Silent Letters in Some English and Other Foreign Words

Straight from the Middle East - Silent Letter

Most often Filipinos, and sometimes other Asian nationalities, pronounce English words as they see it.  Like chassis, which is of French origin and which means the supporting frame of an automobile, and which has come to be a part of the English vocabulary, is often pronounced by Filipinos as [cha-sis], with the final ‘s’ being sounded. While in French, the final ‘s’ or ‘t’ is usually silent, as in Mardi Gras, debris, fillet, chalet, etc.

Funny how the Pinoys pronounce certain English words with deep guttural sounds.  I’ve also noticed lately that some Pinoys are pronouncing the ‘r’ in most words like the Spanish ‘rr’ with that velar articulation, especially those graduates of exclusive schools.  I just hope that somebody in DepEd corrects this mistake and have English teachers on all levels rectify this erroneous pronunciation.

To help our readers here are some rules of thumb:

  • When b is followed by a t, the b is dropped, as in doubt [dawt] and subtle [sat’l] but in some words like subterranean and subtract, both letters are pronounced.
  • When d is followed by an n, the d is dropped, as in Wednesday [wenz-dey] and kindness [kayn-nes].
  • The final e in most English and French words is silent as in care [keyr], dame [deym], boutique [bu-tik], voice [voys], maze [mayz], accumulate [a-kyu-mu-leyt], fire [fayr], etc.; but in English words with Greek origin, the final e is often pronounced, as in epitome [e-pi-to-mi] or hyperbole [hay-per-bo-li].
  • When g is followed by an m or an n, the g is often dropped, as in gnu [nu], gnat [nat], align [a-layn] or phlegm [flem]; but both are pronounced in pragmatic or stagnant
  • The letter h is always silent in Spanish, and in some English words like honest [a-nest], hour [ar or a-war], heir [eyr] and Thailand [tay-land], an Asian country.
  • When k precedes the letter n, it is always silent, as in know [no], knell [nel], knee [ni], knife [nayf], knight [nayt] and knock [nak].
  • When l is followed by either d, f, k, or m, it is often silent as in should [shud], could [kud], calf [kaf], half [haf], talk [tok], folk [fok], almond [a-mond], salmon [sa-mon]; but in cold [kold] or mold [mold] both letters are pronounced.
  • When m is followed by the letter b, the b is always silent as in lamb [lam], bomb [bam], climb [klaym]; but in bombarding [bomb-ard-ing] and bombardment [bomb-ard-ment], both letters are pronounced.
  • When m is followed by an n, the final n is dropped as in column [ko-lum], hymn [him] and autumn [o-tum], but when other letters follow the ‘n’, it is pronounced, like in autumnal [o-tum-nal], columnar [co-lum-nar], hymnal [him-nal] and solemnity [so-lem-ni-ty].
  • The initial o in opossum (a marsupial) is most often not pronounced.
  • When p is followed by an s or a t, the p is dropped, as in psychology [say-ko-lo-dyi], psalm [sam] or psalms [samz], receipt [re-sit] and tempt [temt].
  • Words of French origin ending in s or se, usually have these last letters unpronounced.
  • The final t in most French words that have been adapted to the English language is silent, as in chalet [sha-ley], sachet [sa-shey], ballet [ba-ley], fillet [fil-ley], escargot [es-kar-go] (a French delicacy made up of snails).
  • When w is followed by an r, the w is always dropped, as in wrinkle [rin-kel], write [rayt], wrought [rot], wrangler [rangler] and wretched [rets-ed].
  • The combination letters ph is usually pronounced as f except for Stephen (a male proper name) which is either pronounced as [Stef-en] or [Stev-en]; in shepherd [sheperd] the h is dropped completely.
  • The combination gh is usually silent in most English words except in some words where these are pronounced differently, as in tough [taf] and laughter [laf-ter].
  • Diphthongs are combination of 2 vowels and are usually pronounced as one single letter, or a combination of a vowel and a consonant, like the ‘ea’ in meat [mit] and beat [bit] or the ‘ie’ in believe [bi-liv] and receive [ri-siv] or the ‘ou’ in bought [bot] and country [kan-tri]. (Most Pinoys would pronounce the last as [kawn-tri] or [kawnt-ri]. To avoid this, let’s make up another rule: When you say kan-tri, it’s an independent nation; but when you say kawnt-tri, it means One, Two, Three!)  Furthermore, in some words with diphthongs, one of the vowels is just dropped, as in leopard [le-pard], piece [pis], read [red] (past tense of read [rid]), heifer [he-fer], etc.

I have compiled a list of the most common, and sometimes seldom used, English and other words of foreign origin, that are often mispronounced, not only by Filipinos, but most Asians.  I have also added some proper names like that of persons, places, events and some famous car brands plus other pronunciation lists that may be useful to the reader.  All the letters in red are supposed to be silent. Practice and enjoy the rich English language.

[Note: Pronunciations indicated above are basically based on how most Filipinos would spell the words as pronounced.  Basic pronunciation guides can be found in any dictionary.]


L to Z

Red Letters = Silent

Different Pronun

—Ned Samar


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