Silent Letters in English | A to Z Rules
One of the most frustrating things in
English is the fact that many words have letters that we don’t pronounce at all.
These are called silent letters. Unfortunately there’s nothing that you
or I can do to change this, but there are some rules which can help us. Yes, you
heard me. There are some rules. Knowing these rules about silent letters can
really help your pronunciation, so today I’m going to explain those rules and
also give you lots of examples. If you can think of more examples while you’re
watching this video, please write them in the comments. Let’s first look at the
letter A. Most of the time we do pronounce the letter A, but if a word
ends in I C A double L Y, most people don’t pronounce it. Here are some
examples. Try to copy them after me: automatically, basically, chaotically, logically, practically, specifically, surgically. But be careful because that
rule doesn’t apply to all words that end in A double L Y. For example, in these
words we pronounce the A: ideally, generally, vocally. So this rule just
applies to words that end in I C A double L Y. Like basically or specifically. Now let’s look at the letter B. We usually don’t pronounce the B if it’s
after M at the end of a word. For example: bomb. It’s not “bom-BB”. The last sound is mm.
So just pretend that the B isn’t there. It’s bomb, bomb. Some more examples:
climb, comb, crumb, dumb, lamb, limb, numb, succumb, thumb, tomb, womb. Yes, all of these
words end in the sound mm. So this is not a “thum-BB”. It’s a thumb.
Thumb. Pretend that the B isn’t there. Occasionally the B is silent after an M
in the middle of a word. For example, in climber and plumber. Climber, plumber. When
MB is in the middle of a word, most of the time you pronounce both letters.
For example, in these words: ambiguous, member, number, symbol, umbrella. So if MB is not at the end of a word,
the vast majority of the time we pronounce the B.
There are also a few words in which the B is silent before the letter T.
These words are debt, doubt and subtle. This also applies to words that have
these words as their root. For example: debtor, doubtful and subtlety. Now let’s look at the letter C.
The C is almost always silent if it comes after an S and before
an E or an I. For example: descent, fascinate, fluorescent, scene, scent, science, scissors. It’s also silent after the S in
this word: muscle. Muscle. That’s just an exception that’s important to know. And now the letter D.
D is silent before the letter G: badge. It’s not “bad-de-jeh”. It’s
just: badge. DG is like the J in jam. Bridge, budget, edge, fridge, judge, knowledge. Here are some common words
that also have a silent D: handkerchief. It’s not “hanD-kerchief”.
It’s handkerchief. In fact, an informal word for this is hanky. The D isn’t even
written there. Handsome, sandwich (it’s not “sand-witch”, it’s sandwich), Wednesday. Let’s look at E. There are lots of silent Es in English.
Normally if an E is at the end of a word, we don’t pronounce it. Like in these words:
before, bridge, example, give, have, some. Sometimes the E effects the
pronunciation of the previous vowel sound. C A P, for example, is pronounced
“cap”, but if we add an E to the end, it becomes “cape”. The previous vowel – in this
case A – is pronounced like the name of the letter in the alphabet: A… cape.
Similarly, cod becomes code. O becomes oh. Hat becomes hate. Quit becomes quite. And
sit becomes site. Be careful. This rule doesn’t apply if E is the only vowel.
These words, for example, are pronounced: be, he, she…
and this word is pronounced the or “thee”. Here’s another helpful rule. If the past form of a verb ends in ED, we normally
don’t pronounce the letter E: called. It’s not “call-ed” or “call-id”.
It’s called. Helped, looked, seemed. We only pronounce the E in an -ed ending if the
base verb ends in a /d/ or a /t/, so in a D sound or a T sound.
Some examples are: ended, included, started, wanted. What about G? Well, we don’t
pronounce the G if it’s followed by an N at the beginning of a word. But there
aren’t that many words like this. Some examples are: gnat, gnaw, gnome. It’s also usually silent if GN is
at the end of a word, like these: campaign, design, foreign, reign, sign. Again, be careful. If GN
is in the middle of a word, most of the time we pronounce the G. For example, in
words like: ignore, magnificent or signature. The combination GH is usually
silent after a vowel sound: daughter, night, thought, through, weigh. And now the letter H. If a word
begins with GH, the H is silent, like in the words: gherkin, ghetto, ghost. Similarly, if a word starts with RH, the H is
silent, like in rhinoceros or rhythm. I always forget how to spell these two
words. There are also a lot of medical and scientific words that start with RH,
for example, rheumatic or rhinoplasty. If a word starts with WH,
the H is normally silent: whale, what, when, white, why. But you should be aware that
some native speakers pronounce WH as /hw/, so it’s like an HW:
whale, what, when. It’s not super common,
but it exists in some dialects. H is also sometimes silent after
a C, for example: chemistry, mechanic, school, stomach, technology. Remember I said SOMETIMES. CH is more often pronounced /tʃ/ like in chair. And sometimes it’s even
pronounced /ʃ/, like in chef. There are also a few words that
start with a silent H. For example: heir, honest, honour, hour. In American English the H in
the words herb and herbal also aren’t pronounced. So in American English
these words are “erb” and “erbal”. But don’t worry. Most of the time
if a word starts with an H, you pronounce it – like in house and hat. What about the letter I?
