Friday, January 11, 2013

Silent Letters in English

Silent letters in English represent a challenge both to the student and to the teacher. 

Often, the silent letter seems to serve no purpose, and this is what causes such frustration. 

Gh is one of the letter combinations that is silent. 

This is a left over from Middle English when it was pronounced.  Light, Knight, fight are some examples of this type of silent letter. 

Another type of silent letter is a word related to a cognate word, that is a word coming from another language.  phlegm  The g is silent, practically  the second a is silent. 

Then there are empty letters, that don't have a sound, but are in the spelling of the word.  
answer, the s is silent.  When I am teaching this word as a spelling word, I tell the students to pronounce the s! 
island, the s is silent, subtle, the b is silent, in ballet, the t is silent, but since this word comes from French it is easy to understand why it is silent. 

Where there are words that have come from other languages, such as Greek, many letters are silent. 
psychology, in the ps  it is not really silent, but the p is almost silent.   The word mnemonic, the m is silent.

Not all silent letters are without use however, 

There are some words that have silent letters, but serve as markers for homophones, words that have the same sound but different meanings. 

bee - be  The second e in bee tells me that this is an insect. 
see - sea  The a in sea give the word a different meaning.  
read - red  Red is the color. 

This is useful to spelling, as if you know the meaning of the word, you will know how to spell it. 


Put the correct word in the blank. 

I have a _______________________________ pencil. 

Do you really want to study ____________________________?

Please ______________ reasonable, and put on a coat to go outside in the snow! 

Turn off the __________________________, your sister is sleeping.

Tell me the ________________________, and then write it down. 

Good luck with silent letters! 
Rachael Orbach 

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