Whether you are learning English for the first time or are a native speaker, English can be a very complicated language.
English doesn’t always look the way it sounds. A perfect example of this is the use of silent letters within words.
In this lesson, we’ll discuss the silent letter rules and review several examples.
Silent letters are letters found in words that are not pronounced and cannot be matched to any specific sound made by a word.
Rules & Examples
The best way to look at the rules for silent letters is to discuss them directly with the examples. Let’s get started.
The letter ‘b‘ can act as a silent letter when it comes before ‘t’ or if it comes after ‘m’.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule; the word ‘obtain’ doesn’t abide by the rules.
The letter ‘c‘ is silent when it follows the letter ‘s’ and comes before ‘i’, ‘e’, or ‘y’. Some words include ‘science’ and ‘scepter’. The combination ‘ck’ produces the ‘k’ sound only, as in ‘snack’ and ‘hack’.
The letter ‘e’ is not pronounced at the end of words, but instead elongates the sound of the vowel before it.
- Exceptions: Giraffe, brunette, cassette, gazelle
G is often not pronounced when it comes before N.
- Exceptions: Magnet, igneous, cognitive, signature
GH is not pronounced when it comes after a vowel.
- Examples: Might, sigh, right, fight, weigh, weight
- Exceptions: Doghouse, foghorn, bighead.
GH is sometimes pronounced like F.
- Examples: rough, tough, laugh, enough.
- Exceptions: Examples above
H is not pronounced when it comes after W, at the beginning of many words (remember to use the article “an” with unvoiced H), and is often not pronounced when it comes after C, G or R.
- Exceptions: hill, history, height, happy, hereditary (Plus most other words beginning with H that are NOT of French origin – and remember to use the article “a” with voiced H)
K is not pronounced when it comes before N at the beginning of a word.
L is not pronounced after the vowels A, O and U.
- Exceptions: Halo, bulk, sulk, hold, sold, fold, mould
N is not pronounced when it comes after M at the end of a word.
P is not pronounced at the beginning of many words using the combinations PS, PT and PN.
PH is sometimes pronounced like F.
S is not pronounced before L in the following words:
T is not pronounced in these common words:
U is not pronounced when it comes after G and before a vowel.
W is not pronounced at the beginning of a word when it is before the letter R.
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