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The Rules of Silent Letters

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 12/27/2013

Knowing the rules for silent letters can help you develop a better understanding of the English language. The letters that are to be silent are determined in the context of where they occur in the word, and knowing when not to pronounce a letter is a matter of study and practice.

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    Why Do We Need Them?

    In many English words, you will come across some letters that are spelled yet not pronounced. These unpronounced but visible letters English Language Arts are known as silent letters. They occur frequently in the English language and usually make life difficult for the new learner. Why do we need to have such letters in a word in the first place? That's a good question, and answers vary: Sometimes a digraph changes relative to the word etymology. Some words with silent letters come from a foreign language. Right now, we will take only a cursory look at which letters in words are to remain mute, and we will look at some silent letter rules that will help us recognize when certain letters are to be silent. To get a good grounding in silent letters apart from knowing the rules, it will help to read extensively in English.

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    Silent Letters

    Let's take a look at some rules for silent letters:

    1. The letter B is usually silent when used after the letter M and also before the letter T.

    • Examples before M: Jamb, Lamb, Comb, Tomb
    • Examples before T: Subtle, Doubt

    2. The letter C is silent when used before the letter Z and sometimes when used before the letter L and the letter K.

    • Examples before Z: Tzar, Czarina, Czechoslovakia
    • Example before L: Muscle
    • Examples before K: Block, Puck

    3. The letter D is silent when it appears before the letter N and then also before the letter G.

    • Example before N: Wednesday
    • Example before G: Cadge

    4. Let's look at the letter E.

    • If E happens to be at the end of a word, it is generally not pronounced.
    • Examples: Able, Challenge, Bible
    • If E happens to occur right before the letter D in simple past tense or past participle forms of verbs, E may sometimes not be pronounced.
    • Examples: Smuggled, Dragged, Chained

    5. The letter G is silent when it is used before the letters M, N and L.

    • Examples before N: Deign, Reign
    • Example before M: Diaphragm
    • Example before L: Intaglio

    6. The letter H is often silent when it precedes the letters E and O, and when it follows the letters G, R and T.

    • Examples before A, E, I and O: Hallelujah, Honest, Historical
    • Examples after G: Ghost, Ghirken
    • Example after R: Myrrh
    • Example after T: Isthmus

    7. The letter K is always silent when it precedes the letter N.

    • Examples: Know, Knock, Knife, Knight
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    Teaching Silent Letters

    Explain what silent letters are and the rules to the students. Provide students with a list and examples of rules for silent letters.

    Have the students compile a vocabulary list of silent letter words.

    Have the students read through a text and make a note of the silent letter words that they find in it.

    Have the students play word games; for example, filling in the silent letters in a written word or guessing which is the silent letter in a spoken word.

    Memorizing words is a good idea, but reading a lot is even better. The more the students read, the more familiar they'll become with the concept of silent letter rules and the more adept they'll become at using the language.