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]”.


-ate Part 3: Watch out for hidden -ate

If you have already read Part 1 & Part 2 about –ate, then you already know that you should not put stress on the –ate ending. The tricky part is that sometimes the –ate is not at the end of a word — it may be hidden by a suffix added after it. But even when it is hidden, you still need to follow the rule of not stressing it.

In the following examples, the –ate is not at the end of the new words, but the stress is still controlled by the –ate, which means that the stress falls 2 syllables before it.

elevate + or = elevator (don’t say: eleVAtor)
complicate + ed = complicated (not: compliCAted)
evaporate + ing = evaporating
accurate + ness = accurateness
deliberate + ly = deliberately

But watch out! There are other suffixes which do control stress, and overrule the –ate rule. The most common is –tion. This suffix moves the stress to the syllable just before itself. So, the word educate + tion = education, and evaporate + tion = evaporation. This -tion pattern makes it seem like the -ate is taking the stress.

-ate Part 2: How does it sound?

Graduate, or, graduate… Which is the correct pronunciation? Actually, both are right!

The other important thing to know about words with –ate is that the “A” uses two different sounds. The good news is that this is a clear and predictable pattern.

The letter “A” sounds like Long-A (or the name of the letter “A”) in Verbs, but it sounds like the reduced vowel or “schwa” in Nouns and Adjectives.

Here are some examples:
Verbs: calculate / originate / pollinate / refrigerate /
Nouns & Adjectives: certificate / electorate / proportionate / vertebrate /

However, there are quite a few –ate words that can be used as both a Verb AND as a Noun or Adjective. For example:
alternate (Adj & N) / alternate (V)
associate (Adj & N) / associate (V)
coordinate (N) / coordinate (V)
duplicate (N) / duplicate (V)
estimate (N) / estimate (V)
graduate (Adj & N) / graduate (V)
moderate (Adj) / moderate (V)
separate (Adj) / separate (V)

But don’t forget, whether the word is a Noun, Adjective or Verb, the stress always goes two syllables before the –ate ending, not on it.

Finally, as usual, there is always a word or two that doesn’t follow the rule. In this case, I have found a few: concentrate / primate / mandate / inmate / rebate. In these nouns, the “A” sounds like Long-A rather than a schwa sound.

-ate Part 1: Don’t Stress It!

A very common problem for learners of English is incorrect word stress in words that end with –ate. In fact, almost every student I have worked with has had difficulty with this. Almost everybody makes the mistake of putting the stress on the –ate ending.

HERE’S THE RULE: Do not put stress on –ate. Put it two syllables before that ending.

So, the 3-Syllable word “celebrate” has stress on the 1st syllable (not the last): CElebrate, not celeBRATE. And the 4-Syllable word “eliminate” has stress on the 2nd syllable: eLIminate, not elimiNATE

Here are some more examples:

3-Syllable words
accurate / delicate / demonstrate / fabricate / fluctuate / isolate / moderate / populate / separate / tolerate / vertebrate / violate /

4-Syllable words
approximate / certificate / communicate / deliberate / elaborate / evaporate / incorporate / infuriate / investigate / negotiate / refrigerate / subordinate /

There are hundreds of 3 & 4-Syllable words that end with –ate, but only just a few do not follow the rule, for example: elongate / interrelate / oxygenate / reinstate / relocate /

5 & 6-Syllable words
There are a few 5 & 6-Syllable words with -ate, and they also follow the same rule:
decontaminate / differentiate / hyperventilate / intermediate / rehabilitate / intercommunicate /

So, with only just a small number of words that do not follow the rule, it means that virtually every time you see a new word with –ate, you can confidently predict the stress.

What about 2-Syllable words?
Most 2-Syllable words that end with –ate have stress on the 1st syllable. Here are just a few (of many) examples: agate / climate / dictate / donate / frustrate / hydrate / inmate / locate / magnate / mandate / migrate / narrate / notate / primate / private / rebate / rotate / senate / translate / vibrate /

However, some 2-Syllable words do have stress on the –ate, such as: create / debate / deflate / elate / equate / estate / inflate / innate / irate / negate / ornate / relate / sedate. Some of these words are used fairly frequently, and perhaps this pattern influences learners of English to follow a similar stress pattern for all other words with –ate.

Now that you know the stress pattern, did you notice something else about –ate endings? Sometimes the “A” sounds like “A” and sometimes it sounds like the reduced vowel sound known as “schwa”. This difference is explained in –ate Part 2.