What Are Silent Letters?

Have you ever wondered why the words write and right sound the same? And why does no one pronounce the second o in chocolate or the k in knife? English is not a phonetic language, which means we don’t pronounce every single letter. In fact, some of the most common words have silent letters. If you're interested in learning English, take a look at this week's lesson provided by Samantha Young, a teacher at our Boston Fenway English school.


So how do silent letters work?

There aren’t any particular rules when it comes to silent letters, but there are patterns. For example, you don’t pronounce an e if it is at the end of most words with a vowel and consonant before it, like in late, safe and mine.


Some common combinations you might already know

Certain combinations of letters create silent letters. For example, the word knight is pronounced n+ye+t. In kn combination, the k  is silent. In the ght combination, the gh is silent. It may seem weird, but you’ll pick it up soon enough!

  • Silent K in words that start with KN like know, knight and knee
  • Silent B in words that end with MB like dumb, bomb and crumb
  • Silent B in words with BT like debt, subtle and doubt
  • Silent GH in words that end in GHT like night, straight and eight
  • Silent N in words that end in MN like autumn, column and damn


listening silent letters
You won't be able to hear these letters, but we promise they're there!


Here are a few more common words with silent letters. Are you pronouncing them correctly?

 Silent L  would, talk, half, folk, almonds, salmon
 Silent S  island, aisle
 Silent O  chocolate, sophomore, Catholic
 Silent E  vegetable,Wednesday
 Silent W  two, who, whole, wrist, sword, answer
 Silent U  build, biscuit, guest, tongue, catalogue, plague
 Silent C  Connecticut
 Silent R  surprise
 Silent T  listen
 Silent H  ghost, rhyme, rhythm, Thailand, honest, hour
 Silent P  receipt, psychic, psychology, psychiatrist


Let’s practice

Now listen to a dialogue between two Kaplan students and follow along with the audioscript. Make a list of words with silent letters. Once you’ve finished, check your answers by clicking the link below.

silent letters conversation
Take a listen and see how many silent letters you spot


(Situation: Two students run into each other on the subway)

Laura: Hey Raul!

Raul: Oh hi Laura. What a surprise! What are you doing at the train station this late at night?

Laura: I just got back from visiting my boyfriend in Connecticut.

Raul: Nice, but I didn’t know you were dating an American. I thought you said he was from an island in Thailand.

Laura: He’s Thai, but he’s studying psychology in Connecticut. He’s a sophomore at Yale.

Raul: Wow, he must be smart.

Laura: Yeah, he always has answers to other people’s problems, but not his own. Then he’s a little dumb.

Raul: What kind of problems does he have?

Laura: He has some problems with debt. He’s still not good at managing his money.

Raul: I totally understand, as you can see from all the shopping bags.

Laura: Yeah, so what did you buy?

Raul: I went shopping for my camping trip. I bought meat, salmon, almonds, vegetables, biscuits, chocolate, special clothes for high altitude and a sword to fight wild animals. I spent the whole day shopping.

Laura: That sounds expensive.

Raul: No, I got great deals. You should see the receipts.

Laura: Listen, I would love to talk more, but this is my stop.

Raul: Oh, okay. It was great talking to you. See you on Wednesday.

Laura: Okay, see you then.


Test your answers and see how well you did at spotting silent letters!


Do you think you could read the dialogue as well as Laura and Raul? Practice with a friend, and then record it with your phone. Share your results with us in the comment section below or on our Facebook.

Share this with your friends
Related Posts