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Can every letter be used as a silent letter?

Can every letter in the English language be used in a silent way? Like the b in numb? But at least one example for all 26 letters. Kind of a nerdy question but has anyone succeeded? I have tried and failed... Don’t ask why!

  • September 17, 2010
  • Posted by james3
  • Filed in Misc

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Without putting much thought into this, I can't imagine that vowels are ever used silently.

beepzorbert September 18, 2010, 5:49pm

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Hunter, certainly, "e" is frequently silent. It's often used at the end of a word to modify the preceding consonant, but with no syllable or sound of its own.

porsche September 18, 2010, 6:54pm

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Well one of the a's in aardvark is certainly silent.

james3 September 19, 2010, 7:49am

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Probably any letter can be silent if you talk to the right people! (e.g. I don't pronounce the "l" in "people")

richardprys September 19, 2010, 8:14am

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A quick (if incomplete) list:

A aisle
B numb, thumb, debt, crumb, subtle
C muscle, scent
D ridge, bridge, Wednesday
E giraffe, carafe, vogue, mumble, epistle (and lots more)
G light, haughty, foriegn
H white, light, ghost, haughty, rhinoceros
K knee, knowledge, knife, knot
L talk, walk, yolk, folk
N autumn, hymn, damn
P psychology, pneumonia
S island, aisle
T listen, hasten, glisten, thistle, epistle
U court, vogue, guard, building
W answer, write, wrist, wrestle
Y yclept (admittedly rare), coccyx

I haven't found examples for F, I, J, O, Q, R, V, X or Z. (Perhaps others can supply examples.) But clearly two thirds of the letters used in English are sometimes silent.

douglas.bryant September 20, 2010, 2:24pm

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"bourgeois" seems to cover I, O, R :)

mykhailo September 21, 2010, 1:13am

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Y is not silent in "yclept" or "coccyx".

goofy September 21, 2010, 3:35am

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Goofy is correct–scratch "Y."

If proper names apply, then Sioux may represent "X." And one might argue "acquaint" and "acquire" for "Q"—is the "C" or the "Q" the voiced consonant?

douglas.bryant September 21, 2010, 5:01am

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R - February (I disagree that the "r" is silent in "bourgeois." I think it's just soft.)
Z - rendez vous

paula.acker September 21, 2010, 8:01am

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I like rendezvous for Z, but without the space. (For you Anglishers: the word has been in Our Language for five hundred years: it's English.) Counts for "S" too.

I agree with PEA on bourgeois, but not February. A few still pronounce the "R." Sorry.

douglas.bryant September 21, 2010, 8:53am

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Not to be too picky, but the original poster did say the English language. Words such as bourgeois, rendez vous and even sioux are not acquisitions from other languages.

lindalouiseelliott September 21, 2010, 8:53am

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excuse me, ARE acquisitions from other languages

lindalouiseelliott September 21, 2010, 8:54am

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But BQ, "acquisition" is itself a Latin borrowing, via French. And if you deny "Sioux" you must deny also "platypus" and "octopus" along with "original" and "poster," the last two both from Latin. Where does i end?

douglas.bryant September 21, 2010, 9:12am

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Sorry: "Where does it end?"

douglas.bryant September 21, 2010, 9:14am

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lets stick with r...kind of a presupposition here, but, take a word like harrier. if say it was spelled with only one r would it be pronounced the same way? if so then one of them is silent, agree?

james3 September 21, 2010, 10:02am

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thanks for all responses to this inane question, i really appriciate all of these contributions...
I suppose there are differing phonetic pronounciations with many words depening on accents & dialects...(north american & europian mainly).
but as a general rule...(like my post above) suppose the letter we are trying to give a silent example of were to be removed from the word...would it still be pronounced the same way. This is, I guess, my loose parameter for this. for example take the t out of listen and you have a different pronounciation.
we are very close though to the full alphabet...nice work!

james3 September 21, 2010, 10:21am

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james, you're assuming that spelling determines pronunciation, and it doesn't, otherwise "give" and "dive" would rhyme. The T in "listen" is unetymological - the Old English word was "lysna", and the T was added thru confusion with the synonymous verb "list". But if the T hadn't been added, the word would still be pronounced the same.

goofy September 21, 2010, 5:47pm

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Richie, how do you not pronounce the L in "people"?

beepzorbert September 21, 2010, 6:05pm

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How about Worcestershire? There's a whole string of silent letters. Why, it's missing an entire syllable! (traditionally pronounced "woos-ter-sheer" or "wus-ter-shur" or a few other variations). The R is usually silent. So's the C, perhaps the O (or the E) too. While it is the name of a place, "worcestershire sauce" is common enough that I would say it doesn't have to be considered a proper noun. There are a lot of English towns and cities that get shortened this way.

porsche September 21, 2010, 7:27pm

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With "acquire" I'd say the C was silent, not the Q. I'm struggling with Q, but reminded of the Monty Python bookshop sketch - "four M's and a silent Q".
As for silent J, how about "fajitas"?
Silent M - "mnemonic" seems to work.
Silent O - "phoenix"?
And you can add "swimming pool" to the silent P's (!)
I agree with James above. I wouldn't say "mate" has a silent E because the E affects the pronunciation of the word.

chrisbolton20 September 22, 2010, 2:24am

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Goofy, agreed and point taken. but as a very general rule it sort of works, I suppose for people (like myself) who don't use 'unetymological' regularily or have much of a phonetic idea of the root etymology of english words, we can agree to overlook some fundamentals .
thanks, though, for pointing that out.

james3 September 22, 2010, 5:08am

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Chris B is right on acquire—etymology bears him out. But "mnemonic" looks good for "M," as does "phoenix" for "O."

