So, we all know by now that English is crazy, right? We have talked about silent N and silent K and silent L and silent B. But English is even crazier. It's not just letters that are silent. We have silent syllables in English, too!*
What is a Syllable?
A syllable is a part of a word with one vowel sound and the consonants around it. For example, the word working has two vowel sounds, so it has two syllables. We often show syllables like this: wor-king. Often one syllable is stronger than the others, and we can show this, too. In the word working, the first syllable is stronger. This is called the stressed syllable. We can show the stressed syllable in different ways:
wor-king, WOR-king, 'wor-king
Some words only have one syllable, like big, cat, and think. Some words have LOTS of syllables, like an-ti-dis-es-tab-lish-men-tar-i-an-ism.
Why are Some Syllables Silent?
Like we said, some syllables are strong. That means some other syllables are weak. When we are speaking quickly, over many many years, the pronunciation of the word changes, and some syllables eventually become so weak that they are completely silent.
How Do I Know If a Syllable is Silent?
You don't. Sorry! There are some patterns for where silent syllables happen (for instance, they are always in the middle of a word, they are often the syllable before an R sound, they are almost always the syllable after the stressed syllable), but it's really not a good idea to guess that a syllable will be silent. There are only a couple dozen words in English that have silent syllables, so your best strategy is to learn which words they are.
That's why we've assembled this list! Please comment below if you have any words for us to add to the list!
Are These Syllables Always Silent?
Now, some of you are probably thinking, "But I KNOW I've heard people say in-te-res-ting with 3 syllables!!!" You probably have! Every time we pronounce a word, it sounds a little bit different. Sometimes when we are speaking slowly or emphatically, we might pronounce the silent syllable in miserable or interesting. This sounds confusing, but don't worry! If you leave the syllable silent, it will never be wrong!
*Note: Deleting syllables is a common phenomenon in American English, but it may not happen in all varieties of English.