English Grammar: Silent Letters

Ask anyone. You will not find a single soul who does not despise silent letters. The English language has a huge amount of silent letters in its words. Actually, it is about 60 percent! Mostly, they are just leftovers which serve to remind us of the English language’s ancestors – Latin, French, Germanic, and other languages.

Essentially, silent letters are letters existing within a word, which are not pronounced verbally. For example: the letter P in psychology. That letter P is derived from the Greek language, and when English came along, the letter P stayed as a part of the word even though it is not pronounced.

The English language has undergone many changes and transformations throughout the ages. Some silent words serve a specific purpose which has a lot to do with how the language is spoken.


Silent letters can help tell same-sounding words (called homophones or homonyms) apart. For example:

aid – to assist


aide – an assistant (the E is not pronounced, but in spelling it that way it serves to differentiate the two)


Silent letters can be used to put a strong emphasis on specific parts of a word. For example:

Physics – the study of matter


Physiques – bodily appearance and proportions


Silent letters can give us an idea of the origin of certain words. For example:

Resign has a silent G, but it is derived from the word resignation, in which the G is not silent.


The reason for the existence of silent letters in the first place was due to the fact that when the first printing presses were introduced in England, the people controlling this marvelous technology were from Germania. They wanted to leave their mark on the language, and because there were no set rules of grammar and spelling as of yet, the Germanic tribes decided to make English closer to their native Germanic by use of letters which were not pronounced.

Silent letters have been around since the time of dinousaurs, and even they can't quite figure them out.

Silent letters have been around since the time of dinosaurs, and even they can’t quite figure them out.

These days, in Modern English, many silent letters have been taken out but many remain as an inseparable part of today’s English. While this can be very annoying, especially to those studying English as a foreign language, there are some rules that can assist in determining the use of silent letters. These aren’t iron-cast laws, but rather handy helpers when dealing with silent letters.

– Silent k before n – examples of silent k words are knife, knight, knit

– Silent w before r – examples of silent w words are wrist, wrought, wrench

– Silent g before n – examples of silent g words are gnat, Gnostic, gnaw

– Silent p before s – examples of silent p words are psychology, psalm, psoriasis

– A silent l is often before k – examples of silent l words are chalk, balk, talk

– A silent b is often after m – examples of silent b words are plumber, climb, dumb

– A silent n is often after m – examples of silent n words are column, autumn, condemn

– A silent t is often after s – examples of silent t words are listen, whistle, bustle


These are just a few examples. Seeing as the English language is replete with contradictory spellings and pronunciations, you have to treat each case of confusion with individual care and attention. However, I hope some of these rudimentary ideas can point you in the right direction!

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