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Most English students make this mistake: saying TOO MANY of the letters they’re reading. In this video you’ll learn how to make your spoken English accent smooth and confident. Get your first audiobook plus two Audible originals free when you try Audible for 30 days: https://www.audible.com/rachelsenglish or text rachelsenglish to 500 500.
Sshh. I’m the D in ‘Wednesday’. I’m the B in DEBT. I’m busy being silent.
Today we’re going over silent letters in English and some of the rules for them, and the many exceptions that these rules have. Stick with us, you’re going to learn a lot about correct English pronunciation.
What’s up with all these silent letters? Let’s just go through the alphabet. We’ll start with A. A is silent in the suffix –ally. And it’s tricky, because it looks like it should be a syllable, but it’s not. Logically. Not Lo-gic-a-ly. Just logically. Typically. Logically. Typically. Radically. Every time you see –ally at the end of a word, is the A silent? No, sorry, that would be too simple. Vocally, is not vok-li. It is three syllables. Legally is not le-gli. It’s three syllables. So how to do you know by looking? Well, you don’t. This is what truly makes American English hard. But many other words with –ally at the ending have a silent A.
Now there are some clearer rules here, thankfully. We don’t pronounce B after M. Climb, dumb, bomb, comb, thumb. All of these end in the M sound. If I did pronounce the B, it would sound like this: climb. Climb. But that’s not right, it’s climb. Oh great! Every time you see M followed by B, the B in silent. No. That’s not actually true. As you get into longer words, you’ll have to be a little more aware.
For example, amber. The M is at the end of the first syllable, and the B is at the beginning of the second syllable. We do pronounce both the M and the B. Amber. Amber. Say that with me. Amber. Amber is like a stone, but I don’t think it actually is a stone, it’s used a lot in jewelry. It’s also a word to describe this color. It’s also a name for women. Amber. We also have ambivalent. Ambassador. Akimbo. Arms akimbo is when your arms are like this, bent. Akimbo. These are all examples of B NOT silent after M because it’s in a different syllable. Ambivalent, ambassador, akimbo.
There’s another case where the B is silent, when it comes before a T. Debt, subtle, doubt. No B sound in any of these words. Debt, subtle, doubt. What about this rule? Always? Is a B before T always silent? No. In longer words, you’ll find lots of exceptions. For example a compound word, where the first word ends in B and the next word begins with T, like ‘bobtail’. Bob, bob, bobtail. It’s not ba-tail, bobtail. We do say that B.
Also with prefixes that end in B, like O-B and S-U-B. Obtain. B is not silent. Subtotal. B is not silent.
The Letter C. It’s silent in the state name Connecticut. This middle C is silent, we don’t say it at all. Connecticut. It can be silent after S, like in ‘muscle’, ‘scissors’, ‘scent, ’ ‘fascinating’, or ‘scene’. But it’s not always silent like in ‘scatter’ or ‘script’. And sometimes it goes in a different direction and becomes an SH after S, like in ‘conscience’ or ‘luscious’.
You know, let’s stop and think about this for a second. Every “rule” we’ve studied, there’s an exception. So why study the rule? What we’re doing here is going over fairly common words with a silent letter. American English pronunciation is not generally rule-oriented, so you do have to learn the pronunciation of words individually. But it is useful to be exposed to these general rules and these common words that have a silent letter. So you can start learning them. I had a student once who lived in the US and he worked at a seafood restaurant. And he didn’t know that L in ‘salmon’ was silent. How would he if he had never learned that or been taught that before? So what we’re doing here is exposing you to these silent letters, and also making sure you’re aware that these rules are not absolute rules that can be applied in every situation.
Ok, let’s get to D. We have Wednesday. There’s no rule here about why this D is silent, it just is in this word. It’s also silent in ‘handsome’. In the word ‘sandwich’, if you looked that up in the dictionary, you WOULD see the D sound. But it’s actually never pronounced that way. So Wednesday, Handsome: the dictionary says no D. But ‘Sandwich’, the dictionary does say D but it hasn’t caught up with the actual habits of how we speak. It’s not uncommon to drop the D after N. so that’s what’s happening in Sandwich. Also, words with the silent D, grandma and grandpa.
Now, with Sandwich, I talked about habit. In the dictionary, it says there is a D sound but that’s not our habit anymore. The thing about the D between two consonants is it’s really common in our habit to drop that D. To make it silent, even if that’s not what the dictionary says. This happens in words like sandpaper, soundproof, landmark, windmill. We drop the D because it’s between 2 other consonants.
