Silent letters

Vivian Cook

Spelling data
Common patterns

Examples of each letter being silent
This excludes letter pairs which link to a single sound of their own such as 'th' in this. Some letters seem never to be silent
.

A

artistically, dramatically, stoically, musically, romantically, logically

B

climb, numb, plumb, comb, thumb, tomb, Woolacombe, crumb, debt, doubt, subtle

C

acquit, victual, Jacques, acquire, czar, indict, Connecticut, muscle, scissors, Tucson

D

grandson, handkerchief, sandwich, handsome, landscape, Windsor, Wednesday

E

rite, fame, serve, enclose, bridge, more, careful, clue, lonely, vogue, hope, corpse, fate

F

halfpenny

G

though, light, align, gnash, reign, champagne, diaphragm, high, gnaw, ghost, intaglio

H

hour, hurrah, Pooh, khaki, Gandhi, heir, Birmingham, exhaust, Thames, exhibition

I

business

J

 (none)

K

know, knead, knot, knife, knickers, knell, knight, Knox, Knowles, blackguard, knock

L

salmon, psalm, almond, calf, half, folk, yolk, Colne, Norfolk, chalk, calm, talk

M

mnemonic

N

autumn, solemn, condemn, damn, hymn, monsieur, column

O

 people ?colonel?

P

corps, pneumonia, pseudo, ptomaine, psychology, ptomaine, coup, receipt, Thompson

Q

(none)

R

myrrh, diarrhoea
(in British English all r's are 'silent' before consonants as in card or before silence as in car)

S

island, isle, viscount, apropos, aisle, debris, bourgeois, Illinois, Basle, bourgeois, fracas

T

ballet, ricochet, Christmas, gourmet, tsunami, thistle, rapport, asthma, listen, castle, soften

U

guest, questionnaire, guitar, catalogue, guilt, tongue, colleague, guide, dialogue

V

(none)

W

sword, greensward, answer, Greenwich, Norwich, write, two, wrist, writ, whore, whole

X

 faux pas, Sioux

Y

(none)

Z

 rendezvous, laissez-faire, chez

 

Reasons for 'silent' letters

  • distinguishing words: whole from hole, plum from plumb, hour from our, etc
  • showing long vowels: rid/ride, 'hard' consonants guest/gest
  • connecting different forms of the same word resign/resignation.

Causes of 'silent' letters

  • historical change: the sound has dropped out of the word over time but the spelling has not changed: light, hope, knot
  • addition of letters: the letter was added to make the spelling more 'French' or 'Latin': debt, victual, island
  • difficult sound combinations:handkerchief, sandwich
  • borrowings: the word was originally borrowed from another language, complete with spelling: champagne, khaki, myrrh

Letter frequencies Structure word rules  I before E