Talk:Silent letter

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Great, except. . .[edit]

Where is the explanation for why silent letters exist? Isn't that something this article should address? I'd guess most people who come to this article are looking for that answer. I know I was. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:12, 20 May 2008 (UTC)

The fact remains, which everyone would like to ignore, that silent letters do not exist. Due to regional dialectal variation caused often by cross-lingual corruption, vulgarities and slang are common as are "silent letters". If people were less lazy and more educated, they would know to pronounce each letter. Alsobeing that with the aforementioned corruption there are differences in pronounciation letter by letter, I assume that I shall encounter resistance by those that would rather standardise pronounciation to avoid revealing those vulgar differences. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:08, 8 May 2010 (UTC)
ROTFL. That's the kind of uninformed lay "prescriptivism" that gives prescriptivism its bad reputation among linguists. The b in subtle, doubt or debt, for example, has never been pronounced by anyone, and I dare you to pronounce all the cases of silent letters listed in this article. Likely, you wouldn't even manage to, and your English would come out garbled and unintelligible. Written language and spoken language are simply two quite different things: A certain amount of prescriptivism (as in historically justified conservatism) is sensible for formal, standardised written language, but any attempt to regularise spoken language in this way is pure lunacy and ignores the fact that written language (even in its most formal and standardised forms) is derived from spoken language, not the other way round. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 12:41, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

Pronunciation of "soften"[edit]

Someone not logged in deleted "soften" from a list of words with silent letters and left the comment: "removed the exmple of a silent 't' in 'soften' becuase it isn't silent" [sic]. Does this statement apply to any major dialects of English? I checked a half-dozen American, British, and Australian dictionaries, and none indicated that the 't' is pronounced even optionally. Unless there is evidence that a significant number of English speakers do pronounce the 't', I would vote to restore the "soften" example to the article. Tomgally 01:01, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

It was me who revomed the soften example. I have only ever heard north americans drop the 't' from 'soften.' It stikes me as a little odd that the all the dictionaries you checked say that the 't' is silent, since I can't recall ever hearing a British person drop the 't' (I live in Britian). I don't think a letter who's silence (or lack thereof) is dependant on accent should really be counted a silent letter. Misodoctakleidist 17:58, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

I agree with you that if many British people do pronounce the 't' in "soften," then it shouldn't be included as an example in the article. The British dictionaries I checked were the Collins English Dictionary, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, New Penguin English Dictionary, and Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. None shows a 't' in the pronunciation. But there's a huge variety of British dialects, and dictionaries tend to recognize only a narrow range of southern English accents. Just out of curiosity, what part of Britain do you live in? Tomgally 00:06, 24 August 2005 (UTC)
I live in Cumbria (North-West England). I also checked the New Penguin English Dictionary, and there was no 't' in the pronounciation. You are right that dictionaries usually consider only recieved pronounciation. Although, I can't say I've ever noticed anyone with a RP accent dropping the 't' either. Perhaps I am just wrong. Misodoctakleidist 22:49, 25 August 2005 (UTC)
Having been a British person all my life I would suggest that the received English is entirely with a silent T. This is from an Essex boy that goes to university in wales. The only way I can imagine the T being pronounced is in that it changes the pronunciation from a long to a short O (soff-n instead of soaf-n)--Shadebug 12:45, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
It may surprise you to learn that some parts of the country exist north of Birmingham. Misodoctakleidist 18:53, 4 December 2006 (UTC)
True enough, but being that RP as well as fair chunk of the population live below that line, I would say it's still a valid point.--Shadebug 23:56, 19 December 2006 (UTC)
I have never heard anyone pronounce soften with a long o. Misodoctakleidist 18:48, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
Nor is Shadebug claiming that, but rather that that would be the 'natural' pronunciation of sofen. —Tamfang (talk) 18:13, 28 March 2014 (UTC)

English Examples[edit]

Here's the paragraph giving some examples of silent letters in English.

In English, examples of silent letters include the "p" in "psychology," the "e" in "hope," and the "n" in "damn." The "t"s in "often" and "tsunami" are silent in some speakers' pronunciation of the words but spoken in others'.

How can you call the <e> in "hope" silent? It's a magic <e>: part of the representation of the vowel. Omit to <e> and you get "hop". I'm changing this example. - Jim 25Apr05

Good point. Thanks for making that change. It would be nice, too, to have some examples from languages other than English. Any French speakers care to contribute? Tomgally 05:30, 26 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I don't think grandfather is a good example, pronouncing the "d" is by far more common than the silent version. I'm from Australia, things may be different in America, but I'm sure its at least reasonably common to pronounce the d.

