This week’s #TipforTuesday is in collaboration with Trends in Education, found in the monthly newsletter. Here is a sneak peak from the September edition looking at the sneaky and often overlooked world of reduplication. Words by Liam Pressley.


I recently passed an advertisement for local French lessons that read “Fun Friendly French.” Without fully understanding why there was something about the order in which the words were listed that did not sound quite right to me. I continued to mull this phrase over in my head… was it the combination of words used or their order that sounded somewhat incorrect?

Digging a bit deeper I realised that the answer lay with a little known grammar rule called Reduplication.

Have you ever wondered why we say tick-tack-toe instead of toe-tack-tick? Or hip-hop rather than hop-hip, or chitchat instead of chatchit?

As native English language speakers we have an amazing ability to use different grammar rules without thinking twice about why some things sound ‘natural,’ and others may sound ‘incorrect’. It has become almost as second nature to us as breathing. When we teach our students however, we often overlook these natural flows of speaking in favour of focusing on key vocabulary words and grammar tenses. 

Reduplication is a natural rule that all native speakers abide by but a grammar construction that is hardly ever taught to Breadies – mostly because we ourselves do not even realise that we are using them!

The benefits of teaching this type of grammar pattern can drastically help our students improve both their pronunciation and their ability to understand unfamiliar phrases that native speakers use.

]In linguistics, reduplication can alter the meaning of words or the context in which they are used. It is formed when we repeat a single word or pair two similar sounding words together. For example, the repetition of the word ‘out’ can change it’s meaning from “I’m heading out to the shop,” to “Are you going out-out tonight?” To a native speaker the use of ‘out-out’ is suggestive of somebody going to a party or a club that evening. To a non-native speaker this is mind-boggling.

In English there are six different types of Reduplication that we will all have used without even realising it (we cover the main three ones below).

1) Rhyming Reduplication:

This refers to simple word pairs that rhyme often with only one or two letters that are different between the words. Some common ones are:

– Walkie-talkie                              – Hoity-toity

– Easy-peasy                                 – Boogie-woogie

– Super-duper                               – Teenie-weenie

– Ragtag                                   – Razzle-dazzle

For example, we could say, “That was super-duper! Well done!” to reward good behaviour, or “this task is going to be easy-peasey,” to express a simple challenge. Teaching some of these expressions is an excellent way to expand your Breadies’ vocabulary and pronunciation of words that we all use.

2) Exact Reduplication

This employs repeated words often evocative of baby talk. It is softer in conversation than other types of reduplication. For example:

– Bye-bye                             – Night-night

– Pee-pee                             – Choo-choo

– Blah-blah                          – Knock-knock

– So-so                                 – Yum-yum

In our lessons, using exact reduplication with our younger Breadies encourages them to practice pronouncing words the same way we were all taught how to speak as toddlers. This is important as it trains our students to use the correct part of their mouth for different words from a young age. You can also encourage this if you have a late lesson and sign off with a ‘night-night’ to your Bready. Similarly, you can practice with different Picaro characters, for example “Knock-knock, who’s there? It’s Alex!”

3) Ablaut Reduplication

This is one of the most complex grammar forms for non-native speakers to wrap their heads around, as it centers on word pairings with an internal vowel alternation. See if you can spot the common theme in the examples below:

– Ding-dong                                 – Riffraff

– Chitchat                                     – Pitter-patter

– Zigzag                                       – Dilly-dally

– Ping-Pong                                 – Tick-tock

– Sing-song                                  – Flip-flop

Anyone spotted the common rule yet? For those that have, yes the first word of in the pairing begins with a short I sound. The reason for this rule is the movement of your mouth when you pronounce certain letters. The letter ‘I’ is known as a high vowel (relative to the tongue in it’s position in the mouth), whereas ‘A’ and ‘O’ are considered low vowels (again relative to the position of the tongue in the mouth). For example, ‘tock-tick’ or ‘flop flip’ do not sound or feel natural when spoken. In word pairs the rule is that I comes before A or O, but in word combinations of three the rule is I, A, O. For example, we can say tick-tack-toe or big-bad-wolf.

One of the key reasons Breadies join the IQBar community is to improve their communication and pronunciation abilities. If we actively teach and encourage the use of Reduplication in our lessons,our students will begin to naturally use key tongue and mouth movements that mimic those of a native speaker.

In your next lesson, do not dilly-dally or be wishy-washy when it comes to teaching Reduplication to your students. Instead, get nitty-gritty with the grammar and watch how easy-peasy it is for your students to begin speaking like a true native!