Who's keeping score?

douglas.bryant September 22, 2010, 5:38am

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Dare I risk the label of being a pedant and propose that all 26 letters in English are silent?

After all, they are simply a means to represent the language in writing.

JJMBallantyne September 23, 2010, 7:41am

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Chris B:
In "fajitas" the J is pronounced as English H.
Likewise, in "tortilla" LL is pronounced Y (or sometimes more of a j sound).
Using Spanish pronunciation is not making the letters actually silent.

It is my accent (South Essex). I say "people" more like "peepou". Likewise I often drop Gs and Ts, though I would use a glottal stop. I know some people will think my pronunciation is just lazy and not a good example to use here.

I know we now have some examples for L, but I'd like to add that "could" not only has a silent L but shouldn't have an L at all. "Would" and "should" are from "will and "shall", so preserve the L, but "could" is from "can", so ought to be spelt "coud". Chaucer wrote "koude". "Could" is an unetymological spelling.

richardprys September 23, 2010, 12:39pm

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Yes, silly me, it's just like the J in José - an H-type sound.

Regarding "could", did it gain an L by analogy from "would" and "should"? By the way, I'd say the L in "could" is "more silent" than that in "talk".

chrisbolton20 September 24, 2010, 12:28am

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Yes, I believe that is what happened with "could".

richardprys September 24, 2010, 2:11am

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Richie says: September 19, 2010 at 12:14 pmProbably any letter can be silent if you talk to the right people! (e.g. I don’t pronounce the “l” in “people”)

You don't???? So how do you pronounce people - "pee-po"??? I pronounce the word people as "pee-pul" - "l" is definity pronounced.

shaunc September 24, 2010, 8:24am

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Shaun, It's absolutely impossible to explain further. I have written my pronunciation as well as I can, and I can't explain further *how* I manage to talk that way. Probably only Henry Higgins has a phonetic alphabet up to the job of getting the precise sound across. Listen very carefully to people from the right part of Essex. I don't know how far this phenomenon spreads. I wasn't even aware I was doing it until it was pointed out to me.
Roughly where are you from, if you don't mind me asking?

richardprys September 25, 2010, 1:51am

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A: cocoa
B: debt
C: scene
D: Wednesday (first d)
E: game (or any word with a silent e)
F: cliff (either one of the f's)
G: phlegm
H: hour
I: Hawaii
J: marijuana
K: knife
L: talk
M: mnemonic (first m)
N: autumn
O: leopard
P: psychic
Q: lacquer
R: Worcestershire (first r)
S: Arkansas
T: often (yup!)
U: gauge
V: Le Febvre
W: two
X: faux
Y: Malaysia
Z: rendezvous

criskity September 25, 2010, 10:24am

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Chris - stick with English, using foreign words is cheating!

shaunc September 25, 2010, 12:45pm

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Ritchie - I'm located in southern Ontario in Canada. Approximately 100km southwest of Toronto.

shaunc September 25, 2010, 12:47pm

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These lists are problematic. Depending on your accent or dialect, letters may or may not be silent. In both of the lists submitted so far I can disagree with several entries. The definition of silent is also open to question - does a true silent letter have no bearing on the pronunciation or can it influence the pronunciation.

aisle - isle - I'll (silent 'a' and 's') - In some accents those are homophones and in others not.

Y: Malaysia - the 1st part of the name is "Malay" with the Y most definitely pronounced as in “Malay-sia”.

Words like 'game' do not have truly silent letters as the 'e' modifies the pronunciation of the 'a'. This is an argument that could go on ad infinitum. Some letters are silent as spellings have not kept up with the language.

shaunc September 25, 2010, 12:59pm

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Silent F, silent L:


criskity September 26, 2010, 7:20pm

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As for Malaysia, it rhymes with Asia, which has no Y. Thus, it could be spelled "Malasia" and be pronounced the same. Ergo, the Y is silent.

And in my list, only "Le Febvre" is not English!

criskity September 26, 2010, 7:23pm

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OK, another: silent "i" in "lieu"

criskity September 27, 2010, 10:28am

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Shaun C:
I agree with what you say about "game" and similar words. I'd call 'a-e' a digraph just like 'ai'. You wouldn't say "bait" had a silent "i", would you? However I'd say words like "caste" and "gaffe" do indeed have silent E's.

Other Chris:
Well done on that list, even if there's the odd dubious one in there. Marijuana looks good for J. Lacquer is probably as close as you get to a silent Q. Regarding "Lefebvre" (which I've seen as a single word), I think the B is silent, not the V.

I think Richie's pronunciation of "people" is pretty normal for that part of the country. Final L's, as well as L's in words like "milk", turn into W's. Interestingly, here in NZ you hear something similar: "milk" often comes out like "muwk".

I see a few place names bandied about. I reckon we could just about do the whole alphabet with place names alone, for example Wymondham (in Norfolk) which has three silent letters.

chrisbolton20 September 28, 2010, 5:31pm

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How about Cirencester... I've heard it pronounced "sister" among others!

Bristol->bristle (local)

In southern Ontario and around Toronto you will hear "Tronna" or "Tronno". In a s. Ont village called Palmerston - for reasons unknown - it's locally pronouced as "pamerston". My mum says she can barely tell apart a Canadian 'd' from a Canadian 't'.

Marijuana doesn't actually have a silent J - it has a Spanish J - marihuana; 'ju' same as in Juan. Sometimes letters get added as well, my relatives back in Somerset usually call Canada "Canader".. I also heard Justin Lee Collins refer to Chicago as "Sher-cargo". Damn rhotics!

