Chaucers Knight
Chaucer's Knight

The mastery of English spelling is difficult enough without the hocus-pocus about “silent” letters.

Take the word knight. Do you teach the learner that the k, the g, and the h are “silent”? Or do you teach the easily remembered phonograms kn and igh?

If you take the latter approach, the learner can listen to the word knight, hear the three speech sounds in it, and write it with the three sound symbols kn, igh, and t.

Kn is an alternate spelling for the sound represented by the single letter n. Igh is an alternate spelling for the long sound of the single vowel letter i. Teach igh as “3-letter i.”

Teaching children only the 26 letters of the alphabet leads to confusion. You must teach them the 26 single letters and their alternate spellings.

Here are eleven single consonant letters that represent distinct speech sounds, together with some alternate spellings that represent the same sounds:

F as in fan. Alternate spelling: ph as in phantom

G as in get, hug. Alternate spelling: gh as in ghost.

J as in jet. Alternate spellings: g as in gypsy, dge as in fudge.

K as in kite. Alternate spellings: c as in cat, ck as in luck.

L as in lap. Alternate spelling, ll as in full.

M as in man. Alternate spelling, mb as in lamb.

N as in nut. Alternate spellings: mn as in mnemonic, kn as in knot, gn as in gnome, pn as in pneumonia.

R as in ran. Alternate spelling: wr as in write,

S as in sit. Alternate spellings: c as in cent, ss as in miss,

V as in van. Alternate spelling, f as in of.

Z as in zebra. Alternate spelling: x as in xylophone.

Note that the distinctive sound represented by the letter x is /ks/, as heard at the end of such words as six, fox, and tax.

When x occurs at the beginning of a word, it is an alternate spelling for the distinctive sound represented by the letter z: xylophone, Xerxes.

Xylophone begins with the sound of ZXylophone begins with the sound of Z

ABC books frequently illustrate the letter X with the picture of a xylophone or an X-ray, a misleading practice, especially with X-ray in which the x represents neither /ks/ nor /z/.

X-ray begins with the name of the letter X.
X-ray begins with the name of the letter X.


In case you’re wondering why the letter c isn’t in this list: the letter c has no sound of its own. It is an alternate spelling for the sounds that belong to the letters k (cat) and s (cent).

The alternate spellings for the vowel letters a, e, i, o, and u are so numerous they require a separate post for each letter.

5 Responses

  1. Ted,
    No. “Xy” would not be a digraph. Both letters in the combination are pronounced. The x represents the sound /z/, and the y represents the long i sound.

  2. So would the xy in xylophone be a digraph? It doesn’t seem to meet criteria for silent.

  3. David didn’t answer you — but I wonder if he mean “British” English? Perhaps the Brits spell “gypsy,” “gipsy”? That’s the ONLY thing I see that might make him wonder.

  4. Dear
    Before asking you my main question, I would like to ask you another question.
    are u a native speaker of english?

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