If we trace back to the history of language, we will notice that approximately 90 percent of the English that was used was phonemic. Phonemic means the words were same when they were looked and heard. There were very few to no silent letters, but this scenario soon changed around the 15th century. Various new words from other languages were introduced into the English Language to make it sound more French or more Latin. But the introduction of foreign words caused difficulties as the new words did not follow similar rules as English Grammar. This is the reason few letters became silent even though the spellings were determined.
Various words from different Languages were gradually adapted in the English Language. For example, Latin alphabets were adapted into the English Language. There are 41 different significant sounds but only 26 letters to represent it. It leads to the attempt of combining the letters in order to express the different sounds in English. This proves that achieving the phonetic ideal that is each letter for each sound is practically impossible in English. Another major factor to notice is that any language that has been present for a long time will have many words and spellings that do not match with modern pronunciations. This is quite natural because English spellings are constantly changing. Now just imagine how much changes and mismatches have accumulated in the English Language because English was written approximately 1300 years ago.
Every word has history, and that is why learning about silent letters is quite interesting. Learning about these letters will help to track their origin.
However, pronunciations of the words are constantly being modified, but the old English adaptation is still preserved that was introduced in England around the Middle English time period. This can be seen in various words. For example, there are words that end in a silent “e,” some have silent letters in the middle such as the word “fright.” Presently after the constant change witnessed in English Language, the modern English is 40 percent phonemic.
More than half of the English alphabets are silent in some or the other word. If we consider the alphabetical order, the silent letters are B, D, E, G, H, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, W, X, and Z. Read through this article to know more about silent letters and the related words.
Silent Letters are letters in words that are skipped and not pronounced. This makes a significant difference to the meaning and the pronunciation of the word. If we trace back the history, these letters were pronounced at some point, but eventually, they became silent. Nearly 60 percent of words in English have silent letters. This causes more problems for learners and makes English difficult for non-native speakers to understand.
Uses of Silent Letters:
Understanding about silent letters helps readers to differentiate between homophones. Homophones are words that have different definitions and different meaning but same sound. For example knot/not, know/no, to/two/too, band/banned, etc.
Silent letters can change the pronunciation of a particular word. Studying silent letters help a reader to work out a meaning of a particular word and the location and use of the words. Examples of such words include sin-sign, cop-cope, rat-rate, grim-grime, etc.
Understanding and learning about silent letters help to understand the difference between a letter when pronounced alone and when pronounced in words. For example, the letter “H” when pronounced alone sounded “aitch” but when the letter “H” is used at the beginning of the word the pronounced sound of the word is used such as a house, hotel, ham, etc. The exception to this is the words from the French origin. Letter “H” is silent in words such as hour, honour, heir, honest, etc.
Reading silent letters is useful and fascinating for a person interested in Etymology (the study of the origin of words). Silent letters provide information clear idea about the history of words.
Silent letters help us to understand the magic “e”. If “e” is added at the end of words that have short vowel sounds, it extends the vowel sound. For example tap-tape, con-cone, mat-mate, fin-fine, etc.
Silent Letters in English
There are specific rules according to which particular letters are silent in certain words. But in English Language there are exceptions to every rule. Once the rules are regularly practiced it will become easier to understand the silent letters in English.
There are two rules if the B is silent.
Rule 1: B becomes a silent letter in words where B is present after M at the end of the word.
Limb, climb, tomb, dumb, comb, bomb, crumb, thumb
B is not pronounced if it is present before T in the case of root words. For example
Debt, debtor, subtle, doubt, doubtful, subtleness
There are two rules when C will be silent.
C is not pronounced if the word has a combination of sc.
For example: Muscle, ascent, fascinate, scenario, miscellaneous, scissors. However, there are exceptions to this rule such as sclera, sclerosis, sceptic, muscovado, asclepiad, etc.
C is usually mute if it is present before the letters K and Q.
Lock, puck, block, acknowledge.
Aqua, Acquit, Acknowledge, Acquiesce, Acquiesce, Acquaintance, acquit
There are certain common words in which D is not pronounced.
For example: handkerchief, Wednesday, handsome, sandwich
Letter “D” is not pronounced or is silent when present in combination with DG.
For example: Pledge, hedge, dodge, cadge, grudge
Letter “E” is not pronounced if it is present at the end of words. However, it elongates the sound of the vowel present before it.
For example: Hope, gave, drive, site, grave, hide, bite, write, fore, table, etc.
Exception to this rule is brunette, cassette, giraffe, gazelle.
It can be noticed that there is a particular pattern in the words. All the combinations have last syllable. This describes that the exceptions are those words that have unusual stress than the general pattern in the final syllable of the word. Another example of exception is minute.
