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It is well known that the letter E is the most common letter. In my corpus, I found 12.478% of letters is letter E. What makes me surprise was 64.219% of words contain the letter E. I also found that 12.384% of words end with a silent E.

Then I wonder why is the letter E so common in English spelling? Is it because of the silent E to some extent?

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    It's because English stole all its words from French. The pronunciation does not matter. As you say, half of the Es we don't even pronounce. And half of the rest we mispronounce because of the Great Vowel Shift. The frequency of letters does not represent the frequency of sounds. Otherwise 75% of all letters in all English words would be a schwa. – RegDwigнt Jul 5 at 11:47
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Aug 5 at 0:35
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While this doesn't speak to the etymological reasons for why 'e' specifically is the most frequent letter, there is actually a very interesting statistical reason that there is such a letter: Zipf's law.

Given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table.

Zipf's law was originally discovered with regards to Word frequency (e.g. the word 'The' is the most common word in the Brown Corpus), but also applies to many frequency and ranking comparisons, especially where humans are involved in the ranking process.

Essentially, the easiest to recognize, most generally useful sounds and concepts are used more often while the more specific, harder to articulate sounds and concepts are used less often. This generally follows a "long tail" logarithmic curve.

As for the letter 'e', it often represents very easy to pronounce vowels, and orthographically it is also used in English orthography to "silently" affect another vowel (e.g. 'ate' vs. 'at'). Added up, it's a pretty useful little letter!

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There are possibly different reasons why e is the most common letter in English spelling, here are a few:

French words or words that come from Latin also have the “e” as one of the letters that is cost commonly used. English is full of these words. “

—Irene Smith, B.A. Linguistics & Literature, The University of British Columbia; Answered January 12, 2019

One major contribution comes from the purely orthographical practice of adding a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word to mark its root vowel as “long”, regardless of its actual quality. Another is the high frequency of the article ‘the’ and the suffixes ‘-es’ and ‘-ed’. However, ‘e’ was already the most frequent letter in Old English which was written with a more one-to-one relationship between sounds and letters, and did not have equally “monotonous” grammatical elements.

—Tor Gjerde, Cand. Scient. Physics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (1997); Answered January 13, 2019

(Quora.com)

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  • I've read those views from Quora. I agree with some of them but do not with the others. For example, English borrowed many words from French and Latin which also have the "e" as one of the most common letters. So the question then turns out to be why is "e" the most common letter in French and Latin? Or why so many words that contain letter "e" are borrowed in English? – C.K. Jul 5 at 13:31
  • Besides, in my question description, the data 12.478% of letters are E's is word-frequency weighted, but the data 64.219% of words contain the letter E is NOT word-frequency weighted. Therefore, although it is the fact that the high frequency of the article ‘the’ and the suffixes ‘-es’ and ‘-ed’ make letter E more common, without the words frequency factor, the letter E is also very common. – C.K. Jul 5 at 13:41
  • Look forward to more thoughts from you, tks. – C.K. Jul 5 at 13:43
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    Copy-pasting answers from Quora seems a bit problematic for many reasons. – Mitch Jul 5 at 14:00
  • @Mitch: What are those reasons? – HeWhoMustBeNamed Aug 6 at 16:46

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