English will be a great language if we ever figure out how to spell it - or even agree on what to pronounce!

shaunc September 29, 2010, 2:59pm

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Regarding "marijuana": you do pronounce the j... if you're speaking Spanish. But this is English! I pronounce it "marowana".

cnelsonpublic October 1, 2010, 4:02am

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Chris says: "Regarding “marijuana”: you do pronounce the j… if you’re speaking Spanish. But this is English! I pronounce it “marowana”."

Yes, but the "ju" gives you the "w" - Juan is pronounced "wan"...the ju is not silent. Without the "ju", you would say "mari - ana" not "mari-wana.".

shaunc October 1, 2010, 8:07am

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Shaun, I think Chris' point is that there is a "u" there, too. If it were Mariuana, one could make a case that that 'u" would have the same pronunciation without the "j" as with. It's not mari-ana, it's mari-uana, right? Personally, I think the spelling is awkward enough without the "j" to make it unclear about how to pronounce it, so I'm not sure whether I'd count it or not.

porsche October 1, 2010, 2:12pm

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Surely Proper nouns just don't count?

Marijuana - Marry-you-ahna the J is the inflection at the beginning of the 2nd syllable.

Autumn - I have heard the N pronounced, also related to autumnal - it's 50:50 for me.

Wednesday - Should be pronounced wed - ens - day, I don't, but that's correct.

Phlegm relates to Phlegmatic in which the G is pronounced, I think it counts but it's arguable.

Often is often pronounced off-tun.

Foreign words are tricky to draw a line on. Can we say that words borrowed from other languages in which that word is still used and the word is recognizably foreign, don't count? I'm not sure. Faux, for example, is clearly French but they borrowed it too.

I'm struggling to think of a word that hasn't been borrowed and bastardized somewhere. In fact, I can think of one, Dog, for which no one knows the origin. Until very recently we only had the word hound.

charliemyall October 8, 2010, 3:41pm

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Missed one point. I am pretty sure you can't allow cliff.

Side point - Found a fantastic definition of a silent F in the Urban Dictionary...

Yelling "fuck" without warning at the top of your lungs in a public place resulting in silent stares by all those in earshot.

charliemyall October 8, 2010, 3:46pm

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I have a problem with a lot of words that people are saying have silent letters in them.

Someone said that the "i"'s in Hawaii were silent when in fact the Hawaiian language is polynesian and built upon pronouncing each letter and the letters often sound like the way you would say them in spanish which means that the two i's together sound like an e... making ha-why-e.

a word like "talk" or "walk" You would have to have the l's or you would end up saying tak or wak.

vogue was used at some point for the e to be silent but really the e is what makes the word sound like va-oh-g/ugh. with out the e you get vo-goo.

often was used for the t, while it is arguably pronounced either with the t or with out the t and correct either way... the word often comes does from old english "oft" which would mean the original way to say often would be off-ten.

basically what I'm getting at is that just because you don't think you say the letters you see you actually do need them to make the letters surrounding them sound correctly. a word like psychology technically does not need the p to sound the same to us,( but the root word psykhe was Greek and they needed their trident looking letter (Psi) in order to spell psykhe... thusly why the p is there in the first place. )

Also... just about everyone has an accent (of some kind or to someone from another area) and will pronounce things differently upon where they grew up and how they learned and developed speech patterns. Lots of times we think there are silent letters in words simply because of the way our brain visualizes things. For instance studies have shown that your brain can actually see the shape of words (outline of the whole word... esp in words that we know well) and instead of you reading each individual letter you actually instantly know what the word is by shape. It is like if you see the out line of a tree you know that it is a tree. You see the word "the" and you don't have to tell your brain "ok the t next to an h makes a thhh sound and the e makes an eee sound so that is thheee... the". So when our brain visualizes things and we don't read each letter it is easy to say "Apple" has a silent e when really if the e was not there the word would be pronounced more like you were saying "appel" which still has an e in it but CAN be silent.

lol... sorry... i got a bit carried away there... XD

the_simi October 14, 2010, 12:42am

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People are getting too carried away with what the silent letter does to the word. The whole point is words with letters that are silent, not, 'If the silent letter were removed we would say the word differently so it's not a silent letter'.

'Walk' and 'talk' most certainly have a silent 'L'. Talking about what the word would be without the 'L' is besides the point of this conversation.

As for 'vogue' I would submit that it's the 'u' that is silent, not the 'e'.

mart January 31, 2011, 3:52am

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I have to disagree. talk is correctly pronounced like t-al-k (like saying tall and adding a k) same with walk w-al-k (again like wall with a k) otherwise you would say tak and wak. Again I'll say that a lot of it has to do will accents that people have but the "L" in talk and walk is not supposed to be silent.

the_simi February 3, 2011, 8:49pm

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Er, of course the L in "walk" and "talk" is silent. Who pronounces these words with the sound /l/? No one.

goofy February 3, 2011, 8:56pm

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A - aisle
B - subtle
C - science
D - fudge
E - lime
F - cliff
G - gnome
H - honor
I - believe
J - marijuana
K - know
L - balm
M - mnemonic
N - autumn
O - jeopardy
P - psalm
Q - lacquer
R - February
S - island
T - castle
U - build
V - fivepence
W - wrinkle
X - faux
Y - stray
Z - jazz

cgtay33 February 19, 2011, 3:31pm

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Not all "silent" letters are silent in all accents and dialects. For example, in Claudia's list I disagree with:

- d in fudge
- e in lime (without the e it rhymes with tim, with the e it rhymes with time)
- j in marijuana (it's a spanish word and 'ju' gives you the 'w' sound)
- l in balm (I say balm, not bam)
- q in lacquer (lac-ker)
- r in February (missing the r in February is sloppy pronunciation)
- v in fivepence (weird - the v in five is always pronounced.
- y in stray (without the y, it's just stra which rhymes with bra)

Claudia - with what accent or dialect do you speak?

shaunc February 20, 2011, 11:12pm

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I'm not so convinced about one of a pair of letters being called silent, as in jazz and cliff. You are making the letter's noise but you can't attribute that to just one of the letters.

