Silent T words are tricky even for native speakers. It's not at all uncommon to hear native speakers pronounce the word often off-ten. There are a few simple patterns you can learn to make sure that you're keeping those silent Ts silent! Read on!


When Is T Silent?

The "rules" for silent T are these: if you see -STEN, -FTEN, or -STLE, you should assume that the T is silent.

A lot of other silent letters are silent at the beginning (like G and K) or end (like B and N) of words. Silent T is a little different. It usually  becomes silent because it gets "sandwiched" between two other consonant sounds, and it's easier to say if you leave out that T, which requires a lot of effort.


Examples

The chart below contains a word list of over 20 examples of words with silent T. Are you pronouncing them all correctly?

Elided T in Connected Speech

It's also worth mentioning that there are a number of situations where, in connect speech, we elide (or delete) the T sound, even if that hasn't become the standard pronunciation. For example, if you look up the standard definition of the word mostly, it has a T sound: /ˈməʊstli/. However, in fast speech, we frequently leave out that T, much like we do in castle.

The same can happen when certain words come together. For example, in the phrase just saying, we frequently elide the T sound, and say jus-saying.

Notice that there are some clear patterns here. Many of the words are verbs with the -EN suffix. We use this suffix to turn an adjective into a verb. For example, soft is an adjective, and soften is a verb that means "to make something soft." Moist is an adjective, etc. 

Is The T in watch Silent?

There are lots of lists of silent T words out there. On some, you'll find words ending with -TCH, like watch and match. This is a little inaccurate. For one thing, take a look at the phonetic transcription, and you'll see that there is actually a T sound in there: /wɒtʃ/ and /matʃ/. Of course, that T sound is just part of the CH sound, and also exists in words like attach: /əˈtatʃ/. But calling the T silent isn't really accurate. Unnecessary, maybe, but not silent. It's better to think of TCH as a variation of CH that is sometimes required at the end of certain words, much in the same way that we seldom end words with just a -K after a single vowel; it usually becomes -CK. And I hope we wouldn't call that a silent C!

If you enjoyed this, check out some of our other English posts!

By the way, make sure to check out our other posts on English pronunciation, including Silent K, Silent B, Silent G and Silent L, and Deleted Syllables.

Silent T Words in English

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Silent T Word List
Word IPA PoS Definition
listen /ˈlɪsən/ v. to pay attention to sound
fasten /ˈfæsən/ v. to connect
hasten /ˈheɪsən/ v. to hurry
glisten /ˈglɪsən/ v. to shine with wetness
moisten /ˈmɔɪsən/ v. to make moist
christen /ˈkrɪsən/ v. to make Christian or give a name
chasten /ˈtʃeɪsən/ v. to moderate or restrict in behavior
soften /ˈsɒfən/ v. to make softer
often /ˈɒfən/ adv. frequently
whistle /ˈwɪsəl/ v. blow air through the lips to make sound
thistle /ˈθɪsəl/ n. a common prickly plant
castle /ˈkæsəl/ n. a large fortified medieval building
wrestle /ˈrɛsəl/ v. to fight using grappling
nestle /ˈnɛsəl/ v. lie comfortably within something
pestle /ˈpɛsəl/ n. heavy tool for crushing food in a mortar
gristle /ˈɡrɪsəl/ n. tough cartilage in meat
mortgage /ˈmɔːrɡɪdʒ/ n. a contract to borrow money for a house
rapport /raˈpɔːr/ n. a friendly relationship
gourmet /ˈɡɔːrmeɪ/ adj. of a refined taste in food
ballet /ˈbæleɪ/ n. an artistic dance form