Silent Letters.

"I hate spelling!" "Why don't we spell like we speak?" "Why are there so many letters we don't pronounce?"

knee, knock, half, calm, wrist, write, plumber, daughter, though, island...

Silent letters are the letters in words that are not pronounced but make a huge difference to the meaning and sometimes the pronunciation of the whole word. 

Most of these silent letters were pronounced for centuries then they became silent but the spelling was already fixed with these spellings, and now they show the history of the word.

The bad news is that more than 60% of English words have silent letters in them which can cause all sorts of problems with spelling the word or looking for it in a dictionary.

The good news is there are some rules about what letters are silent before or after certain letters ( but like all English spelling rules there are exceptions to the rule). 

Silent letters aren't there to mess with your brain - honest. They're there for various reasons and so identifying and understanding them will definitely help your spelling, writing and confidence.

1. They help the reader to distinguish between homophones (homophones have the Same sound but different meaning and different spelling and there are loads of these nightmare words in English) in/inn, be/bee,to/too/two, know/no, whole/hole, knot/not,

2. A silent letter can help us work out the meaning of the word and it also can change the pronunciation even though it's silent - sin/sign, rat/rate

3. Magic 'e' - if you add 'e' at the end of short vowel sound words it elongates the sound - rid/ride, cop/cope, hat/hate, tap/tape, at/ate, mat/mate, ( check out my magic 'e' video - click here ).

4. Sometimes people might pronounce certain letters or they might not depending on their accent, for example the t in 'often' can be pronounced or not.

5. H is silent in a lot of accents. For me h is a difficult letter to pronounce because I grew up dropping the hand my muscle memory doesn't like it at all! But the H is silent in some words from French - hour, honest, honour, heir, herb (in American)

6. They show the origins and history (etymology) of a word.

One way to start to love spelling and improve it is to take an interest in words, to discover the logic in the spelling system and to understand the background and history of words, and this especially true for learning silent letters.

Do you know why there are silent letters in these words?.
1. What's the origin of words with the silent k and g? Knife, knock, know, knee, gnat, gnaw?
2. Why is there a silent b in plumber?
3. Why are there silent letters in doubt, debt, receipt?
4. What's the origin of the words with the silent 'gh' like daughter, night, light,  bright, dough, bough (branch of a tree) and why is 'gh' in cough and enough  pronounced with a 'f'?
5. Why is there a silent s in island?


1. Knife, knock, know, gnat, gnaw are all Viking words which used to be pronounced but we leave the letters in there to see the origin and history of the word (in Sweden they still say the silent letter in knife kneefe)
2. Plumber comes from the Latin word "plumbum" for lead (lead pipe used by Roman plumbers!)
3. 16th century academics messed around with our spelling by wanting to make it more Latin and so added letters to words like debt, doubt and island.
4. That difficult -gh- letter pattern is from the Anglo- Saxons - daughter, night, cough, dough, bright... the -gh- used to be -h- and pronounced like the Scottish loch, a hard sound - until the French invaded and messed around with our spelling and added the g. Then the -gh- became silent or pronounced with a 'f' sound.

Fnd out more in my ebook - The Reasons Why English Spelling is so Weird and Wonderful. Click here for more information about the ebook that'll change the way you think about spelling and improve it.

There are some rules about what letters are silent before or after certain letters ( but like all English spelling rules there are exceptions to the rule). 
silent 'k' before 'n' knee know knuckle knock
silent 'w' before 'r' write wrist wrong wrap
silent 'g' before 'n' gnash gnat gnaw gnarl
silent 'p' before 's' psalm psychic psychology psychiatry

Some words have silent letters in the middle or at the end.
'l' is often before 'k' folk
‘b’ is often silent after ‘m’ plumber
‘n’ is often silent after ‘m’ column
‘t’ is often silent after ‘s’ listen

spelling tests

The spelling test below has some important words with silent letters in them. There are 18 key words.

sound spelling test iconClick here to do the spelling test

Spelling test answers below

silent letters

Spelling test answers

1. Wednesday
2. autumn
3. sign
4. night
5. building
6. guess
7. white
8. listen
9. knock
10. know
11. thumb
12. doubt
13. talk
14. walk
15. half
16. write
17. wrinkle
18. wrong

Click here to try the silent letter crossword, word search and exercises