Silent -e

Many students know about silent [-e], but I sometimes find a student who is not aware of it, so I want to make sure that it is clear for everyone. When there is just one [-e] at the end of a word, it is silent. Do not try to say it! This is true for 99% of the words with one [-e] at the end.

There is only just a handful words that have a single [-e] which is pronounced: psyche / recipe / apostrophe / catastrophe / simile / resume. And of course, one-syllable words with just one [-e], such as “me”, “he”, “we”, “she” or “be”, can’t have a silent vowel! Otherwise, there needs to be [-ee] at the end, to make the Long-E sound, as in “coffee” or “employee”.

Even though the [-e] at the ends of words is silent, it is not useless. Most of the time it plays an important function in indicating how other sounds should be pronounced. Here are some examples:

  • in the word “fence” the [-e] indicates that the [c] should have a /s/ sound, rather than a /k/ sound.
  • in “tense” the [-e] indicates that the [s] should keep the sound /s/ rather than shift to /z/ like in the word “tens”. (see more about S vs. Z)
  • in “edge” the [-e] indicates that the [g] should have a /j/ sound, rather than a /g/ sound.
  • in “rate” the [-e] indicates that the [a] should be pronounced as Long-A  — without the [-e] the word would be “rat” with Short-a-1.
  • in “toe” the [-e] indicates that the [o] should be Long-O, and not the word “to”.

Adding suffixes

Silent [-e] should stay silent, even when [-s] or [-ed] gets added, unless it is needed. For example, if I add [-s] to “save”, the [-e] stays silent, “saves”. However, if I add an [-s] to “case”, then the [-e] needs to have sound, in order to separate the first and the second “S”, so that both can be heard, “cases”.

Or if I add an [-ed] to “line”, the [-e] stays silent, “lined”, but with “wade” the [-e] activates, so that the first and the second “D” can both be heard, “waded”.

With the suffixes [-ly] or [-r], the [-e] always stays silent, so “brave” becomes “bravely” or “braver”.

So, silent [-e] is not just a crazy detail to make English more confusing, it often helps other sounds — perhaps it would be better to call it “helper [-e]”.

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About Pronunciation Coach
I am a language teacher, with over 20 years of experience teaching ESL & Spanish.

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