I'd agree that the D in grandfather, at least in British English, is silent more due to laziness than to that being proper pronunciation.--Shadebug 12:48, 13 November 2006 (UTC)

Trivia question (classroom full of students thinks I (the teacher) should know![edit]

What word in the English language has the most silent letters?

The only one I could think of with more than one (off the top of my head) was "whistle" with two. (I'm pretty sure even RP-speaking Brits don't pronounce THAT "t"!)

Isn't the e in whistle also silent? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:46, 11 July 2008 (UTC)

"Queue"? Pronounced "Q". (talk) 15:45, 28 April 2009 (UTC)
"boatswain" pronounced bəʊsn̩ for 5 silent letters (a, t, w, a, and i) -- (talk) 12:42, 15 April 2015 (UTC)

Silent letters in French car brand names[edit]

How many silent letters have the French car brand names "Renault", "Peugeot", and "Citroën"? -- 11:07, 13 July 2006 (UTC)

Renault: the two final consonants are silent.
Peugeot: the final consonant is silent. The second 'e' isn't pronounced, but forces the 'g' to its fricative palato-alveolar form.
Citroën: no silent letter. (talk) 09:29, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Silent C and Silent H[edit]

Any chance somebody more informed than myself could mention silent Cs and the position of the English language on Hs, both at the beginning of letters. That is, silent Cs such as Cnidarian or Cthonic and why anybody in their right mind would stay at an hotel or get treated at an hospital. I'm teaching english as a second language and, although as primary school students they won't care, I'd like to make sure I've got this right.--Shadebug 12:54, 13 November 2006 (UTC)

I don't know about those C words, but in most dialects of English, the h in hospital is fully pronounced. There is the fact that some speakers do not pronounce h's at the beginning of words with unaccented first syllables, like in "an historic," and in certain dialects, there is the yew-hew merger, where any incidence of the cluster /hj/ to be pronounced only as /j/, but this is seen as incorrect, even by those who speak a dialect where this is the norm.

RJM (talk) 04:17, 18 May 2009 (UTC)

Why are not silent letters dropped altogether?[edit]

Silent letters are not easy for kids to grasp. What's more, it is not easy for adults either. Why hasn't the silent letters gone away altogether? These letters are doing good to no one. Take, the Americans. They have successfully eliminated the 'u' from most words that have a combination of 'ou'. For example, 'color' has replaced 'colour', 'endeavor' has replaced 'endeavour' and no one is complaining. Then, why are we holding on to the 'knee'? A makeover by dropping silent letters will go a long way in making the language easy. [1] Essentialwitness (talk) 13:08, 1 June 2009 (UTC)

Silent E's at the end of words were not originally silent. There was a sound change that modified the pronunciation of the words containing this; originally it was pronounced as a schwa with the preceding vowel pronounced differently as in German. In the same way, the silent K's were also pronounced before. These letters were retained as a matter of culture. The dropped U's in American English were more a matter of Americans separating themselves from the British as opposed to simplifying the language. It's a matter of English speakers retaining the culture of their spelling instead of abandoning it for simplification. The Japanese could probably simplify their written language by devising a new writing method, but there is already a culture surrounding both, and they are unlikely to change much further.
--RJM (talk) 19:46, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

As well, please keep in mind that this is a talk page about the article, not about the concept of a silent letter and debating whether spelling reforms should be made... LjL (talk) 19:52, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

silent b and a —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:59, 16 October 2009 (UTC)

Pronunciation of Practically[edit]

Similarly to "soften" above, some dialects pronounce it "pract-i-ca-ly" and some drop the a for "pract-i-cly". Bad example? (talk) 04:11, 22 November 2009 (UTC)

Display of IPA zero symbol for silent letters[edit]

In the intro paragraph there is the text "the symbol ∅ is used, which is like a diamond with a slash through it." On my screen - Windows XP in Google Chrome browser - the symbol I see looks nothing like "a diamond" but rather a circle with a slash through it - the same as given earlier in the discussion of "empty set symbol." The source code has 'IPA|∅' inside double curly braces.

Does anyone know where to get the correct symbol the text is referring to, with a diamond shape? As it stands there is a contradiction between the copy and the symbol.Birdbrainscan (talk) 12:34, 5 April 2010 (UTC)

As the article now correctly says, it is not a diamond and it has never been. It is simply a circle with a slash through it. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 13:09, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

Silent U in QU ??? Extremely doubtful[edit]

A one-sentence paragraph in the article reads:

"After ‹g› or ‹q›, ‹u› is almost always silent."

There is no citation for this supposed fact, and

I. I strongly doubt that many experts in phonetics would agree with the statement as regards QU.

The reason is that by itself, in the rare word where Q occurs without a U, the Q fairly consistently has a K sound -- and not a KW sound. The implication is that in QU combinations that sound like KW, it is the U that is responsible for the W sound.