Also, having some Nordic language background, where double letters changes the pronunciation, I find it hard to see one of a pair as silent.

mail February 21, 2011, 5:27am

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Martin, I found your comment about the double letters in Nordic language interesting. However, in the English language, if a person who had never known the word jazz before, and heard it aloud and was asked to spell it, that person might have spelled it as jaz because the extra Z is unnecessary in the pronunciation of the word.

In response to Shaun's comment: in my list of words I was mostly talking about the silent letters as not being audible when spoken aloud, rather than if a letter was taken away from the word, the end result would still sound the same. For example, the E in lime is necessary to the pronunciation of the word (yes, without the E it would rhyme with dim) but you cannot hear the E as a separate vowel in the word. In the Spanish language, lime would be pronounced LEE-may—the E having its own distinct "ay" sound. What I mean by the silent letters in the words you picked out:

fudge - I often don't hear the D distinctly pronounced when spoken.

marijuana - The J is inaudible in English. The word could be mariuana.

balm - I don't say bam instead of balm, but I don't pronounce the L. I say "bahm".

lacquer - Because of the C, I find the Q unnecessary. In fact, the U is also unnecessary because the word is pronounced LAK-er, the K representing the hard C sound.

February - Nobody I know says FEB-roo-air-ee. They say FEB-you-air-ee.

fivepence - This one was a stretch. In some English dialects, however, I have heard fivepence said as fi'pence.

stray - The A alone could have a long vowel sound (even though this occurrence would be rare in English). Yes, that being said, bra could sound like bray if you thought about it.

As for my dialect? I guess I'm a hybrid. My dad's family is from North Carolina, but he's lived in Massachusetts for most of his life. His accent is pretty neutral as far as Massachusetts goes (nothing heavy like Boston) but occasionally I will hear a little bit of a southern accent in his voice. My mum is from Cheshire, England—she grew up in Manchester and Macclesfield and moved to America about 16 years ago. My accent is fairly neutral but sometimes I will speak with tinges of southern US or northern England.

cgtay33 February 21, 2011, 8:23am

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"Er, of course the L in “walk” and “talk” is silent. Who pronounces these words with the sound /l/? No one."

My grad-school housemate pronounced the L in both "walk" and "talk". He grew up in Iowa, but he remains the only person I've ever met who talked like this, and I lived in Iowa for 5 years.

criskity February 23, 2011, 10:32am

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You don't need walk or talk for the L. Would, could and half should cover it.
If you want a silent E without changing pronunciation, consider above and give.
Finally, for the silent R, I give you chitterlings.

PatMack June 4, 2011, 2:26pm

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silent 'p' in swimming pool? what?

kipper1228 June 4, 2011, 7:06pm

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please notify me when new comment is posted

Esther August 2, 2011, 2:17am

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I can't stop laughing about richardpry's pronunciation of "people". I shouldn't laugh, and no one should challenge him on it--an IQ of less that 70 is correlated to his exact pronunciation: "pee-po". LOL!

BrockawayBaby August 27, 2011, 9:02pm

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@cris ... I pronounce the l in walk and talk ... common in the South.

AnWulf August 28, 2011, 4:38am

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Many of the strange English spellings come about for the purpose of reading. Here's a few - 'd' in fudge is there to protect short 'u' from becoming a long 'u' with 'e' following the consonant 'g'. It says its name, a 'j' sound, mostly when followed by e, i, or y. Words such as balm, calm have the 'l' for the purpose of making the vowel 'a' make one of its long sounds. So yes, 'l' is silent in the spoken word but without it, following the spelling rules, the 'a' would become a short vowel when followed by a consonant and we would mispronounce the word. The 'y' in words such as stray also gives a long 'a' sound, thanks to 'y' that can also replace 'i' or 'e'. Right again with the 'u' being silent in vogue. This is also spelt with a letter protecting the previous vowel and also 'g'. Without u the word would read voge but not pronounced the way we do. That bossy 'e' would be telling 'g' to say its name, giving us the sound of voje. Many English words have retained their old spelling but over the years, the pronunciation has modified. I guess we could use halfpenny for the silent 'f'' as it was pronounced as hayp-nee. Lime needs its 'e' to make the vowel long, so 'e' is there for spelling so we can identify it. Give and Have are words that are suspected of once being pronounced as they are spelt, but as Old and Middle English words don't end in 'v', words that do, are mostly foreign words. As with foreign words, we have now accepted their spelling but pronounce them with our own particular accents. Yep, I love the English language!

Aussie August 29, 2011, 3:10am

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AnWulf: That is the first thing that I thought when I saw "talk." In my part of Maryland, we generally pronounce the "l" in "talk." What blows my mind is that some people pronounce "Mary," "merry," and "marry" all differently.

tiigerrick September 12, 2011, 3:47pm

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Aussie: The "e" in "give" and "have" were absolutely pronounced at one time - not just suspected to have been pronounced. "Give" and "have" are related to the German "geben" and "haben." The "e" in "Ich gebe" and "Ich habe" are still pronounced. Also - and you can see this in these two words - German words with a "b" are often written in English as a "v." Fieber=Fever; heben= to heave; Liebe=love; leben=to live; Grab=grave; schieben=to shove.

