Words with Silent Letters

Teaching point Knowing where a word came from can help you to remember its spelling. Look at these examples. The silent letters are in colour:

  Old language Original word Meaning
debt Latin debitum owe
rhinoceros Greek rhinokeras horn
column Latin columna pillar
receipt Latin receptere receive

Some more words with silent p:

1. Starting with pneu- , from the Greek word for wind :

pneumatic pneumonia

2. Starting with psy- , from the Greek word for life, soul :

psychic psychiatry psychiatrist psychedelic
psychology psychopath psychosis psychotherapy

3. Starting with ptero-, from the Greek word for wing :

pterodactyl pterosaur (also ptarmigan) Spelling problems with silent letters in English words

Teaching point Some silent letters are there for a reason. They have no sound of their own but have a job to do. For example:

  Examples Reason
e tape
theme
ripe
hope
cute
e on the end is there to make the vowel sound long.
See Unit 7.
d badge
hedge
ridge
judge
d is there to form a wall of two consonants and keep the vowel sound short.
See Unit 19.
u guest
guide
guy
vague
(also biscuit circuit)
e, i and y make g say its soft sound /j/ . The u is there to stop this happening.
See Unit 19.

Teaching point There are also some other silent letters which are parts of quite common spelling patterns. Therefore they have been included in other parts of this course.

Some examples, with the silent letters in colour:

tch match
ditch
hutch
tch is used to make the /ch/ sound after a short vowel. See Unit 5.
ch anchor
chemist
school
In words from ancient Greek, the /k/ sound is spelled ch.
See Unit 5.
wh which
wheel
why
The /w/ sound is often spelled wh. See Unit 5
ve have
live
love
prove
English words do not end in v - we add e. See Unit 4
sc science
scissors
descend
A few words use both s and c to spell the /s/ sound.
See Unit 20.
ea dead
weather
dream
seat
Many words use ea to spell the long or short /e/ sounds. See Units 6 and 7.
gh tight
bought
caught
See Unit 7 for igh words.
See Unit 17 for ough and augh words.
que antique
unique
mosque
In French words the /k/ sound on the end can
be spelled que. See Unit 4

Teaching point Finally, a 'mixed bag' of silent letters which don't fit any if the groups so far:

build friend island aisle guard guarantee


next part of the spelling course Go to the next page: A final proof-reading test

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Unit 22: Words with silent letters

Page 12 of 15

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