Silent letters in English
Silent letters in English cause difficulties for both native speakers and those learning the language.
Over the past several centuries English has dropped the pronunciation of some letters in certain words while spelling has remained relatively constant. This has led to the difference we see today between how some English terms are written and pronounced. To avoid confusion, it is worth learning which letters are “empty” in certain combinations.
Some may argue that having silent letters in modern English is pointless and that they should be removed. However, in certain contexts these additional letters in the spellings of words provide valuable information. In homophones (words that sound the same), having different spellings can aid understanding in words like: thyme/time, whine/wine, weigh/way, etc. The origins of some words are also preserved in the English spelling system, for example: vineyard (pronounced: “vinyard”). Sometimes the reader can gain additional clues regarding pronunciation and stress from the spelling of a word, for example with “physics” and “physiques”. English has many words of French origin, which have retained their drawn-out “ay” ending (as in: “say”): ballet, bouquet, buffet, cafe, etc. If a word has a very odd spelling, it is likely to have been borrowed into English from another language (Greek, Latin, French, etc.).
Below is a detailed list of words in English with silent letters (in brackets):
b: clim(b), com(b), plum(b)er, thum(b), tom(b), num(b), su(b)tle, dou(b)t, de(b)t, crum(b)
c: mus(c)le, s(c)issors
d: han(d)kerchief, san(d)wich, We(d)nesday, han(d)some, e(d)ge, bri(d)ge, a(d)jective
e: ev(e)ry, ev(e)ning, diff(e)rent, sev(e)ral, inter(e)sting, veg(e)table, lit(e)rature, temp(e)rature
g: si(g)n, forei(g)n, champa(g)ne, desi(g)n, (g)nome
gh: hi(gh), ri(gh)t, ni(gh)t, mi(gh)t, si(gh)t, bou(gh)t, thou(gh)t, cau(gh)t, ou(gh)t, dau(gh)ter, wei(gh), nei(gh)bour, strai(gh)t, fi(gh)t, dou(gh)
h: (h)onest, (h)our, (h)onour, (h)eir, g(h)ost, w(h)at, w(h)ether
k: (k)nife, (k)now, (k)nock, (k)not, (k)nee, (k)nuckle, (k)knickers, (k)knowledge, (k)night
l: sa(l)mon, ca(l)m, wou(l)d, cou(l)d, shou(l)d, wa(l)k, ha(l)f, pa(l)m, cha(l)k
n: autum(n), dam(n), hym(n), gover(n)ment
p: cu(p)board, (p)sychiatry, (p)sychology, cou(p), (p)neumonia, (p)neumatic, recei(p)t
s: i(s)land, i(s)les, ai(s)le
t: lis(t)en, fas(t)en, of(t)en, whis(t)le, cas(t)le, Chris(t)mas, sof(t)en, mor(t)gage
u: g(u)ess, g(u)ard, g(u)ilt, g(u)itar, tong(u)e, g(u)est
w: ans(w)er, (w)rite, (w)rong, (w)ring, (w)rinkle, (w)rist, (w)retched, (w)restler, s(w)ord, (w)hole
A little British comedy on the topic of silent letters
Want to improve your English business vocabulary? In this study guide, our experienced UK accountant and English teacher Kevin Simmons will walk you through the most useful terms and expressions. We’ve included a list of 45 terms with clear definitions and examples in context to help you feel confident with your business English. Let’s take a look! Continue reading
Phrasal verbs are commonly used by native speakers in everyday conversation so it’s important to learn them if you want to sound more natural in English. In this study guide, we will teach you 19 phrasal verbs with ‘get’. You will learn all of their meanings through clear explanations and example sentences. Don’t forget to test your knowledge with the exercises at the end! Continue reading