Your explanation of the "y" in "stray" may or may not be correct, but as in the above, German can also explain a "y" (although not in the case of "stray"). There is a connection between the English "y" and the German "g." Tag=Day; Gelb=Yellow; legen=to lay; mögen=may.

I don't think the "l" in "balm" and "calm" are there for spelling purposes. For one, many English speakers pronounce that "l." "Balsam" and "balm" are related and both have an "l."

tiigerrick September 12, 2011, 4:44pm

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tiigerrick, I guess it's what one is familiar with. What blows my mind is that some people pronounce "Mary," "merry," and "marry" all the same! Chacun à son goût.

porsche September 14, 2011, 2:55am

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A aisle, aeon
B numb, thumb, debt, crumb, subtle
C muscle, scent, cnidaria
D Wednesday
E giraffe, carafe, vogue, mumble, epistle (and lots more)
F fifth (i have been trying to think of one for a long time =D )
G light, haughty, foreign, impugn
H white, light, ghost, rhinoceros
I lieu, believe
J fjord
K knee, knowledge, knife, knot
L talk, walk
M mnemonic
N autumn, hymn, damn
O jeopardy
P psychology, pneumonia, pterodactyl, receipt
Q pontacq (a type of wine... comes from Pontacq... wherever that is)
R February
S island, aisle
T listen, hasten, glisten, thistle, epistle
U court, vogue, guard, building
V SAVVY (looks like a w if not capitalized)
W answer, write, wrist, wrestle
X eaux (this is a real English word [ it's the plural of eau ] ) also beaux, (plural of beau)
Y prayer, mayor
Z rendezvous

Peter Olson October 3, 2011, 6:59pm

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Ha ha ha - silent P in swimming pool! Think about it. With the mind of a ten year old boy.

Ophelia November 6, 2011, 12:34pm

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My vote for silent t would go to tsunami. Does anyone actually say the t in that word?

Ophelia November 6, 2011, 12:48pm

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The "L" is definitely not silent in "walk" and "talk". They may not *sound* like l's, but they're not pronounced "wack" and "tack". Come to think of it, there may be places where they *are* pronounced like that. Wall+k comes awfully close to "walk". Similar to "caulk". Some people insist that word is pronounced "cock". As in "Give me your caulk so I can squeeze it until some white goo comes out." I absolutely pronounce the "L"! But "could" has a silent "L".

Peter, you pronounce "fifth" like "fith"? I pronounce both f's. I pronouce "fjord" like "fee-ord", but maybe that's just me. I could argue that savvy is "sav-vy" and not "sav-ee", but agree that it's debatable. I also pronounce the R in February, but mostly to be a smarty-pants jerk, since "normal" people don't.

And while I realize that pretty much all English words come from other languages, I'm bothered, in this thread, by "obviously" French words, such as, well, anything ending in X, and "rendezvous". Wait...what about phoenix? Not a silent x, but a silent o....

I think the proper way to pronounce "tsunami" is "tidal wave". But what about "settle"? I suppose some smarty-pants jerk will say it's "set-tle", not "set-le.

According to Wikipedia, the "j" in marijuana "seem(s) to be an innovation of English"(!) I pronounce it as in "Me and Mary wanna smoke some." Again, we come to regional accents.

Why can't we use "cliff"?

Fun thread!

Tom in TX November 13, 2011, 11:35am

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Fun thread indeed! After reading all of these, I am convinced that the only letters never silent in English language [excluding proper nouns] are f, [unless you must debate the ff sounds], r, and v. Walk, talk, caulk, and many others with 'lk', have the l as audible but pronounced as a soft w sound. And thanks, Peter, for reminding me about 'fjord'. Thanks, everyone, for extending my [Scrabble] vocabulary.

skyline777 January 7, 2012, 8:15am

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Oh yeah, to add to the list for silent letters:
i: eight, freight
o: people [which is also often pronounced with a soft l]
Thanks, Peter, also, for pontacq [70+points for Scrabble]
On the flip side of this, how many English words have pronounciations of a letter that the word does not contain?
a: eight, weigh
e: ziti,
f: laugh, phone, [anything with gh]
i: eye, [Thames], lymph;thyme
k: chi
s: pizza, psi, ci____; xu
u:ewe;too, to,....................
v: of
w: one; chihuahua
x: ecstasy
y: llama
z: xi

skyline777 January 7, 2012, 9:39am

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@Tom in TX ... Yu made me laugh with the caulking gun! Can yu see someone saying he needed caulk without saying the 'L'? LMAO! ... And I like yur way of saying "tsunami"!

For fjord, I say it like fyord. The j in other germanic tungs is often our y.

OTOH, in Spanish, the j is our h. (The h in Spanish is silent!) The ju is hw so Juan (John) is said like hwan ... Juana (Jane) is said as hwana. Thus, marijuana is said like ma-ri-hwa-na. BTW, the etym of MJ is ... marijuana: altered by influence of Spanish proper name Maria Juana "Mary Jane" from mariguan (1894), from Mex.Sp. marihuana, of uncertain origin.

The more commonly benoted words in English, huru (especially) in speech are of Anglo-Germanic roots. Academia and bureaucrats tilt heavily, and often needlessly, towards Latinates.

