Silent k and g
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In English orthography, the letter ⟨k⟩ normally reflects the pronunciation of [k] and the letter ⟨g⟩ normally is pronounced /ɡ/ or "hard" ⟨g⟩, as in goose, gargoyle and game; /d͡ʒ/ or "soft" ⟨g⟩, generally before ⟨i⟩ or ⟨e⟩, as in giant, ginger and geology; or /ʒ/ in some words of French origin, such as rouge, beige and genre. However, silent ⟨k⟩ and ⟨g⟩ occur because of apheresis, the dropping of the initial sound of a word.
The letter ⟨k⟩ is normally silent (i.e. it does not reflect any sound) when it precedes an ⟨n⟩ at the beginning of a word, as in “knife”, and sometimes by extension in other positions, such as “tight knit”. Exceptions include the town of Knoebels Grove (// kə-NOH-bəlz) located in Pennsylvania in the United States, the Germanic surname Knaus(s) (// kə-NOWSS) used by Joshua and Benjamin Knauss of Pennsylvania, NASCAR crew chief Chad Knaus, and First Lady Melania (Knauss) Trump and also words of foreign origin such as Knesset, the name of the Israeli Parliament, knish, etc.
A silent (k) also occurs in the digraph ⟨ck⟩, as in “tick”, “flick”, “nickel”, usually preceded by a short vowel. In words such as “nickel” and “rocket”, the (ck) combination is an indication that the preceding vowel is a short vowel, and the following (e) is pronounced. In the past more words had the (ck) combination, such as “intrinsick ”, but many of these are now obsolete, replaced with (c).
While not as common, the letter ⟨g⟩ is also usually silent (i.e. it does not reflect any sound) when preceding an ⟨n⟩ at the beginning or end of a word, as in “gnat”, “campaign” and “design”. It may appear within a word, as in “champagne”. An exception is the acronym GNU.
In addition, the digraph ⟨gh⟩, in the dominant dialects of modern English, is almost always either silent (as in “bough”, “thorough”, “furlough”, “night” or "weight") or pronounced /f/ (as in “tough”, “enough“ or “laugh”). It is also occasionally pronounced [ə], such as in Edinburgh. When ⟨gh⟩ occurs at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced hard (g) (/ɡ/) as in “ghost” and “ghetto”, but also "Afghanistan".
In a few words of Greek origin, digraph ⟨gm⟩ is pronounced /m/, with the (g) being silent, such as in “phlegm”, “paradigm” and "diaphragm".
The ⟨kn⟩ and ⟨gn⟩ letter combinations usually indicate a Germanic origin of the word. In Old English, ⟨k⟩ and ⟨g⟩ were not silent when preceding ⟨n⟩. Cognates in other Germanic languages show that the ⟨k⟩ was probably a voiceless velar plosive in Proto-Germanic. For example, the initial ⟨k⟩ is not silent in words such as German Knecht which became knight, Knoten which became knot, etc.
Following is a list of words that include a silent ⟨k⟩. Plural nouns, as well as compound nouns derived from and containing simple nouns in the list are ignored. For verbs, only the infinitive form of the verb is given, not any conjugations or derived verbs:
- ’Scuse me, squire – ’tis just aphaeresis, Macmillan Dictionary Blog