Silent letter

From Teflpedia

There are several silent letters or combinations of letters in English. In fact, depending on the word, over three quarters of the letters in the alphabet can be silent. If the letter in question is a vowel, it may also mean that a whole syllable is left out, as in "chocolate". One of the most frequent cases is that of the final, "silent e". Students often ask why English has silent letters, and the most common reason is that the letter was, in actual fact, originally pronounced. The monks, when adapting the Latin alphabet to the existing words in Old English, wrote down what they heard. Thus, the "modern" word know was originally spelled cnawan and the initial /k/ was sounded. Likewise, the initial "w" in writan, today's write. In fact, most letters were originally sounded, including that omnipresent final, magic e, which eventually evolved into a way of marking a long vowel (and becoming "silent" in the process).[1]

Individual letters[edit]

  • silent "a": automatically - basically - dramatically - logically - romantically - specifically - typically
  • silent "au": restaurant
  • silent "b": aplomb - bomb - climb - comb - crumb - debt - doubt - dumb - lamb - limb - numb - plumb - subtle - succumb - thumb - womb
  • silent "c": Connecticut - indict - muscle
  • redundant "c": acquire - black - scene
  • silent "d": handkerchief - handsome - sandwich (only in some dialects) - Wednesday - thousandth
  • redundant "d": adjust
  • silent "g": align - assign - foreign - gnat - gnaw - sign;
  • silent "gh": bought - bright - caught - eight - flight - fought - height - high - light - night - ought - nought - right - sigh - sight - slight - straight - taught - though - thought - through - tight - weigh - weight;
  • silent "h": exhibition - heir - honest - honorAmE - honourBrE - hour - vehicle
  • "ch" as /k/: anchor - mechanics - school
  • "gh": ghetto - ghost - spaghetti
  • "rh": diarrheaAmE - diarrhoeaBrE - rhubarb - rhyme - rhythm
  • "th" as /t/: AnthonyBrE - apartheid - Neanderthal - Thai - Thames - Thomas - thyme
  • "wh" (identical to "w" in most dialects"): whale - what - when - which - whim - whistle - white
  • silent "i": business;
  • silent "k": knee - knife - knit - knock - know - knowledge;
  • silent "l": almond - calm - could - half - should - stalk - talk - walk - would
  • silent "m": mnemonic
  • silent "n": autumn - column - condemn - damn - hymn - solemn
  • silent "o": chocolate - colonel - people
  • silent "p": cupboard - pneumatic - pneumonia - psalm - psoriasis - psychiatry - psychology - receipt
  • silent "r": In most of the United Kingdom and small parts of North America "r" is silent unless it is followed by a vowel. However "r" is seldom redundant, as the following pairs show: cat - cart; bet - Bert; bid - bird; shot - short; hut - hurt; bead -beard;
  • truly silent "r": dossier, hors d'oeuvre
  • silent "or": comfortable
redundant "s": scene
  • silent "t": castle - listen - often (only in some dialects) - whistle;
redundant "t": catch
  • silent "u": antique - chequeBrE - guard - guitar - risqué;
  • silent "w": acknowledge - answer - sword - who - whole - whore - wreck - wrinkle - wrist - write;
  • silent "z": rendezvous
  • homophones: aisle - isle - I'll; damn - dam; hour - our; muscle - mussel; sight - site; sign - sine; thyme - time; stalk - storkBrE; would - wood; write - right - rite

Coalescence[edit]

IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see

The letter "i" in many suffixes sort of melts (coalesces) with the preceding consonant.

  • "ti" = /ʃ/
-tion: combination, station, motion
-tious: ambitious, nutritious
  • "ci" = /ʃ/
-cial: special, beneficial
-cian: musician, technician
-cion: suspicion
-cious: delicious, suspicious
  • "si" = /ʒ/
-sion: confusion, vision
  • "ssi" = /ʃ/
-ssion: compassion, permission
Other consonants
  • "di" = /dʒ/
soldier /ˈsəʊldʒər/
  • "xi" = /kʃ/
anxious /ˈæŋkʃəs/
Other vowels
  • righteous /ˈraɪtʃəs/
  • ocean /ˈəʊʃən/

References[edit]

  1. Crystal, D. Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling Profile Books ISBN 978-184668567 5

See also[edit]

External links[edit]