AnWulf January 8, 2012, 12:12am

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A: Diamond
B: Numb
C: Connecticut
D: Wednesday
E: Love
F: Stiff
G: Phlegm
H: Hour
I: Friend
J: Marijuana
K: Knight
L: Would
M: Mnemonic
N: Damn
O: People
P: Psychic
Q: Lacquer
R: February
S: Island
T: Depot
U: Plague
V: Savvy (As close as it's gonna get. Also, if names were included, the professional football quarterback Brett Favre.)
W: Wreck
X: Prix
Y: Eeyore (Although a name. Also can argue any word that ends in 'ay'. Ex. Pay, Ray, etc.)
Z: Rendezvous

SeanRB June 26, 2012, 11:49pm

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i like turtules

yummy October 4, 2012, 11:56am

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Letter (B) is not pronounced when following (M) at the end of a word.

Letter (C) is not pronounced when following (S).
Scion (a young member of a rich and famous family).

Letter (D) is not pronounced in the following common words: Handkerchief
Wedge (a piece of metal, wood, rubber, etc).

Letter (E) is not pronounced at the end of words and usually makes the vowel long. Hope

Letter (G) is often not pronounced when followed by an (N).Champagne
Feign (to pretend to feel something, usually an emotion, to nag).

Letter (GH) is not pronounced before (T) and at the end of many words.Thought

Letter (H) is not pronounced when following (W).

Letter (H) is not pronounced at the beginning of many words.
Herb (a type of plant whose leaves are used in making medicine).

Letter (H) is pronounced at the beginning of these common words.
Hangover (a feeling of illness after drinking too much alcohol).

Letter (K) is not pronounced when followed by (N) at the beginning of a word.

Letter (L) is often not pronounced before (D, F, M, and K).

Letter (N) is not pronounced following (M) at the end of a word.
Hymn (religious song).
Solemn ( serious and without any amusement).

Letter (P) is not pronounced following letter (S, N).
Pneumatic (operated by air pressure).
Psychotherapy (the treatment of mental illness by discussing the problems which caused it with the sufferer, instead of using drugs or operations).

Letter (S) is not pronounced before (L) in the following words.

Letter (T) is not pronounced in these common words.

Letter (U) is not pronounced following (G) and before a vowel.

Letter (W) is not pronounced at the beginning of a word followed by an (R).

Letter (W) is not pronounced with these three pronouns.

I hope the abovementioned information is enough.....

Thank you very much

Khalid Zarifi November 18, 2012, 3:18pm

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Queue has a silent u and a silent e, you are free to select which ones are silent

DocDave November 23, 2012, 3:49pm

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How about gateaux or bureaux for x? I know they are both of french origin but are commonly used in English. The plural with the x sounds identical to the singular without the x, therefore the x must be silent.

rih2010 January 10, 2013, 7:48am

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With all due respect, this is quite pathetic. It has been four years and you lot have not even been able to write down a full list with each of the silent letters. AYE, silent letters may occur literally from A to Z, ye have been just too clumsy to prove the theory.

A - bargAin, heAlth, dictionAry (British English), practicALly
B - bomB, deBt
C - indiCt, viCtUals, sCissors
CH - yaCHt
D - WeDnesday, hanDsome, anD (unaccented), WinDsor, briDge
DH - ceiliDH
E- Europe, bluE
F - haLFpenny (also written as ha'penny)
G - siGn
GH - liGHT
GN - GNash
H - Hour, JoHn, wHale
I - fruit, said, air
J - mariJuana, Don Juan, riJsttafel
K - Kneel, blaCKguard
L - taLk, aLmond, Sherlock HoLmes
M - Mnemonic, Mnemonics, Mnemonise
N - solemN, soi-disant
O - jeOpardy, peOple, chocOlate
P - Psychoogy, Ptolemy, receiPt, couP, toPgallant
Q - mosQUito, Tequila, CoLQUhoun
R - , foyeR, bustieR, atelieR, hotelieR, sommelieR, foRecAsTle (sailor's use = fo'c'sle)
S - iSle,debriS
T - lisTen, mustn't, asTHma, sacheT,
U - bUild, tongUE, beautifULly
V - fiVEpence (= fippence), MilNgaVie,DaVEntry,LeVeson-Gower, Vsevolod
W - ansWer, Wrist, GreenQich
X - fauX paS, billet-douX, SiouX, BordeauX
Y - praYer, maYor, saYs, Samuel PepYs
Z - rendeZvous, laisseZ-faire, cheZ

There, I won and I didn't even break sweat. Those of you who say foreign words are not allowed: are you brainless? English has been forged from many a tongue, moreover this is the very reason why it has manifold spelling in the first place! O, poverty in wit! Anywise it be, I hereby accept the gold medal.

Goosequillian August 18, 2014, 10:30pm

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You were doing so well until you got to Q - Colquhoun Ok, but Mosquito and Tequila? I don't think a K sound quite counts as silent. But you know what they say about pride!

As for your Vs, do family names (however noble) and Slavic first names really count?

