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Why Are There Silent Letters in English?

Silent letters are a curious feature of the English language that often puzzle new learners. If you're learning English, you may have noticed that certain letters in English words are not pronounced, despite being written. In today's English lesson, we're going to explore why English has silent letters, what letters are commonly silent in English words, and provide some examples to help you understand how they work.

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Firstly, why does English have silent letters? One of the main reasons is that English has borrowed words from many different languages over the centuries, and the spelling of these words often reflects their origins. Over time, the pronunciation of words changes, but their spelling remains the same. Another reason is that silent letters can help to distinguish between words that would otherwise be spelled the same way, giving them different meanings.

So, what letters are commonly silent in English words? Here are some examples:

  • "K" is often silent in English words. Examples include "knee", "know", and "knock". These words come from Old English, which used to pronounce the "k" sound, but the pronunciation has changed over time.

  • "B" is silent in some English words, such as "doubt", "comb", and "subtle". In these cases, the "b" was pronounced in earlier versions of the word, but is now silent.

  • "G" is silent in many English words, including "sign", "gnat", and "foreign". These words come from languages such as French and Latin, where the "g" was pronounced.

  • "H" is also sometimes silent in English words, such as "hour", "honest", and "ghost". The "h" was originally pronounced in these words, but the pronunciation has changed over time.

  • "W" can sometimes be silent in English words, such as "wrist", "answer", and "sword". In these words, the "w" was pronounced in Old English, but is no longer pronounced in Modern English.

As you can see, there are several different letters that can be silent in English words, and the reasons for this can vary.

Learning to recognize and remember silent letters in English words can be challenging, but practice and exposure to the language can help. Reading and listening to English words in context can help you to identify and remember the silent letters in words. If you're not sure about the pronunciation of a word, you can always look it up in a dictionary to see if any letters are silent.


Ready to try another lesson? Check out this lesson on the difference between persons, peoples, and people.

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