The numerous silent letters that plague English spelling have always annoyed me but I thought that they were limited to a great number of vowels and a few consonants. When I took a more careful look I got quite a surprise. It seems that of the twenty consonants (I consider the ‘y’ to be a vowel) fifteen are silent letters at one time or another. Let’s look at some sample sentences that probably drive foreign students crazy.
B. “I doubt he used his comb.”
C. “The scissors work like muscles.”
D. “Be on the bridge next Wednesday.”
G. “The beaver will gnaw thru the sign.”
H. “Honest, I saw the ghost an hour ago.”
K. “The knight knocked on the door with his knife.”
L. “Would you like half the salmon?”
M. “I never studied mnemonics.”
N. “In autumn we sing solemn hymns.”
P. “The whole corps has pneumonia.”
S. “The debris was in the aisle.”
T. “That damp castle is bad for my asthma.”
W. “Write the answer on line two.”
X. “Was that a faux pas?”
Z. “I have a rendezvous with him.”
Mnemonics is the only commonly used word that has ‘m’ as a silent consonant. It is of Greek origin. As for the silent ‘x’ and the silent ‘z’, those are actually French words.
The letter ‘q’ may never stand alone in English spelling and it is never silent. The ‘v’ and the ‘f’ are also never silent in commonly used words, nor is the ‘j’.
The letter ‘r’ is special. When it begins a word it is usually pronounced but when it ends a word or is in the middle of a word, it is often not pronounced. Few people pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘carpet’ but most people pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘farmer’.
Since the English language has over half a million words, many of them highly technical words, it is quite possible that q, v, f, and j, are silent letters somewhere. Which means a lot of frustration for anybody learning English and a great deal of wasted ink and paper for those who have already learned it.
This subject is covered in Chapter 55 of The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules. Page 103. Read and enjoy.