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English Language: Silent Letters

By: Sarah Folega - Updated: 26 Jan 2015 | comments*Discuss
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 Letters

There 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 Letters

Sometimes, 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:

Silent N

  • Damn
  • Hymn
  • Autumn
  • Column

Silent D

  • Wednesday
  • Handsome
  • Badge
  • Handkerchief
  • Edge
  • Hedge

Silent G

  • Sign
  • Resign
  • Gnarl
  • Design
  • Foreigner
  • Gnome

Silent U

  • Guard
  • Guess
  • Guitar
  • Building
  • Rogue
  • Guest
  • Biscuit
  • Tongue

Silent H

  • Why
  • When
  • Which
  • What
  • Whether
  • Ghost
  • White
  • While
  • Honest

Silent T

  • Soften
  • Listen
  • Match
  • Butcher
  • Castle
  • Christmas

Silent K

  • Knot
  • Knitting
  • Know
  • Knee
  • Knock
  • Knight
  • Knuckle
  • Knickers

Silent B

  • Crumb
  • Climbing
  • Thumb
  • Lamb
  • Doubt
  • Limb
  • Plumber
  • Bomb

Silent L

  • Palm
  • Yolk
  • Almond
  • Salmon
  • Talk
  • Walk
  • Half

Silent W

  • Wreck
  • Wrestling
  • Whole
  • Sword
  • Two
  • Wrong
  • Writing
  • Wrist
  • Wrinkle

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.

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[Add a Comment]
@Deb - according to the Cambridge Dictionary, it should be pronounced 'wenz.de', which doesn't sound right - I think wenz-dey/ wenz-day, is the normal pronunciation throughout the country.
Ben - 26-Jan-15 @ 1:52 PM
I have never known the "d" in Wednesday to not be pronounced - it should be Wed-nes-day - which is from the Germanic Wodan's Day and after asking someone who went to an English Grammar School, she commented that they were always corrected to pronounce the "d" as it was considered lazy English not to pronounce it. I would also point out that in "match" you do pronounce the "t" as otherwise it would be "mach". As far as I can see you should be pronouncing the "d" in all of those words!
Deb - 24-Jan-15 @ 10:08 AM
A longtime since ive been in grammer school.I will be 80 years old my next birthday, This is a very enlightening ,and helpful learning experience.i am enjoying the educatioal benefit and the bonus of using the exercises to freshen my ageing mind. Thank you very much.
judge - 27-Sep-12 @ 4:27 PM
I got to learn many things from this site. It was helpful in clearing my doubt about silent letters. Now I know the rules behind them. Thankyou.
phunnu - 9-Apr-12 @ 3:15 AM
Really very nice article. Thank u very much I was confused about the silent letter but now I'm Clear about it.
Nosheen - 18-Mar-11 @ 1:09 PM
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