Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E”

By Maeve Maddox

Many English words end in the letter e.

In an earlier stage of the language, many of these final e’s were pronounced. Now, however, unless the word is a foreign borrowing, the final e is silent.

Although final e is silent, it usually has a job to do.

Here are the five rules for the use of silent final e.

1. Silent final e makes the vowel say its name.

Compare the pronunciation of the following pairs of words:

con cone
cut cute
mat mate

In cone, the e makes the o say “O”. In cute, the e makes the u say “U”. In mate, the e makes the a say “A.”

This first and most common kind of silent final e “makes the letter say its name.”

2. English words don’t end in v or u.

The e at the end of have and blue do not affect pronunciation. The e is there because the words would otherwise end in v or u. Impromptu is one of the few exceptions to this rule.

3. Silent E after the letters C and G “soften” their sounds.

The letter C can represent the sounds of either /k/ as in cat or /s/ as in cent.
The letter G can represent the sounds of either /g/ as in gum or /j/ as in gym.
Silent final e after C and G indicates that the sounds are /s/ and /j/. Ex. lance and charge. Without the silent final e, these words would represent the pronunciations /lank/ and /charg/.

4. Every syllable must have a vowel.

In words like candle, pickle, and people, the final syllable can be pronounced without a vowel, but “in English, every syllable must have a vowel.” (Would we really want to write pebbl or littl?)

5. Sometimes the silent final e has no purpose whatever.

In words like are, and ore, the silent final e does not affect the pronunciation or provide a missing vowel, or keep a word from ending in v or u. This is the e that Mrs. Spalding (Romalda Spalding, The Writing Road to Reading) calls “no-job e.” Like Everest, it’s there.

The word resumé is often spelled in English with the French accent aigu to indicate the untypical pronunciation.

The final e at the end of the Italian musical borrowing forte (loudly, powerfully) is pronounced like a long a: /for-tay/. Ex. This measure is marked forte.

The final e at the end of the French borrowing forte (strength, strong point) is silent, although many speakers pronounce this word the same way they do the musical term. Ex. Cooking is not my forte.

Industrious critics will point out exceptions that I’ve failed to mention, but in most cases, the five rules apply and are useful to know.

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24 Responses to “Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E””

  • Nita

    Hi, thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!

  • Gwen

    Are there any rules for spelling words that end in -ence or -ance. (Similarily, -ant and -ent). I can never remember if it is correspondAnce or correspondEnce, prevalEnt or prevalAnt (too many A’s in a row), relevAnce or relevEnce (too many E’s in a row).

  • Maeve

    Gwen,
    Your question deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned.

  • Jeff Kemp

    Great post for people new to English.

    “Would we really want to write pebbl or littl?”

    Yes, if that was how they were spelled. But they’re not, so we don’t. A bit of a tautology.

  • Maeve

    Jeff,
    Good point. And the spellings are kind of cute.

  • Tom

    Wait, your rule about every syllable must have a vowel has the requisite exception. You know, “every rule has an exception.”

    The word, “rhythm,” has 2 syllables, but only one vowel. Was it pronounced as a single syllable at one point? Rhythmic has two syllables and a vowel for each, but rhythm is just weird.

    ~Tom

  • Maeve

    Tom
    The word comes from Latin “rhythmus.” In Middle English the word was spelled “rhythme” and the final e probably would have been pronounced:
    /rhyth/muh.

    The final e dropped out and the pronunciation changed. You’re right, the final syllable -m has no vowel, but when we say the word, we stick one in.
    We don’t say /rhyth/m but /rhyth/em

    It’s a weird one ok.
    Thanks

  • sindhu

    great website for people who want to learn english and improve it. the tips are really great

  • Chris Maraschin

    Can you please give examples of dropping the final “e” and adding a suffix. Thank you very much on this information

  • Jane

    Another rule to consider – words that end in -se (loose, nurse, pulse). Final Silent e follows /s/=s following double vowel or two consonants.

  • Tania

    There are actually quite a lot of words that are exceptions to “every syllable has a vowel”. Not only rhythm, but also words like chasm, prism, aneurysm, communism etc. It’s fine to have exceptions – and English is inherently a language of exceptions – but I get irritated when some people insist that there’s only one syllable in words like chasm or rhythm, just to make these words fit the rule.

  • memo

    what about the word ‘even’ is the second e silent

  • Ravi

    What is the logic in behind vowel silence?

  • Ilana McGrath

    another use of the silent <e is to avoid words looking like a plural…
    ex. pleas (pleas + s) vs please

    loos (more than one "loo") vs. loose

    anyone interested in finding out more could refer to the fabulous resources at I use this resource all the time!

  • paola

    nike and skype: what is the right prounciation? with a silent e or not?

  • Frank

    I need the basic, in-a-nutshell- rule, fellow dude!
    Thanks.

  • Angella

    Rhythm and chasm are ONE SYLLABLE words. The rule is a syllable is a word or part of a word with a VOWEL SOUND. You see 2 vowels in the word COME, but come has one syllable because it has only one vowel sound. There are three vowels in the word AGAIN, but again has 2 syllables because it has two vowel sounds. The ‘i’ is silent.

  • Drea

    Angella
    by your own definition I think rhythm and chasm are two syllable words; as Maeve posted, we add a vowel *sound* into rhythm, saying rhyth/em
    I agree with Tania – they are two syllables.

  • Laura Brown

    There is another typical reason for silent e I didn’t see mentioned. This silent e’s main job is to say, “There is absolutely no meaning to that ‘s’ — it does NOT mean that there is one hou and two hous. It just means a house. That is all. The S is just a sound, nothing more!”

  • Linda Cherubino

    Another way to think of “every syllable must have a vowel” is “every syllable must have a vowel SOUND.” While we can go back to the origin of rhythm as originally rythme for sure, we can also think of it (and chasm, buddhism and other ism words) as having schwa as the vowel sound in the last syllable. As far as in syllaBLE, puZLE, staPLE etc. and other consonant-le words, the vowel sound is a schwa between the consonants and e is just nicely being the vowel because syllables just need them!

  • Rado

    OK,
    Can someone please tell me why the word “cheese” has to end with an ‘e’?
    Why it can’t be ” cheece”?
    I’m not able to answer my 5 yr old.
    She had to write the following words.
    Bee
    Tree
    See
    Feet
    Keep
    Jeep
    Deep
    Week.
    But only the word ” cheese” ends with ‘e’.

    As per Laura Brown, every ‘s’ should end with an ‘e’?
    Is that the reason here?

  • Maeve

    Rado,
    Changing the “s” to “c” in “cheese” would change the pronunciation from CHEEZ to CHEES (soft s). The same thing would happen if the final “e” were omitted (chees). Tell your little girl that the “e” makes the “s” say “z.” You might find some of the posts on my teaching site of interest:
    http://americanenglishdoctor.com/wordpress/language/basic-literacy/spelling

  • Dean Stephanus

    BUT,
    WHY do we pronounce move as “moov” and movie as “moovi’
    In addition:
    How about the pronunciation of the first “e” in resident?

  • Saraj

    What about the word “because” – we are working on syllable division in second grade and I’m not convinced it’s a “Magic E” – I think it’s a “closed”. In part due to the final e is silent, but it does not make the vowel team “au” say it’s name…. “au” already has it’s own sound… and why don’t because and cause sound the same. Ugh. English! 🙂

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