Well, here’s some good news. We basically always pronounce I. The main
exception is in the word business. It’s not “busy-ness”. It’s business. And now the letter K.
This one is quite easy. K is silent before the letter N at the
beginning of a word. For example: knee, knife, knight, knot, know. Let’s look at L.
Unfortunately there’s no real rule here. I’ve seen some people on the internet
say that it’s normally silent after A, O and U, but that’s incorrect. Most of
the time we pronounce the letter L. Like in ball or fold or result. With L you
just need to learn the exceptions. Some of the most common ones are:
calf, half, chalk, talk, walk, balm, calm, palm. It’s also silent in the words
could, should and would. Another one is salmon. Salmon. In the word almond the L is optional.
I personally say “amond”, so I don’t pronounce the L, but you can
also say “almond”. Almond. There aren’t many words with a silent M. If you’re learning languages,
you might be familiar with mnemonic. The first M is silent. A mnemonic is
something that helps you to remember something else. And now the letter N
This is very simple. We don’t pronounce N if it comes
after M at the end of a word. For example: autumn. It’s not “autum-NN”. It’s just autumn. Column, condemn, damn, hymn. What about the letter P? Well, we don’t pronounce P if it comes at
the beginning of a word before an S. For example: pseudoscience,
psychiatrist, psychic, psychology. It’s also silent in front of
N and T at the beginning of a word, but there aren’t that many
words like that in English. Some examples are:
pneumatic, pneumonia and pterodactyl. A pterodactyl is an extinct flying animal
that lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Technically it’s not a dinosaur – fun fact –
but lots of people associate them with dinosaurs. There are also a few other
random words with silent Ps. For example: coup, cupboard,
raspberry, receipt. And now the letter R.
In standard British English, as well as in Australian English, the R is silent if
it is followed by a consonant or if it’s at the end of a word. For example, in this
word: fork. In American English it’s “foRk”, but in British English it’s fork. Start.
In American English it’s “staRt”, but in British English it’s start. And now at the end of a word. Star.
In American English it’s “staR”, but in British English it’s star. Teacher.
In American English it’s “teacheR”, but in British English it’s teacher. However, if the following word
starts with a vowel sound, we normally pronounce the R in British
English as well. For example, if we put an “is” after “teacher”. The “teacher-is”… The “teacher-is” always right. The letter S. Unfortunately there aren’t really any
rules here, but luckily there aren’t that many words that have a silent S.
Some of the most common ones are: aisle, bourgeois, debris, island and isle. Yes, the first word and the last word
are pronounced the same. They’re homophones. There are quite a lot of silent T’s in English. For example, it’s silent before CH: catch, sketch, stitch, watch, witch. Yes, this last word is pronounced
the same as that word. It’s normally silent in words that end in STEN. For example: christen, fasten, listen. It’s also normally silent in words that end in STLE. Castle, hustle, whistle. And then we have words that have
been taken directly from French and end in ET, such as:
ballet, buffet, gourmet. But don’t let that confuse you. Most of the time we pronounce
ET at the end of a word. And then there are some random
words that you just need to learn. Some of the most common ones are: asthma. There’s a silent H
in there as well. It’s asthma. Christmas, mortgage and soften. There’s also often. In this word some people pronounce
the T and some people don’t. It’s your choice. I personally say “ofen”, so I don’t pronounce it, but you
can say “ofTen” if you want. We’re almost at the end!
Let’s look at the letter U. Yes, the U is sometimes silent as well. U is often silent after a G and before a vowel. For example: colleague,
guard, guest, guide, guitar. The letter W. If a word starts with WR,
the W is always silent. Just look at these words: wrap, wrinkle, wrist, write, wrong. If a word starts with WHO,
the W is often silent. For example: who, whoever, whole. There are also a few random
words with a silent W. Some common ones are:
answer, sword and two. (The number two.) And now X. Honestly, there aren’t that
many words in English with a silent X. The most common one is probably faux. Faux. It comes from French. The same goes for the letter Y.
It’s very rarely silent. It’s silent in the word prayer. Prayer. It’s also often silent in mayor, but there
are some people who pronounce it, particularly Americans. Some Americans
say “mer”. “Mer”. So it’s silent. And some Americans pronounce it.
They say “mayor”. “Mayor”. And finally the letter Z. Again, there aren’t that many
words in English with a silent Z. The most common ones are probably:
laissez-faire and rendezvous. Laissez-faire, rendezvous. Both of these words come from French. And that’s it. Obviously I haven’t given you every
single word with a silent letter – there are a lot – but hopefully these rules and
guidelines can help you. As I said in the beginning, if you can think of other
words with silent letters, please write them in the comments. If you haven’t yet
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You’ll find the link in the description. See you next time, guys. … or often. My stomach’s rumbling… Here are some examples…
my voice has gone all funny. you