With the help of dictionaries, I’ve assembled a list of letters that can be silent in English:

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For most letters, I found more than one example, what are the other examples of a silent z (rendezvous) and silent m (mnemonic)? Also, If we can think of examples of silent Qs or Vs.

Foyer- ?, am I right about the silent 'r', though there are no words in American English. However, I read it somewhere that BrE has some silent Rs.

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    Your examples for 'f' and 'v' aren't really fair; it's a double letter and you can't call it silent (or if you do, you have examples of simmer, terrain for 'm' and 'r'). Also, your example for 'r' doesn't work for most people in the U.S. and Canada. – Peter Shor Nov 19 '14 at 20:12
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    For me, the L is not silent in talk. Neither is the N in damn. There is a subtle extra nasal resonance to damn. How on earth did you manage to declare the Y in mayor as silent? Its handkerchief, not hankerchief, for goodness' sake. – Blessed Geek Nov 19 '14 at 20:26
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    @BlessedGeek. The standard pronunciation of the first two syllable of handkerchief is /ˈhæŋkə/. There is no /d/ in the spoken word. This is confirmed by both the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. – tunny Nov 19 '14 at 21:53
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    @FumbleFingers Even better, just ask Mr. Beauchamp Dalziel Featherstonehaugh (with silent au, p, alz, e, thersto, and eh) who, by some marvellous coincidence, happens to be precisely from Cholmondeley, though he was raised in Boyounagh (with silent o, ou, and gh). You’ll have to wait a bit, though: he’s currently busy celebrating Samhain (with ‘silent’ mhai). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 19 '14 at 23:00
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    @Charles, going nautical is a great idea here. forecastle has a silent 're', 'a', and 't'. And gunwale has a silent 'w', 'a', and 'e'. – Peter Shor Nov 20 '14 at 1:20

All letters in English are silent. Letters are visual signs, and they don't make any noise.

What you're all peeving about is the fact that

  • Modern English spellings don't represent Modern English pronunciations.

And it's true; they don't.
That's because they represent Middle English pronunciations.

Before Caxton set up his printshop in England in 1470 something, literate people speld inglish the way they spowke itt, and everyboddiz speling was diferent, juste as handewritting is nowe.

But printing always spelled the same words the same way. And so spelling got fixed before the finale of the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the place in the mouth where long (but not short) vowels were pronounced, and also totally destroyed the difference between long and short vowels in English.

The fact that English spelling is like Middle English is why Chaucer looks almost readable for modern English speakers when they see it, but is totally incomprehensible when presented spoken. We no longer understand the language that English spelling describes (and describes rather well, by the way -- the orthography is a decent phonemic accounting of Middle English).

So that made for lots of "silent letters". The rest are erroneous spellings (often, island), various stabs at diphthongs, and sounds that disappeared though their results didn't (all those gh spellings are remnants of the [x] allophone of Middle English /h/).

Don't think of them as silent letters. There their to distinguish things we don't dare distinguish in speech but somebody thought we'd like to know about, so we could screw them up in spelling
-- the difference between there, their, and they're, for instance.

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    While you're absolutely right, this information isn't super relevant to the question. The question is about "silent letters", a(n)—admittedly inaccurate—concept taught at the primary school level. In reality, very few letters are truly silent, as most affect the assumed pronunciation of the word (in one dialect or another) in this case serving as orthographic modifiers to the phonemes that the letters represent. – calvin Nov 19 '14 at 23:31
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    Only if you have access to the rules that they do it with, which is a synopsis of the phonological history of English and English borrowing. Roughly a one-year college course; which almost nobody ever takes, I might add. – John Lawler Nov 19 '14 at 23:32
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    One minor point: back in the day all those trailing 'e's (as in 'more', 'those', 'case', 'cause', and so on) were pronounced. So if I understand it correctly "more" was pronounced something like "maw-reh", "those" would have been similar to "thaw-seh", etc. – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '14 at 3:41
  • This reminds me that "ghoti" should be pronounced just like "fish" - just speak the letters as in "enou[gh]", "w[o]men", and "na[ti]on". – Hagen von Eitzen Nov 20 '14 at 9:21
  • That's a modern rubegoldbergism by Shaw; GHOTI would not be possible in Middle English, since GH never occurred initially; it represents the [x] allophone of ME /h/, which disappeared or changed into other fricatives). If it were read by a literate ME speaker, they would pronounce it as [xoti] or [hoti], depending on how they thought the author might have pronounced it; either vowel could be long, since it's obviously a foreign word. Of course, it doesn't mean anything in Middle English, so why would anybody read it? – John Lawler May 16 '15 at 15:22

