A silent letter is a letter that is part of a word’s written spelling, but is not pronounced when the word is read out loud.
Why do silent letters exist?
This varies depending on the etymology of each word. Generally, silent letters often occur in words originally adopted from other languages that have been subsumed into English. Many of our words have roots in Latin, German, French or Dutch. Moreover, in some words the now silent letters would have been pronounced in the past as in Medieval times, for example, much of the language was more phonetic. Pronunciations change over time.
Are there rules to learn?
Unfortunately, there are few spelling rules that tell us when to use a silent letter, but there are general guidelines on whether a letter should be pronounced or not. For example:
B is usually silent before the letters M and T: lamb, plumber, comb, tomb & subtle, debt, doubt.
G is silent before an N: gnome, resign, foreigner.
Also, G is silent before M as in diaphragm.
The more you learn, the more patterns you will see.
So, what is the best way to learn silent letters?
Practice is the key- perhaps you could have a go at making sentences with as many silent letters in as possible. It may initially be beneficial to pronounce the silent letter in your head to help you to remember the spelling. Also, highlight the silent letters, as above, or write them in a different colour to make them stand out to you. Read more about them here or try the quiz here.
Could you give some more examples?
I would be delighted! Perhaps you would like them in sentences, just for a change. See if you can spot the silent letters in the following:
Silent N: Last Autumn, hymns were all we could hear coming from the church with the columns at the end of our road.
Silent D: The handsome man trimmed his hedge on Wednesday, with the help of a badger.
Silent U: When my guest left, I discovered the rogue had stolen a biscuit and a guitar.
Silent H: Which ghost could be knocking on the door with such an insistent rhythm at this hour? Honestly!
Silent K: The knight knew that a knife to the knee would knock him, but a knitting needle to the knee was far worse!
Silent L: The calf was calm until it saw a salmon walk and talk.
Silent W: Two wrens wrestled for the sword.
Do let me know if you can think of any more- I’d love to read your silent letter sentences. Please like and share if you found this helpful!