Silent e

From Teflpedia
Revision as of 03:55, 6 September 2016 by (talk) (Other function or no function)

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).[1]

Magic e

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
price mouth choice
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
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

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",[2] 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

In these words, the vowel sound is long but it isn't a magic e because it doesn't make the vowel say its name:

  • gasoline - machine - magazine - submarine - vaseline

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 - give - have - improve - involve - leave - live /lɪv/ - love - move - receive - serve
Magic e: arrive - drive - live /laɪv/ - save - wave
  • /uː/:argue - blue - continue - due - issue - pursue - rescue - revenue - tissue - true - value


  • "v": mazeltov - of - perv
  • "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:

  • rhythm
  • some contractions: couldn't - doesn't - hasn't - isn't - shouldn't - wouldn't
  • all words ending in "sm": enthusiasm - mechanism
See also

IPA phonetic symbol [l̩]

Keep a singular word from ending in 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 pronunciation exercises: /s/ vs /z/

Other function or no function

In these words, the silent e does not affect the pronunciation or has a function that is not listed in any of the above. Most of these have short vowels instead of long.

  • are - come - corporate - determine - discipline - done - famine - gone - imagine - medicine - private - some
  • breeze - freeze - maize - sneeze
  • antique - catalogue - cheque - colleague - dialogue - giraffe - league - programmeBrE - technique - tongue - 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/

  • /ɪ/: college
  • /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


  1. All About Learning Press, How to Teach Silent E. They list 4 uses, and then "keeps a singular word from ending in s".
  2. DailyWritingTips, Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E”

See also

External links