English Language: Silent Letters
There are many silent letters in the English language, and they can cause difficulties for people learning English as a second language. Silent letters can also cause problems for native children learning to read, spell and speak.
Silent letters are the letters in words that make no difference to the sound. So, to put it simply, the letter or letters in a particular word that are silent, do not appear in the pronunciation of the word. But, they do however, appear in the spelling.
Silent letters make it very difficult for English learners as they give no clue as to how to correctly spell out and pronounce the word. In fact, most of the common spelling mistakes seen in English writing will be words which feature one or more silent letters.
Causes Of Silent LettersThere are a few reasons why we may have words that feature silent letters.
- Historical Change – The sound may have dropped out of the word over a certain length of time, but the spelling of that word will have stayed the same: hope, knot, light.
- New Letter Added – Silent letters may have been added to make the spelling appear more ‘Latin’ or ‘French’: Island, debt, victual.
- Borrowing From Another Language – Some English words originate from other foreign languages, which is why we may see silent letters: Myrrh, champagne, khaki.
Reasons For Silent LettersSometimes, there is an exact reason as to why a word will have silent letters.
- To be able to distinguish the words which sound similar - For example: ‘Plum – Plumb’, ‘Hole – Whole’ or ‘Our – Hour’.
- We sometimes use silent letters in the English language to show long vowels or hard consonants. Silent letters show the long vowels in rid/ride; the silent letters show the hard consonants in gest/guest.
- Silent letters are sometimes used when connecting root words with prefixes and suffixes.
There are no rules where silent letters are concerned and unfortunately, you will just have to learn to remember them. However, you may notice that some particular letters in the English alphabet tend to be silent, whereas others will always be heard. The letters N, D, W, G, U, H, T, K, B and L are often found to be silent in many English words.
Here are some examples of silent letters in English words:
Taking the time to study English silent letters will help any student in the long run. They can cause confusion amongst learners of the language, but with persistence and constant practice, silent letters should be a breeze.