If this seems unlikely, note that a K sound followed immediately by a long OO sound (as in pool or moon) and then another vowel sound -- when pronounced quickly together -- create essentially a KW sound before the final vowel. (To see this, say KOO-IT faster and faster. Soon enough it will sound just like QUIT.)

For this reason, I believe the statement about QU should be omitted, since it is simply not true.

II. The quoted statement also fails to be true for GU as well.

Many, many, many words simply pronounce the U after a hard G sound! (Like gum, gut, gust, guff, gull, gum, etc.)

There are also plenty of words where -- for reasons similar to the case of QU -- the GU diphthong sounds like GW. (E.g., anguish, guano, linguistics, guava, unguent.)

III. For these reasons I have removed that sentence. (There may be circumstances in which the claim is true: for example, when GUE or QUE *ends* a word. But I would certainly disagree with the "almost always" characterization in the sentence as it was written.)Daqu (talk) 02:32, 13 January 2011 (UTC)

I completely agree.
Generally, the "q" represents /k/ and the "u" represents /w/. Sometimes, though, the "u" is silent, e.g. "mosquito" and 'masquerade". Note, however, that in some acronyms, e.g. "Qantas", the "q" by itself gets pronounced /kw/ but this could be attributed to the fact that "q" almost always combines with "u" to form "qu" representing /kw/ (though not in "Qatar", "Iraq", "Quran", etc.), so, through force of habit, it gets pronounced that way even in the absence of the "u".
As for "gu", on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast. As mentioned above, "u" sometimes does its regular job as a vowel, e.g. "gut", or as part of a consonant-vowel digraph, e.g. "legume". Sometimes the "u" separates the "g" from the following letter so that it is pronounced /g/ rather than /dʒ/, e.g. "guitar" or "tongue", in which case it is kind of silent (in that it's not pronounced) but perhaps not truly silent (in that it still influences pronunciation). Sometimes, as with "u" after "q" it represents /w/, e.g. "language" (as mentioned above). Sometimes, though, it really could be said to be silent, e.g. "guard" and "guarantee". Jimp 07:15, 22 May 2015 (UTC)

Some proposals for extension[edit]

Hi, what about looking for arab languages (there is a lot of examples to be found)? Checking the role, building words while speaking does play? And if You find some orthographic errors, I beg Your pardon, my native language is not english Bussakendle (talk) 13:30, 12 July 2013 (UTC)

As some of the characters in the existing parts of the article are represented as unreadable on my monitors screen, I unfortunately was only able to add some additional information, but I am not able to add remarks or sources to existing text. Bussakendle (talk) 15:39, 12 July 2013 (UTC)


I don't understand the inclusion of this would in this article, while it is certainly true that the pronunciation of the combined word is not the same as how each of the constituent words would be pronounced, there is no silent letter in the word "breakfast", unles there is some dialect I am not aware of. (talk) 17:30, 22 July 2013 (UTC)

No, there is no silent letter in "breakfast". It's just the "ea" digraph being pronounced as /e/ as in "lead", "head", "weapon", etc. Jimp 07:18, 22 May 2015 (UTC)


‘The letter ⟨h⟩ is always silent,’

Nonsense. -- (talk) 00:47, 17 August 2013 (UTC)


A weird example:

Occasionally, spurious letters are consciously inserted in spelling. ... the "ongue" element of "tongue"; and countless others.

I suppose this was meant to be "the ue of tongue" (which I guess was added to match langue and other French words similarly pronounced). That whole sentence needs work; I'll cut tongue from it for now. —Tamfang (talk) 18:19, 28 March 2014 (UTC)

There's nothing spurious going on here at all. In mediæval times they were loath to use "u" next to "m", "n", "w" or "v" because it would result in something difficult to read (due to the way they would write the letters), so, instead they replaced the "u" with an "o". Hence we have "come", "some", "son", "wonder", "love", etc. The "e" in many of these words indicates that the "o" is to be pronounced like a "u". Thus instead of "tung" you'd get "tonge", however, this would not do because an "e" directly following a "g" would turn it into /dʒ/ (i.e. /tʌndʒ/), so, the "u" is inserted to separate them giving us "tongue" (i.e. /tʌŋ/). Jimp 07:27, 22 May 2015 (UTC)


"Handwritten notes use a circle with a line through it and the sound is called 'zero'". Firstly, it isn't a sound if it's silent. Secondly, it's not clear how phonetic transcription would "require a symbol to show that the letter is mute" since phonetic transcriptions are based on pronunciation not spelling (e.g. "damn" and "plumb" are pronounced exactly the same as "dam" and "plum"). Jimp 05:58, 22 May 2015 (UTC)