Silent e or silent final e is a spelling pattern in English that has 5 uses that can be exemplified with lake (a as /eɪ/), office (c as /s/), love (words don't end in v), handle (at least one vowel per syllable), and goose (to mark the word as a singular noun).
See main article Magic e
English vowel letters AEIOU can be classified as having "a long sound" and "a short sound". See So-called “short” and “long” vowels. They also have more sounds, but the convention is as follows.
|1. Short sound||trap /æ/||dress /e/||kit /ɪ/||lot /ɒ/||strut /ʌ/|
|2.a Long sound or "name sound"||face /eɪ/||theme /iː/||price /aɪ/||bone /əʊ/||cute /juː/, flute /uː/|
|2.b Long sound before "r"||care /eə/||here /ɪə/||fire /aɪə/||store /ɔː/, /oə/ in some accents||cure /jʊə/|
In the first line each vowel has its "normal" sound, a short monophthong. In the second line each vowel has the same sound as the name of the letter in the English alphabet. The sounds of the second line are longer than the ones of the first line.
"Magic e" (silent e at the end of the word) makes the vowel "say its name", or "makes the vowel long", which should be understood as moving in the table from the first row to the second, and not as lengthening the vowel. What is meant by “long E” is not that /iː/ is a long version of /e/, but actually "the long sound of the letter E".
Similarly, what is meant by “short I” is not that /ɪ/ is a short version of /aɪ/, but actually "the short sound of the letter I".
Therefore, "the long vowels" actually means "the long sounds of vowel letters", and "the short vowels" are "the short sounds of vowel letters".
Note that in phonetics "long vowel" means literally a vowel that is long, i.e., /ɑː, iː, ɔː, uː/ or /ɜː/.
- rat vs rate - cap vs cape - can vs cane
- bed - hotel - stem - then - get vs theme - scene - complete
- bit vs bite - quit vs quite
- dog - alcohol - shop - lot vs code - smoke - home - phone - suppose
- cub vs cube - cut vs cute
The pattern vowel + consonant + “e” = long sound of the vowel is reliable enough to be taught. Examples of exceptions are: have - college - machine - gone - lettuce.
The converse pattern vowel + consonants = short sound of the vowel is less reliable, but should also be taught.
Magic e exceptionally works in other situations:
- more than one consonant: able - change - paste; title; noble;
- no consonant: Mae - sundae
- no consonant (redundant): bee - fee; lie - tie; doe - toe; clue - issue
Make c and g soft
At the end of a word "c" sounds /k/ and "g" sounds /g/. A silent e makes "c" sound /s/ and "g" sound /dʒ/.
- "ce": choice - experience - lettuce - office - once - police - service - since
- Combined silent e and magic e: advice - face - price - place
- Silent e and magic e with two consonants: scarce
- "ge": charge - knowledge - language - large - manage - vegetable
- Combined silent e and magic e: age - page - stage
- Silent e and magic e with two consonants: change - range - strange
Keep u and v from being the last letter in a word
There are very few English words that end in "u" or "v". Most (if not all) words that end in /v/ are spelled with "ve". Many words that end in /uː/ are spelled with "ue".