If E is placed before the letter “D” when the word is present in second or third form of the verbs then sometimes “E” is not pronounced. For example fixed, begged, bored, fixed, etc.
The letter “G” is not pronounced when it is present in a word before the word “N.”
Foreign, Design, gnash, align, sign, champagne, feign, cognac, etc.
Exception to this rule is words such as magnet, cognitive, igneous, signature, etc.
“GH” is silent when it is present after a vowel. Examples include thought, thorough, drought, through, borough, sigh, right, fight, daughter, weigh, weight light, might, etc.
Exceptions include doghouse, bighead, foghorn, etc. The exceptions in this case is generally compound words (two complete words combine to form compound words)
Rule 2: in certain cases “GH” is pronoun like the letter “F”. Examples include rough, tough, enough, cough, laugh, clough, draught.
The exception to this rule is examples from rule 1.
The letter “H” is usually silent when it is present after “W”. Examples include what, when, weather, where, why, etc.
In certain cases the letter “H” is not silent when it is present after the letter “W.” Example include whose, who, whole, whoever, whosoever, etc.
“H” is silent in many words. Article “an” is used with a word that has silent “H.” Examples include hour, honest, heir, honour, etc.
Exception to this include words starting with “H” are not silent. With a voiced “H” an article “a” is used. Examples include history, happy, hair, hereditary, historical, etc. Also, article “a” is used with voiced words that are not of French origin and are starting with letter “H”.
H remains silent when it is present after the letter C, G, or R.
Examples include choir, ghoul, aghast, chorus, rhinocerous, ghastly, echo, rhythm, etc.
The letter K is silent when it is present before the letter N in a word. Example include know, knife, knight, knowledge, knee, knock, etc.
L is usually not voiced when used after the vowels A, O, and U. Examples include calf, would, half, palm, folk, yolk, should, palm, salmon, walk, etc.
Exception to this rule include words such as hold, sold, halo, bulk, sulk, fold, mould
The letter N remains silent when it present after M at the end of any word such as column, damn, autumn, hymn, solemn, etc.
The letter P is not voiced at the beginning of certain words where the words follow particular combinations such as PS, PN, and PT. Examples include Psalm, pterodactyl, pneumatic, pneumonia, psephology, psychology, pneumonia, psychotherapy, psychotic, etc.
There are words where PH is pronounced like F. Examples include Sophia, elephant, telephone, paragraph, etc.
The letter S is not pronounced when it is placed before the letter “L”. Examples include aisle, isle, islet, island, etc.
The letter T is not pronounced in many common English words. Examples include castle, fasten, often, beret, Christmas, thistle, bustle, soften, rapport, listen, Chevrolet, whistle, gourmet, ballet, etc.
Letter “U” remains silent when it is present after G and before a vowel in any word. For example Guest, guess, guano, guide, guard, etc.
Letter W is not pronounced at the starting of a word when it is present before the letter “R.” Examples include wrest, wrong, wrap, write, wrack, etc.
W is silent in many words such as who, whose, whole, whole, whom, whoever, sword, answer, two, etc.
Vowels are often not pronounced when paired with other vowels (also called as digraphs), or in some cases affect the pronunciation of other vowels without being voiced themselves.
Words that contain letters EA – fear, bread, meant, each, teach, peach, bean, cleave, heave, gear, team, etc.
Words that contain letters AI -aisle
Words that contain letters OA or AO- boar, loan, coal, cocoa, float, etc.
E is usually silent when words follow the order vowel-consonant-vowel- fate, fete, care, kite, dole, like, cute, dote, fuse, butte etc.
Words that contain letters EA- bear, tear, lead (a type of element), pear
Words that contain letters EI- heist fiesty
Words that contain letters EU- eugenics, euphemism, feud
Words that contain letters OE- toe, shoe
Words that contain letters UE- hue, queue, fuel
Words that contain letters AI- bail, tail, lain, pail, paint, aileron, maize, bait
Words that contain letters EI and IE- believe, deceive, retrieve
Words that contain letters IO- cushion, fashion
Words that contain letters UI- sluice, suit, juice
Silent O (except the words OU as ow, or word that contain oo such as rouge, roulette)
Words that contain letters EO- jeopardy, people, leopard
Words that contain letters OU- southern, country
Silent U (except the words OU as ow, or word that contain oo such as rouge, roulette)
Words that contain letters AU- laugh, guard, gauge
Words that contain letters UE- guest, guess, plague, catalogue, tongue, league
Words that contain letters UI- guile, guitar, build, guide