This is a list that I, a speaker of standard southern British English, compiled some time ago:

b: debt, subtle, lamb, tomb
c: science, rescind, muscle, indict, Leicester, Connecticut
ch: yacht
d: sandwich, Wednesday, grandson
g: gnaw, gnome, sign, phlegm, reign
h: heir, hour, dishonest, ghost, annihilate, vehicle, hurrah, rhyme, khaki, thyme
gh: although, through, thorough, bough, bought, taught
k: knee, knit, knife
l: calf, talk, salmon, could, should, would
p: pneumonia, psychiatry, ptomaine, corps, raspberry
r: iron

In RP, r is not pronounced when followed by a consonant or silent e, or is word-final: lord, tire, far

s: aisle, island, précis, viscount, corps, rendezvous
t: hasten, thistle, Christmas, soften, ballet, waltz
th: asthma (some speakers)
w: wren, two, answer,
x: grand prix, billet-doux
z: rendezvous

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    Ooh, you're going to get a number of people disagreeing with you. Be ready handbag, hurrah, and talk I think will be the contenders. :) Maybe you ought to specify your accent/regionality/dialect. – Mari-Lou A Nov 19 '14 at 22:09
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    Are you sure about "waltz"? You pronounce it to rhyme with "lolz" rather than "volts"? – David Richerby Nov 20 '14 at 0:04
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    @David I pronounce lolz like lulls, and waltz without the t would just be walls. I'm not sure by your comparisons if that makes us in agreement or not..? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 20 '14 at 0:25
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    iron is not pronounced like ion - eye-on. . it is closer to i-o-rn. – Oldcat Nov 20 '14 at 0:35
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    @Oldcat tunny's answer is for a southern British English dialect. I pronounce iron like "eye-urn" but in many places (including southern British English, I expect) it's closer to "eye-un", with no trace of an "r" sound. – calvin Nov 20 '14 at 0:46

You need to revisit your list. It's erroneous.

Silent letter is a letter that, in a particular word, does not correspond to any sound in the word's pronunciation.

Please consider the various comments above and also these silent letters.

F/J/Q/V/Y: There are no words (I could recall) that take a silent letter.

  • R- Yes, there are no words in American English. BrE has some silent Rs.
  • Z - laissez-faire, rendezvous

If Etymology (the origin of words) interests you, then you’ll find learning silent letters very fascinating, as they provide so much information about the history of these words!

  • dossier is pronounced with the r? – Gitty Nov 19 '14 at 22:04
  • @gitty yes, it is. at least that's how i've always heard it. – user428517 Nov 19 '14 at 22:36
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    @weakphoneme. There's a silent j in hallelujah. There was a silent f in the old pronunciation of the British halfpenny – tunny Nov 19 '14 at 22:49
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    @tunny You don’t pronounce the j in hallelujah? You pronounce it halleluah? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 19 '14 at 22:55
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    Properly pronounced, "forecastle" has a silent 'r' in American English. (Also a silent 'a', 't', and 'e'.) The landlubber pronunciation is wrong. – Peter Shor Nov 20 '14 at 1:26

The original question was asking about silent "z" and silent "m"

Silent "z" occurs in recent French loans: "laissez-faire", "répondez s'il vous plait" and the already mentioned "rendezvous".

Silent "m" occurs in initial Greek-derived mn-: "mnemonic", "Mnemosyne", but is pronounced after a prefix (amnesia).


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