And if you can count Milngavie, we could probably do the whole alphabet with Scottish place names (I know, double consonants and dipthongs probably don't count):

A - RaAsay, BreAkish, MurrAyfield, AVoch ( /ˈɔːx/ - Highland)
B - St Combs (Fraserburgh), TomB of the Eagles (Orkney), LamB Island (Forth)
C - GreenoCk, BuCkie, LossiEmouth, WiCk, BallaChulish (pronounced h, not Scottish ch)
CK - CoCKburnspath
D - FinDochty (/ˈfɪnɛxti/), KirKcuDbriGHT ( /kərˈkuːbri/)
E - IrvinE, KintyrE, PeeblEs, DrymEn, FrEuchie
F - MacdufF, CriefF, HaLFpenny cottage (Invermoriston), Ha'penny bridge, Kelvin (cheating)
G - ?
GH - Bight of Mousland (Orkney), Broughty Ferry, GiGHa ( /ˈɡiːə/)
H -EaglesHam, Lairig GHru, Orchid Place (Uddingston)
I - EdInburgh (local pronunciation - Ed'nbru), GlamIs, InglIston, EIlEan Donan, PennycuIck
J - ?
K - KirKcuDbriGHT ( /kərˈkuːbri/)
L - KirkcaLdy, ( /kərˈkɔːdi/), KilmalcoLm, PetercuLter, GlenaLmond, KilmalcoLm, TillicouLtry
M - KildrumMy
N - KilNcadzow ( /kɪlˈkeɪɡeɪ/), MilNgaVie ( /məlˈɡaɪ/)
O - Castle DOuglas, CarnOustie
P - CamPbeltown
Q - CoLQUhoun Park (Bearsden) (thanks for that one)
R - CambusbarRon, RAVenstruTHER (/ˈrɛnstri/) - otherwise Rs very much not silent in Scottish
S - WemysS, ISle of Skye, ISlay, hundreds of iSlands
T - ShotTs, Port CharlotTe
TH - StraTHaven ( /ˈstreɪvən/ ), MeTHven, RuthVen ( /ˈrɪvən/)
U - GlenmUick
V - MilNgaVie ( /məlˈɡaɪ/), AVoch ( /ˈɔːx/ Highland), RAVenstruTHER (/ˈrɛnstri/)
W - HaWick (/ˈhɔɪk/)
X -
Y - WemYsS Bay (/ˈwiːmz/), ISlaY ( /ˈaɪlə/)
Z - Culzean, Dalrulzian

Well, near as damn it.

Warsaw Will August 19, 2014, 7:04am

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O honour and almond

Dean March 11, 2015, 9:22am

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G dinghy

Dean March 11, 2015, 9:25am

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@Dean. I think you're cheating a bit with almond and dinghy, and perhaps even with honour. There are still sounds there; they wouldn't sound the same if you take away the letter altogether, as with 'listen, hour' etc. The 'gh' in dinghy is a specific sound, /ŋ/, not just g and h together, otherwise it would be 'dinhy'.


and even with honour, /ˈɑːnər, the sound of British 'ou', or American 'o' is not 'u', but the schwa.

Warsaw Will March 13, 2015, 5:11am

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I agree that double letters (like the 'ff' in 'cliff' or the 'zz' in 'jazz') don't really count—they're both part of the same pronunciation.

As far as foreign words, if any monolingual native English speaker would use it as an English word, it definitely counts. So, for example, my semi-literate monolingual English speaking neighbor might talks about a "midnight rendezvous" without even knowing how it's spelled, and no one gives a second thought to the term 'grand prix' when they're at the racetrack, even if they do recognise it as French. Also, words like 'tsunami' are clearly foreign, but the fact that it has a separate pronunciation in English (without the 't') makes it count.

For the sake of interest, I'm going to exclude place names altogether unless they're common international place names like Antarctica.

For those saying that words like 'talk' and 'walk' don't count because they change the pronunciation, maybe a better way to think of it is like this: If someone (a child learning to read or a non-native speaker, for example) pronounces the letter and it sounds wrong, it counts as a silent letter.

And yes, obviously it all depends on your dialect. The best responses are words with letters that are never pronounced by native speakers in casual conversation.

gwistix December 6, 2015, 5:28am

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Here's my list:
A cocoa, diamond, diaper, elementary, artistically, equivalent, aesthetic, carafe
B debt, subtle, subpoena, lamb, comb, thumb, plumber, etc.
C muscle, antarctic, acquire, blackguard, czar, victuals, Antarctica
D handkerchief, sandwich, Wednesday, handsome, and (pronounced without the 'd' in casual speech)
E vineyard, vegetable, stopped
F fifths, halfpenny (obviously obsolete, but hey)
G assignment, campaign, gnostic, cologne, gnarl, gnome, gnat, sign, reign, foreign, phlegm, impugn
H honest, hour, honor, rhythm, rhinoceros, ghost, what, why, when, herb (U.S. pronunciation), thyme, Thailand, Thames, him, her (as in "get him", "get her", etc.), chihuahua, John
I family, business, parliament, Salisbury [steak], lieu, lieutenant
J marijuana, Juan*
K know, knee, knob, knife, knight, knot
L half, calf, talk, walk, should, could, salmon, yolk, chalk, folk
M mnemonic
N damn, column, autumn, hymn
O chocolate, people, leopard, jeopardy, subpoena, phoenix
P pneumonia, psychology, pterodactyl, receipt, cupboard, coup, corps
Q lacquer
R surprise, February, chitterlings
S island, debris, apropos, bourgeois, rendezvous
T soften, Christmas, castle, fasten, listen, mustn't, ballet, gourmet, tsunami
U building, circuit, guard, rogue, physique, tongue
V fivepence ("fippence"), have (in "could have" [coulda], "would have" [woulda], etc.),
W answer, sword, two, write, wrist, wrestle, wry, who, whole, Greenwich
X faux pas, [grand] prix
Y prayer, says
Z rendezvous, laissez-faire, oyez

* Yes, Juan should be [hwan] (or better yet, [xwan]), but just like many English speakers pronounce 'wh' as [w] instead of [hw], we pronounce Juan as [wan].

CH yacht, chthonic
GH night, light, etc.
PH phthalate
TH asthma, clothes, sixths

gwistix December 6, 2015, 5:29am

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Savvy article , I am thankful for the facts , Does someone know where my company could possibly grab a fillable SC DoR PT-300 copy to type on ?

