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Lesson 14.4

Silent Letters

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While many languages have silent letters, such as the “h” in Spanish, English is particularly difficult because of the large quantity of silent letters. By now, most of us are familiar with the silent “e” that is found at the end of a great many words in English, but perhaps not so familiar are the many letter combinations in which one letter is silent. Below is a list of such letter combinations.

Silent “b”

When “b” is found after an “m”, the “b” is silent.

Examples:

 limb/lɪm/
 thumb/ɵʌm/
 dumb/dʌm/

Silent “c”

There is only one example of when the “c” is silent and that is in the word “muscle”.

Example:

 muscle/mʌsəl/

Silent “d”

There is no specific rule for when the “d” is silent, but there are a few common words in which it is not pronounced.

Examples:

 Wednesday/wenzdeɪ/
 sandwich/sænwɪʧ/

Silent “e”

As mentioned above, the “e” at the end of words is silent. We have also seen that when the silent “e” is used, it changes the previous vowel sound from a short vowel to a long vowel.

Examples:

 cope/kəʊp/
 lite/laɪt/
 skate/skeɪt/

Silent “g”

G” is generally not pronounced when it is followed by an “n”.

Examples:

 sign/saɪn/
 foreign/fɔ:rən/
 align/əlaɪn/

Silent “gh”

There are many words in English that have the letter combination “ght”. In this letter combination, the “gh” is not pronounced.

Examples:

 thought/ɵɔ:t/
 right/raɪt/
 daughter/dɔ:ter/
 brought/brɔ:t/
 caught/kɔ:t/

Silent and Pronounced “h”

The “h” is not pronounced when it follows a “w”.

Examples:

 what/wɑ:t/
 when/wen/
 where/wer/

In addition, there are several words in English that begin with an “h” that is not pronounced. There is no rule for when the “h” at the beginning of a word is pronounced, although when it is a noun and it is not pronounced, it must be used with the article “an” rather than “a”.

Examples:

Silent “h”

 (an) hour/aʊr/
 (an) herb/ɜ:rb/
 honest/ɑ:nəst/

Pronounced “h”

 (a) hospital/hɑ:spɪtl/
 (a) hotel/həʊtel/
 happy/hæpi:/
 high/haɪ/
 history/hɪstəri:/

Silent “k”

The “k” at the beginning of words is not pronounced if it is followed by an “n”.

Examples:

 know/nəʊ/
 knife/naɪf/
 knee/ni:/

Silent “l”

The “l” is frequently not pronounced when it is found before: “d”, “f”, “m” or “k”.

Examples:

 half/hæf/
 calm/kɑ:m/
 walk/wɔ:k/
 could/kʊd/

Silent “n”

When “n” follows an “m” at the end of a word, it is not pronounced.

Examples:

 autumn/ɔ:təm/
 hymn/hɪm/

Silent “p”

The “p” is not pronounced when used at the beginning of many scientific related words, as with the prefixes “psych-” or “pneu-”.

Examples:

 psychology/saɪkɑ:ləʤi/
 pneumonia/nʊməʊnja/

Silent “s”

The “s” is silent when it comes before an “l” in the following two related words:

Examples:

 island/aɪlənd/
 isle/aɪl/

Silent “t”

A silent “t” is found in several common words.

Examples:

 listen/lɪsn/
 often/ɔ:fən/
 Christmas/krɪsməs/
 castle/kæsəl/

Silent “u”

U” is not pronounced when it comes after a “g” and before another vowel.

Examples:

 guitar/gətɑ:r/
 guess/ges/
 guide/gaɪd/

Silent “w”

W” is silent when it comes before an “r” at the beginning of a word or in several pronouns.

Examples:

 write/raɪt/
 wrong/rɔ:ŋ/
 who, whose, whom/hu:/ /hu:m/ /hu:z/
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