Silent Letters

March 16, 2020 by Ashlee Hunter Ashlee Hunter

Silent letters can be tricky when it comes to learning English. Here is some useful information when coming across these sneaky letters.

Silent E

The silent ‘e’ can be found in many words in the English language. It has different functions, one of them being to make a long vowel sound. For example, when a word follows the pattern Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, it has a short vowel sound. When the silent letter ‘e’ is added, it makes a long vowel sound.

Ex.   rat (C-V-C) = short ‘a’ sound

rate (C-V-C-E) = long ‘a’ sound

bit (C-V-C) = short ‘i’ sound

bite (C-V-C-E) = long ‘i’ sound

The silent ‘e’ can also help to change the sound of consonants.

Ex.   wag = harsh ‘g’ sound

wage = soft ‘g’ sound

Here are only a few examples of the many words that have a silent ‘e’:

Cute Make

Hope Time

Late Bike

Kite Joke

Quote Wide

There are few words with a long ‘e’ sound that follow the C-V-C-E pattern as there are various different ways to spell a long ‘e’ sound such as ‘ee’, ‘ea’, and ‘ey’.

Silent N

When it comes to the silent letter ‘n’, it mainly follows the letter ‘m’. Also, for the most part, it comes at the end of a word. This silent letter is not as common as the silent ‘e’, but here are some examples:

Hymn Condemn

Damn Autumn

Column Solemn

This letter combination can also occur in the middle of words, however, both letters are pronounced most of the time.

Ex.   gymnastics

warmness

chimney

There are some words where the silent ‘n’ occurs in the middle of the word.

Ex.    solemnly

Many of these words originate from Latin and so do the spelling of these words. Over time, the ‘n’ sound was dropped from the end of words as they were easier to pronounce without it.

shhh in cursive writing

Silent B

The silent ‘b’ is most commonly found in words ending in ‘mb’ or ‘bt’. Some examples are:

Climb Succumb

Bomb Tomb

Lamb Thumb

Numb Womb

Doubt

When the letter combination ‘mb’ is in the middle of the word, both letters are usually pronounced.

Ex.    combination

This is not the case with ‘bt’.

Ex.    subtle

Unlike the silent ‘e’, which makes a long vowel sound, the silent ‘b’ doesn’t indicate what the vowel sound will be. Here is an example of three words that only have one letter difference, yet have very different vowel sounds:

Bomb - Comb - Tomb

Silent K

The most common place to find the silent letter ‘k’ is before the letter ‘n’. This letter combination is found at the beginning of words. Here are some examples:

Knee Knuckle

Knew Knowledge

Knife Knight

Knot Kneel

Knuckle Knit

Again, for English speakers, the letter ‘k’ was difficult to pronounce in these words, so it was eventually dropped and made into a silent letter.

no sound - speaker crossed out icon

Silent G(H)

The silent letter ‘g’ mainly occurs in words with the letter combination ‘gn’. This silent letter can be found at the beginning, end, or in the middle of a word. Here are a few examples:

Assign Gnome

Cologne Sign

Design Foreign

Align Reign

When the letters ‘gh’ are put together, they create silent letters. Here are some examples of words that have the silent ‘gh’ combination:

Light Bright

Height Daughter

Silent L

The silent ‘l’ is found in many common words that we use in everyday conversation. The silent ‘l’ can be paired with different letters; however, it is usually at the end of the word. Here are some examples:

Calm Calf

Palm Half

Talk Would

Walk Could

Chalk Should

There are more examples of silent letters such as ‘t’, ‘w’, ‘p’, ‘c’, and ‘s’. Silent letters can be problematic when trying to pronounce and spell these words. Knowing the purpose of different silent letters as well as some common spelling patterns can make learning words with silent letters a little easier.



Ashlee Hunter

Ashlee has been involved in the ESL world for over ten years and has now planted her roots in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nothing gives her more pleasure than watching students and candidates reach their language and IELTS goals.

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