Rachall Sproul February 20, 2016, 3:52am

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Hi Rachall, my work colleague used a sample SC DoR PT-300 form here

deloise wininger February 20, 2016, 5:03pm

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@Rachall Sproul Rachall, my work colleague used a sample SC DoR PT-300 form here

deloise wininger February 20, 2016, 5:04pm

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You can though some of them are words from other languages that we use, like rendezvous. Vsauce did a video about it on YouTube.

Seagull February 28, 2016, 8:03am

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hsas September 3, 2016, 8:43am

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Maybe "pleasure" for the letter A.

Lucy September 20, 2016, 3:55pm

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What about vowels? I have a list:

Silent A:In "ea" words when it makes the short or long e sound:Leaf, head, bread, stealth, read, knead

Silent O:In "ou" words where it's pronounced like a short or long u:Couple, you, cousin, rough, coupon

Silent U:Build

Does anyone have any more? I can't think of any.

Irregular September 26, 2016, 2:43pm

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The letter o is silent in the name phoebe(feebee, not fobe)

He September 26, 2016, 2:45pm

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Thank you very much for the post. May I ask you what happens with the "r" in the following words (in non-rhotic accents like RP): beware /bɪˈwɛə/, care /kɛə/, dare /dɛə/, there /ðɛə/, share /ʃɛə/, compare /kəmˈpɛə/, careful /ˈkɛəfʊl/, sphere /sfɪə/, figure /ˈfɪɡə/, and so on? In all of these cases the “r” is neither at the end of the word nor before consonant (rules that many BrE teachers teach for silent "r") – still, it is silent. Are there any rules that can be applied in these cases? What about: very, necessary, arbitrary, and so on - here the "r" is pronounced, but, even though in the middle of the word, there's no consonant before it (other rule BrE teachers teach for non-silent "r")? What's the rule here? What about the words: order, separate and the like? In "order", for example, the "r" is before a consonant - still, it is silent. On the other hand, in "separate" the "r" is in middle position, but there's no consonant before it - still, it is pronounced and therefore non-silent. What I am trying to learn is whether (or not) there are 2 separate rules for the “r”: one telling me when the “r” must be pronounced and one telling me when the “r” is silent. Am I missing something here? Thank you!
As I have spoken with other BrE experts, I would also like to ask you if the following conclusions are accurate enough and could be considered a rule for the pronunciation of the "r" sound (in British RP and non-rhotic accents of English):
1. "r" is silent in the following words: car, star, sister, mother, word, person, bird (/kɑː/, /stɑː/, /ˈsɪstə/, /ˈmʌðə/, /wɜːd/, /ˈpɜːsn/, /bɜːd/) because it is not followed by a vowel sound.
2. "r" is pronounced in the following words: read, write, red, Rome, grass, green, very, separate (/riːd/, /raɪt/, /rɛd/, /rəʊm/, /grɑːs/, /griːn/, /ˈvɛri/, /'sepərət/) and also in berry, carry, arrange (ˈ/bɛri/, /ˈkæri/, /əˈreɪnʤ/) because it is followed by a vowel sound.
Or, to sum up: /r/ (the phoneme, i.e. the sound as in red) occurs only before a vowel phoneme (in British RP and non-rhotic accents of English). In every other case, it is silent. Thank you!

Alex Ciprian June 29, 2017, 9:44am

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@AC In "care", "bare", "here", "hare", the final "e" seems to be a spelling hangover rather than a real vowel, and today just affects the pronunciation of the vowel in the previous syllable. Compare cut/cute, car/care, bar/bare/bear, her/here and so on.
Also in the phrase "after all", the "r" sound reappears to link the two words.
Above are just special cases for non-rhotic dialects.

jayles June 29, 2017, 4:55pm

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@jayles: So, If I am saying: "/r/ (the phoneme, i.e. the sound as in red) occurs only before a vowel phoneme (in British RP and non-rhotic accents of English) and that in every other case, it is silent.", is it enough to be considered as a "rule"? Thanks again!

Alex Ciprian June 29, 2017, 5:28pm

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@AC That seems about right; but perhaps someone will come up with an exception. Maybe I am wrong here, but are there not dialects (perhaps Somerset?) where there is some kind of an "r" sound (non-trilled) at the end of a word?

jayles June 29, 2017, 8:15pm

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@jayles: Thanks! Well, you're right - there are thousands of English dialects and accents all over the world! However, this "rule" I'm talking about has to be applied only to RP (Standard English RP) and non-rhotic accents of English. As David Crystal (1995: 262) says in his The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language: "no other consonantal letter has such a variety of sounds, and is prone to such regional variation." My job is not to find a rule to fit them all, but only to understand whether for RP and non-rhotic accents my "rule" can be applied. :)

Alex Ciprian June 30, 2017, 2:54am

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How about the first "h" in "which"?
I'm not sure if it's RP or not, but I often hear English people pronounce "which" in the same way as "witch".

Hairy Scot July 3, 2017, 12:26am

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@HS There is a long article on "wh" here:

I do remember being taught to pronounce "whether" as "hwether" at primary school in the 1950's ( SE England) ; but when I started work, I dropped it as being too affected and snobby. Technically though, "wh" is a digraph like "th" and "ch" and "ph".

jayles July 6, 2017, 3:24am

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I always pronounce "wh" in the same way for "when", "where", "whether", "which", and "who".
Here in NZ, as you probably know, there is an interesting twist on "wh" in certain place names.

Hairy Scot July 6, 2017, 9:39pm

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Yes     No