Unit 22 - Words with Silent Letters

Silent letters can cause us to spell words incorrectly.

knife write bomb ghost

Spelling problems with silent letters in English words

So why are these 'ghost letters' there?

  1. Often, it’s because these letters would have originally been pronounced, years ago, and while the pronunciation changed, the spelling did not. Only their ghosts remain as useful reminders of the languages they came.
  2. Sometimes, they are there to help tell the difference between homophones (for example, to/too) or pronunciation (sin/sign).
  3. Sometimes, it’s due to fashion! Sixteenth century academics wanted more Latin looking words in our language, so they added some extra letters!
  4. The silent e makes the proceeding vowel say its name in words like name and cone, so the silent letters help establish rules in a seemingly unruly language.

So, while they can make spelling tricky, they do have their place in the world.

Learning Tip for English spelling The sound of these words won’t help you but there are ways we can learn the spellings of words with silent letters and here are a few suggestions:


1) Use the 'Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check' method.

2) As you write a word, use a 'spelling language' to say it aloud, pronouncing the silent letter. Click below for an example:

knife

3) Make up mnemonics with several words from one list in the same sentence e.g. I know I can't knit knickers with a knife on my knobbly knees.

4) Link the words with another in which you can hear the target letter e.g.

sign - signal
bomb - bombard
nestle - nest
Christmas - Christ
castle - in the past
crumbs - crumbled bread

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Unit 22: Words with silent letters

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