The English language delights in giving us rules to follow—and then breaking them all. The silent K in knowing and knight, the silent B in comb and subtle—these words can all derail the most committed English language journey.
But one much-maligned letter—the silent E—is actually on our side when it comes to English pronunciation. In this article we’re explaining the many lessons words with silent E can teach us—and how you can learn to let them work for you.
Except in the case of sleeve. No matter how many times we look at that word, it has too many Es.
The Lessons of E
Words with silent E teach us some valuable patterns in English pronunciation. Although one “rule” of English pronunciation was that a “Silent E makes the vowel say its name” that’s not a hard and fast rule.
It may work for many words, like time (with a true I sound), lake (with a true A sound), and hope (with a true O sound), it doesn’t work for love or give.
Instead, we need to look at all the different ways the silent E can help our pronunciation, and figure out which lesson we should be using in every situation.
A silent E can make the vowel say its name.
There are countless cases where this rule is true. Words like cove and tape use a silent E to show us where to put the emphasis in our word: cOve and tApe, instead of cov and tap.
A silent E can help us differentiate between ideas.
This is true when you consider words like laps versus lapse, dens versus dense, and teas versus tease.
A silent E can soften a C, G, or TH.
In words like cage and dance, the silent E shows us that we should soften the hard G of stag or the hard C of cat. In the case of a THE combination, we soften the TH from baTH into bathe.
A silent E helps words adhere to the loose English rule that each syllable needs a vowel.
By adding a silent E to the end of common words like bundle and handle, these words stay true to the rule. (Of course, some could argue that many English words don’t conform to the rule anyway, like cwm, crwth, and psst.)
And sometimes—as is the case with love, none, one, come, and many others—there are no lessons at all. Because the English language is a strange and complicated one, and we like to keep you on your toes.
Let’s take a minute to look at the word sleeve, for example. Sleve would work, because the silent E makes the vowel say its name. Sleev would also work, because it remains a one-syllable word. When Middle English scholars were writing out their silent E words, it appears they just didn’t like to end words in a V.
So, a silent E isn’t designed to confuse us. It’s designed to help us in most cases—unlike that pesky silent S, B, or K. The key is in figuring out which of the lessons to follow when navigating around the silent E.
Need examples? Check out our list of words below.
List of Silent E Words
whale, wave, ware, wane, wake, wage, wade, vase, vape, vane, vale, tare, tase, tape, tame, tale, take, spade, snake, slate, skate, shape, shame, shake, scrape, scale, save, sate, sane, same, sale, sage, safe, raze, rave, rate, rare, rape, rake, rage, race, plate, pate, pare, pane, pale, page, pace, nave, nape, name, maze, mate, mare, mane, male, make, mage, made, mace, late, lane, lame, lake, lace, kale, jane, jade, haze, have, hate, hare, grave, grape, glaze, gaze, gave, gate, game, gape, gale, faze, fate, fare, flame, fame, fake, fate, fade, face, daze, date, dare, dame, dale, chase, case cave, care, cape, cane, came, cake, cage, brave, blaze, blame, blade, bare, bane, base, bale, bake, bade, babe, ate, ape
these, mete, mere, meme, lede, here, cede, eve, eagle
wive, wise, wire, wipe, wine, wile, wife, wide, white, vise, vine, vile, tire, tine, time, tile, tide, spike, smile, slide, slice, size, site, sire, side, shine, rise, ripe, rile, ride, rice, prize, pride, price, pipe, pine, pile, pike, nine, nice, mite, mire, mine, mime, mile, mike, mice, live, lite, line, lime, like, life, lice, knife, kite, jive, jibe, ice, hive, hire, hike, hide, glide, five, fire, fine, file, fife, drive, dive, dire, dine, dime, dike, dice, crime, cite, chime, bride, bite, bile, bike, bide, arise, alike
zone, wove, wore, woke, vote, tote, tore, tone, toke, stove, stone, stole, spoke, sole, smoke, slope, scope, rove, rote, rose, rope, role, rode, robe, pore, pope, pole, poke, phone, note, nose, nope, node, mote, mope, mole, mode, lore, lone, lode, lobe, joke, hose, hope, hone, home, hole, grove, globe, froze, fore, drove, doze, dote, dose, dope, dome, dole, cove, core, cope, cone, coke, code, close, chose, choke, broke, bore, bone, bode, awoke, alone
yule, use, tune, tube, sure, rule, rude, rube, pure, puke, nuke, nude, mute, muse, mule, lure, luge, lube, june, huge, fuse, fume, flute, flume, fluke, dupe, dune, duke, dude, cute, cure, cuke, cube, chute