- /v/: above - believe - curve - give - have - improve - involve - leave - live /lɪv/ - love - move - naive - receive - serve
- Magic e: arrive - brave - drive - live /laɪv/ - save - shave - wave
- /uː/:argue - blue - continue - due - issue - pursue - rescue - revenue - tissue - true - value
- /v/: mazeltov - of - perv - rev
- "u": emu - flu - gnu - guru - haiku - Hindu - menu - Peru - snafu - tofu - you
Keep a syllable from having no vowels
- article - couple - example - handle - little - middle - people - simple - single - trouble
- Magic e with two consonants: able - acre - bible - cable - cradle - fable - idle - maple - noble - stable - table - title
- all words with suffixes "able" and "ible": available, possible
- UK spelling: centre - litre - theatre
- Magic e with two consonants: fibre - metre
Exceptions. The following examples have a syllable with no vowel letters:
- some contractions: couldn't - doesn't - hasn't - isn't - shouldn't - wouldn't
- all words ending in "sm": enthusiasm - mechanism
- See also
Keep a singular word from ending in single s
- Words that follow this rule
- ending in /s/: goose - house - mouse - promise /ˈprɒmɪs/ - purchase - purpose - release
- magic e: abuse - case - excuse - use
- ending in /z/: cause - cheese - disease - noise - pause
- magic e: nose - phase - phrase - rose - surprise
- Words that don't follow this rule: alias - bonus - bus - canvas - chaos - Christmas - focus - gas - genius - plus - status - tennis - versus - virus
See also: Advanced decoding exercises: /s/ vs /z/
Other function or no function
In these words, the silent e does not affect the pronunciation. Most of these have short vowels instead of long.
- are - determine - discipline - ermine - famine - gone - imagine - medicine
- breeze - freeze - maize - sneeze
- catalogue - cheque - colleague - dialogue - giraffe - league - programmeBrE - tongue
Silent e changes the vowel, but it doesn't make it long.
- come - corporate - done - private - some
Silent e makes the vowel long but it isn't a magic e because it doesn't make the vowel say its name.
- antique - gasoline - machine - magazine - submarine - technique - vaseline - unique
Misleading final e
In this section we show words in which the pattern single letter vowel + single consonant letter or digraph + letter e (VCe) does not make the vowel say its name.
"a" doesn't sound /eɪ/ nor /eə/
- /æ/: have
- /ɑː/: are
- /ə/: climate - corporate - estimate (n.) - purchase - private - separate (adj.)
- /ɪ/: surface
- ending in "age" as /ɪdʒ/: advantage - average - coverage - damage - encourage - garbage - image - manage - message - mortgage - package - passage - percentage - storage - village
"e" doesn't sound /iː/ nor /ɪə/
- /e/: allege
- /ɪ/: college, privilege, sacrilege
- /eə/: there, where
- /ɜː/: were
"i" doesn't sound /aɪ/
- /ɪ/: determine - discipline - engine - examine - favourite - imagine - justice - medicine - notice - office - opposite - practice - premise - promise - service
- ending in "ive" as /ɪv/: active - alternative - competitive - conservative - effective - expensive - executive - give - initiative - live (verb) - native - negative - objective - perspective - positive - relative - representative
- /iː/:machine - magazine - police
"o" doesn't sound /əʊ/
- /ʌ/: above - become - come - income - love - none - one - some
- /ɒ/ or /ɔː/AmE: gone
- /uː/: approve - improve - lose - move - prove - remove - whose
- /ə/: purpose - welcome
"u" doesn't sound /uː/ nor /juː/
- /ɪ/: lettuce - minute (60 seconds)
- Pronounced final e
As this page shows, normally final e is silent. However there are words in which it has a sound.
- as /iː/ or /ɪ/: apostrophe - catastrophe - Chile - coyote - karate - machete - recipe - sesame
Magic e in the middle of the word
Magic e is defined at the end of the word. In the middle of the word it works in the following cases:
- like + -ed = liked; wide + -er = wider; wide + -est = widest; hope + -ful = hopeful; care + -less = careless; like + -ly = likely; state + -ment = statement; face + -s = faces;
- Compound words
- note + pad = notepad; sale + s + person = salesperson; time + table = timetable
Some compound words don't have a magic e. Some words look compound but they are not.
- dromedary /ˈdrɒmədəri/ is not drome + dary in English (it comes from Greek and Latin)
- pomegranate /ˈpɒmɪɡrænɪt/ is not pome + granate in English (it comes from Old French)
- sovereign /ˈsɒvrɪn/ is not sove + reign in English (it comes from soverain in Old French)
- vine + yard = vineyard /ˈvɪnjərd/