign), and the English word for this concept only of interest to English speakers leaning how to spell in Russian. Much more useful for russian.SE
    – Mitch
    Mar 1, 2016 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


English is an "analytic" language: "a language that conveys grammatical relationships without using inflectional morphemes".

Hence, the morphological forms for "The forest was dark" and "She walked in the forest" are just "forest", and you would be hard put finding a check word with the same "forest" root if you wanted to ascertain what vowel letter should be used in writing.

Russian is a "fusional" language: one root can generate a multitude of words in many forms - nouns, adjectives, verbs. Hence, in Russian it is possible to fall back on finding a "check word" to ascertain what vowel letter should be written down. In a check word, the stress falls on the suspected vowel, and it becomes clear that it's e (in "лес"; "les") and hence it's not и in the instrumental case (in "в лесу"), despite the fact that we tend to pronounce it like и ("vlee-soo", "in the forest", with the stress on the final syllable).

On a second thought, there might be cases where we can check our use of a vowel letter logically in English:

  1. Photograph (stress on the first "o")
  2. Photographer (stress on the second "o")
  3. Photographic (stress on the "a")

Here, we can check ourselves and be sure that the spelling is not "photogripher" or "photigraph" or "phitographic".

But English seems to provide much less opportunity for such checking.

One somewhat related example might be "nucleus" as a check word for "nuclear", which has been pronounced "nucular" by George W. Bush and some other persons. It's hard to pronounce it "nuculus". So you are free to pronounce "nuclear" as "nucular", but when writing you'll recall "nucleus" and write the word down as "nuclear".

You might google for "word stress in English", that might unearth some interesting info, since I've little free time right now.

After a hasty google session, this one Wiki article seems to be relevant:

P.S. For those who are interested in Russian, the term for "check word" is "проверочное слово".


To make it clearer for native English speakers: we pronounce "forest" as "les" in Russian, but "in the forest" as "vlee-soo" (stress on the second vowel). The root vowel, indicated by the letter e, gets "slurred over" from "je" to "ee" when it is not under stress. Hence, the sounds in the first syllable are different for "forest" and "in the forest", but we must spell the root of the word with e in writing: "лес", "в лесу". Hence, the nominative case form "forest" serves as a check word.

Young kids tend to make mistakes in writing, using the 'ee' letter for "in the forest": "в лису", because it sounds that way. But "лису" is not "forest" but the accusative form of "fox": I brought home a fox (лису; lee-soo).

Hence, "A bear is picking mushrooms в лecy" will mean he is picking them in the forest. "A bear is picking mushrooms в лису" will mean he is picking them and putting them inside a fox. There's a weird picture on the Russian web based on this misspelling.

enter image description here

Both "в лесу" and "в лису" sound almost the same, of course: vlee-soo.

The check word for "лису" would be лисий, "lee-siy" (the stress falls on the first syllable and it becomes clear that it's indeed 'ee', so you should write и, not е). "Лисий" is an adjective meaning "belonging to a fox".

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    Cheers from Khabarovsk. I pressed the button because your answer corresponded to my thoughts. It was a question asked by one of my students today, it seemed interesting to me.
    – Fatimahon
    Mar 1, 2016 at 10:30
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    Am I right in saying the following? Another example of a related concept, in letting me check the spelling of "professor", is that the related word "confessor" would look absolutely absurd spelt with two "f"s, so "proffessor" simply can't be the correct spelling. Mar 1, 2016 at 16:58
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    @PatrickStevens - I'm not sure, because "check words" in Russian are usually cognate words. But we can take "professor" and "confessor" to be cognate through their Latin roots, so it kind of that. Mar 1, 2016 at 17:00
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    I read your answer 3-4 times before I think I "get" check words. I was confused because I thought it was supposed to help someone hearing [another person say] "vlee-soo" figure out what was meant - but that doesn't seem to be the use-case. instead, it's for the person who already knows what is meant and how to pronounce it, but can't remember how to spell it; in which case they merely need to think of the nominative form. Do I understand correctly?
    – Kelvin
    Mar 1, 2016 at 17:24
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    @CopperKettle Just to clarify a bit more, my misunderstanding wasn't about a speaker trying to pronounce - rather, I thought the purpose was for a hearer trying to understand the meaning (and then be able to write the word). The light came on when I realized that the sole purpose was: I know I want to express "in the forest" and I know how to say it, but I can't recall which vowel to use in the first syllable.
    – Kelvin
    Mar 1, 2016 at 17:37

No, there aren't really too many check words in English because English is analytical and Russian is synthetic, which means that Russian fuses words together and creates cases much like Latin. It's been a long time since I've taken a Latin class, so my names of certain cases may be off, but I presume the Russian word for "in the forest" would be in the locative case and I'm sure your check word "forest" is in the nominative case rather than the accusative case.

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