What is a silent letter?
Simply, a silent letter is a letter in a word that is written, but not pronounced, making things very difficult for non-native speakers! Some examples: K in Knife, W in Write, or the G in Gnaw.
So, why even have these letters in the words at all? Well, the spelling of English words actually contains quite a lot of history! In the 15th century about 90% of English words were pronounced the way they were spelled… compare that to today when it’s only 40%!
Why? Well it has to do with the evolution of the language and influences from other languages, especially Latin and French. However, these new words from the other languages caused problems because they didn’t follow the same grammar rules as English. So, even though the spelling of these words remained the same, some letters had to become silent to conform to the rules of the English language.
As time passed, the pronunciation continued to change, which is why you can find a silent letter at the start of a word, in the middle or at the end! Because around 60% of words contain a silent letter, it’s important to know HOW to spot them and how to spell and pronounce them. Even though the letters are technically silent, they still influence the way the word is pronounced… look at the difference between these words; sin/sign, grim/grime, cop/cope, and rat/rate.
So, remember that silent letters are not there to trick you, but actually to help you! Next time we will look at some of the common rules to help you identify silent letters.
Until then, happy pronunciation everyone!