Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E”

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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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33 thoughts on “Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E””

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.


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

    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.

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

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!”

  12. 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!

  13. 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.
    But only the word ” cheese” ends with ‘e’.

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

  14. 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:

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

  16. 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! 🙂

  17. Saraj,
    You’re right. The word “because” does not fit neatly into any of the silent final e categories. It seems that the “e” in “because” serves to give the “s” a /z/ sound.

    Like any system designed to provide guidelines for learners, English spelling rules do not cast a net wide enough to cover every single instance. They do, however, cover a great many, leaving it to the learner to note the exceptions. But “Ugh. English!”? Dismissing an entire language for a few flaws seems a bit extreme.

    Btw, “because” began as a prepositional phrase, “by cause.” Say it often enough over a few hundred years and the pronunciation changes.

  18. Is there a rule I can use to explain to my French Immersion class when to add an e at the end of a word in English. For example: class and classe. How do I explain that there is no e at the end in English? Thanks

  19. In answer to Gwen’s question: “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” Yes, there is a rule but it’s not entirely helpful. The reason for your confusion is that the vowel in these words is always unstressed and is always pronounced as a schwa /ə/. There is no rule in English that determines the spelling, only the pronunciation rule “an unstressed vowel is usually pronounced /ə/. The spelling has been determined by the Latin from which these words came. As a Spanish speaker, I just think of the Spanish spelling/pronunciation of the Spanish equivalent of the word – the written vowel nearly always is the same in Spanish. I know the word is independEncia, so it is independEnce in English; correspondEncia > correspondEnce; prevalEnte > prevalEnt; relevAncia> relevAnce. There are a few exceptions though: resistEncia> resistAnce. However, the exceptions are so few that you can easily memorise them. Sorry, but if you don’t speak Spanish, this isn’t very useful. But if you speak French, Portuguese or Italian, it may be!

  20. How can I explain to my students how to recognize words like:
    Tail and Tale
    Mail and Male
    Roam and Rome

    And why words like Rain cannot be spelled Rane; Same cannot be Saim? Is there any rule to identify this explanation?

    Can anyone help me?

    Thanks in advance

  21. Johan Misler, Sara,
    I cannot give you hard and fast rules.

    Unlike a language like Spanish, whose speech sounds correspond closely to the 26 letters of the alphabet, English is spoken with more sounds than it has letters to write them: 44 speech sounds and only 26 letters. Vowels are especially challenging. Take only the vowels in your examples—long a and long o. Each can be spelled seven different ways.

    I think it is fairer to students to teach them all the ways that a sound can be spelled before exposing them to words in which the same sound is spelled seven different ways.

    I am a big fan of the Spalding method of teaching beginning reading. With this method, the student is introduced to the 70 phonograms with which English is written. As students learn each phonogram, they learn words that are spelled with it. They also learn a few basic rules, like the ones about “silent final e.” Adding an e to the end of a word that contains a vowel between two consonants makes the vowel “say its name”: pal, pale; Tom, tome; Tim, time, tub, tube. This rule explains the spelling of tale. The phonogram ai also spells the long a sound. It occurs inside words: tail, sail, mail, rail. The same sound is spelled ay at the end of words: say, may, ray.

    Spelling “rules” don’t always work, but they work most of the time and give the students a memory peg that helps them remember the exceptions.

    Instead of allowing student to develop the idea that English spelling “makes no sense,” teachers can show them that our challenging spelling system is the price we pay for our rich vocabulary. Students can learn to take irregularities in stride. The key is to give them the tools they need as they need them.

    You may find useful material on my teaching site: https://www.americanenglishdoctor.com/.

  22. Amy Sparrow,
    The word “you” ends in “ou”, not “u.”
    I’m not being facetious. ou and u are two different phonograms. Ou is very rare at the end of English words. The equivalent phonogram used at the end of words is “ow.”
    The only fairly common words I can think of that end in “ou” come from French via indigenous languages: caribou, bayou, manitou, kinkajou. “You” (and singular “thou”) go back to Old English forms.

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