I’ve seen other teachers say the D is silent in a word like ‘edge’, ‘bridge’, ‘knowledge’. Here’s the thing. In the word ‘edge’ the consonant sound is the J sound which is written in IPA like this. D, dd, plus ZH, zh, zh. So the J sound actually has a D in it. So I don’t think I would say the D is silent in these words. The D is part of the J sound.
Ok, let’s move on. The letter E. I’m going to go over a rule for this one, the ending E. But first, take a look at this word. Au-di-ble. There’s no vowel sound at the end of that word. Where’s the E sound? This is a great time to talk about our sponsor for this video, Audible. And you know what I love about Audible? There are thousands of audiobooks recorded by native speakers speaking every word you hear. So they’re going to be correctly pronounced, silent letters and all. A great way to work on your English skills.
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Okay, now, let’s get back to that rule. Silent ending E. This “rule” is taught quite a bit so you’re probably already familiar with it. Quite a bit. The word ‘quite’. I’m not saying a sound for the letter E on the end of the word, am I? Quite. Quite. The word ends with the T sound. Quite. But if I take away the E in that spelling, I have a different word. Quit. So the ending E can affect the vowel before the final consonant. It makes it “longer” . Quit, IH vowel, versus Quite, AI, AI diphthong, two sounds. Quite a bit. Now with ‘bit’, if I added an E at the end there, the word would be ‘bite’. Again, T is the final sound. The letter E doesn’t add an extra sound at the end, but it does change the vowel to a “longer” vowel sound. Bite, bit. This happens with a lot of words: hop, hope. Dim, dime. Rob, robe. Rat, rate. Breath, breathe. But note, in the word ‘café’, we do pronounce that E, even if it isn’t written with the accent. Café.
Also, a note about ED endings. Regular verbs are written this way to show the past tense, and now there are clear pronunciation rules for these. If the unconjugated verb ends in T or D, then we do make a sound for the letter E in the ED ending, and we have an extra syllable. Like, land, landed. But if the last letter of the unconjugated verb is any other letter, then we don’t make a sound for the letter E in the ED ending, and we just add a D or T sound. For example, hum, hummed. Not hum-ed. Or ‘pack’, packed. Not pack-ed. I do have a video that goes over these rules for ED endings in a little bit more depth with a few more examples so click here if you’re interested or see the link in the video description.
The letter F. Ok this letter is almost never silent, but actually, the Merriam-Webster dictionary does give the primary pronunciation of ‘fifth’ with a silent F in the middle. Fifth. That’s how I say it, just the first F sound, IH vowel, and the TH at the end. “Fith”.
The letter G. This is silent when a word begins with ‘GN’. Gnome, gnat. Gnaw. Also GN at the end of a word: design, sign, reign, foreign, assign, campaign. Also, ‘GNE’, like ‘champagne’, cologne. You know, I did some looking, and I didn’t see any exceptions to these rules. Wouldn’t that be neat if we found a rule with no exceptions? Also, the combination GH after a vowel or diphthong, silent G. Daughter, bright, though. Thigh, weigh, dough, eight. But there are some exceptions to this rule: cough, rough, tough. There, GH does make a sound, it’s the F sound.
The letter H. There are some common words that begin with a silent H, like hour, honor, honest, herb. But most words that begin with an H do have an H sound, like home, hope, happy. Words that begin with WH. These words have two different pronunciations, but the most common one is definitely with a silent H. Just a clean W sound: what, where, why, whistle.
Sometimes the CH combination makes a K sound, which makes it feel like the H is silent, like in ‘choir’ or ‘chaos’ or ‘echo’. When GH is at the beginning of the word, H is silent like in ‘ghost’ or ‘ghetto’.
H is silent after R like in rhyme, rhythm, and rhubarb. But this rule doesn’t work in compound words where the sounds are in two separate syllables, like ‘overheard’ or ‘bearhug’, or in the word ‘perhaps’. There, both sounds are pronounced.
Perhaps. Perhaps this is a good time to take a minute, take a break and let all this silence set in. The link to the second part of this two-part series is right here. But if you’re seeing this video in it’s first week, that video isn’t ready yet, it’s coming out on Tuesday of next week, so be here to see it.
If that’s the case, I cannot recommend highly enough getting to know the International Phonetic Alphabet. Lots of dictionaries use it and it’s your key to understanding the pronunciation of any word. To knowing if any letters are silent. I have put together a playlist where I go over the IPA symbols for each sound in American English so you can really start to get comfortable with them.
Please do subscribe if you haven’t already and make sure notifications are enabled, then come join me here every Tuesday for we have a new video studying something interesting about American English pronunciation. I love teaching you English, thank you so much for being here and see you next week.