General Question

occ's avatar

Words that start with silent letters?

Asked by occ (4080points) June 3rd, 2008

A few years ago I was with a group of people and we were talking about how, when you have to spell your name over the phone, it’s common to say words instead of just letters – i.e. “D like Daniel, A like apple, V like victor…” etc. We thought it would be funny if it were possible to spell out your name but use letters that were silent in the pronunciation “K like knife,” “G like gnat” “P like pterodactyl” etc. I wasn’t able to think of too many examples but figured this was a perfect question to turn over to the collective. Besides those two examples, what other letters appear silently at the start of a word?

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102 Answers

buster's avatar

Ypsilanti Michigan

gailcalled's avatar

@occ; wonderful question. Another way to keep me up tonight.

gailcalled's avatar

I am wracked with anxiety about this question, which I am trying to wrestle to the ground.
(w like….)

MrKnowItAll's avatar

Aardvark. The first a is silent.

gailcalled's avatar

wrench, writ, wreck, all the pn words (pneumonia, etc)

Dog's avatar

Opossum- most pronounce it “possum”

AstroChuck's avatar

Actually, it is pronounced
oh-possum. Possum is just slang for opossum. An actual possum is a different marsupial from the southern hemisphere.

Harp's avatar


bulbatron9's avatar

HEIR: H as in -, e as in air, so on and so forth!

Harp's avatar

gnaw, gnat

AstroChuck's avatar

Herb, or herbivore. Hour, too.

wizard's avatar


Notreallyhere's avatar

I’m gonna go PSYCHO

Notreallyhere's avatar

I don’t KNOW

Notreallyhere's avatar

A WHOLE lot of words

AstroChuck's avatar

Gnu and Pneumatic.

babygalll's avatar

What about Colonel. I still don’t get how this word got the spelling it did!

AstroChuck's avatar

But the C isn’t silent.

babygalll's avatar

True, but it sound completely different than the spelling.

mghb's avatar

F like phenabarbatal

ezraglenn's avatar

…but that doesn’t have an F in it…

mghb's avatar

you would be correct, but it sounds like it would.

so maybe I should have said

P like

richmarshall's avatar

Who Wrote Pneumonia

wildflower's avatar

P in Pseudo or Pseudonym
W in Wrath or Wreath

breedmitch's avatar

Rich is smart! Lurve!

I had friends that named their son Pthomas. I love that!

Seesul's avatar


shrubbery's avatar

Astrochuck, why do you say herb and herbivore? Do you not pronounce the “h” in those words?

Seesul's avatar

I don’t either. A lot of Americans don’t.

Seesul's avatar

gnome, gnat, gnarled

shrubbery's avatar

Wow, I never knew that. That seems very strange to me!

Seesul's avatar

…except if it’s a first or last name, then we say it, go figure.

Vincentt's avatar

@babygalll – that’s nothing to how you pronounce the name of the Dutch city “Gorinchem” :)

Is anybody going to turn this in an alphabetic list? It’s an excellent question :)

mcbealer's avatar

I wanted to of course mention gnome, previously mentioned.

How about kneel?

gailcalled's avatar


Seesul's avatar

@vincentt…or the Dutch town of Gouda. Bet most Americans don’t realize that they are creaming the name of that yummy cheese. I say it for fun when I ask for it and the clerk has no idea.

phoenyx's avatar

tsetse fly
(depending, didn’t realize there were so many alternative ways to pronounce it. I say set-see.)

robmandu's avatar

Found a name that ends in a silent number.

Vincentt's avatar

@Seesul – hehe, but there are plenty of those. However, tell a Dutch person to pronounce Gouda and he’ll manage. Ask a Dutch person who’s never heard of Gorinchem to pronounce that, however… ^.^

Seesul's avatar

Good one, Robmandu!

gailcalled's avatar

and E as in euphonius, euphoric and the plant, Euphorbia.(Thank you, Robmandu, for the help.)

These are caused by the classical Greek use of diphthongs…encyclop*ae* dia is an example.

AstroChuck's avatar

Actually the E isn’t silent. Eu is a diphthong and makes the Yoo sound. Without the E it would sound like

gailcalled's avatar

@Astro; Eu are right, but the words fit the description of the question, don’t they?

Viz: “E” as in euphemism?

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t see how. It’s not pronounced oofemism.

gailcalled's avatar

I’m getting punch drunk so will have to think about that in the AM. What about the parallel: you don’t say g as in gunat?

babygalll's avatar

Knicker…which are women’s panties.

AstroChuck's avatar

Then let’s not forget knockers!

scamp's avatar

knick knack ( paddy whack give the dog a bone)

gailcalled's avatar

Knackered, knight, ptarmigan (bird),Ptolemy, ptomaine;

I would eliminate tse tse since the proferred pronunciation runs the t and s together in a way that I can say but not type phonetically. (“t” plus a hiss?

Seesul's avatar

How funny, I was trying to put LLoyd and Llewyellyn llast night, but my iPhone was acting llousy. (yes, I know, names, not words per se).

fernandoman's avatar

Everyone listen to “Crazy ABC” by Barenaked Ladies. Its on their album “Snacktime”.

It’s the alphabet song with every letter begining with a silent. Such as,
A is For Aisle or
B is for Bdellium,
C is fro Czar and
D is for Djinn. I could go on

AstroChuck's avatar

Technically, ai is a diphthong. Phonetically, when the a and i are together it makes the long i sound.
Sometimes I’m an ass and just feel like being a buzzkill.

gailcalled's avatar

People who still know what a diphthong is are a rare, wonderful and perhaps dying breed. Personally, I find it sexy.

gailcalled's avatar

But what is Bdellium?

AstroChuck's avatar

Everyone knows that!

gailcalled's avatar

And “burseraceous plants”? Another household word(s

bstyaltykildacat's avatar

Aardvark and llama, it doesn’t have the irony which the question asked to include. However you could say A as in “aikido”

To add to that my first thought was xylophone but it that that sound an x makes?

gailcalled's avatar

@bstyaltykildacat: Try xerox, Xerxes, aloud. There are subtle differences. zylophone, szerkser, zerox. It is the fault of the Greek alphabet which has Chi, Psi, Ksi, Phi – there is a subtle difference in the amount of psaliva xsprayed.

Vincentt's avatar

@bstyaltykildacat – actually, you do pronounce the first letter of aardvark. It has Dutch origins, and “Aa” is a different sound than “a”.

Also, I’d swear you also pronounce the first l in llama, even though not as clearly as the second one. Though that might also be because I just pronounce the world separately with more emphasis on the double l, perhaps if I’d use it in a sentence it’d be different.

AstroChuck's avatar

Actually, llama is really pronounced “yama” as the double L is pronounced as it is in tortilla.

robmandu's avatar

< < llurves (say “yurves”) AstroChuck. And tortillas.

gailcalled's avatar

y tambien me llamo Gail.

AstroChuck's avatar

It’s the silent letters you’ve got to look out for. The loud ones are usually all talk.

gailcalled's avatar

@AC: Check out the wonderful song, Silent E.

Tom Lehrer wrote this for The Electric Company in 1971. The song endures; as does The LY one.

He even includes Dracula in the latter.

Gjhfth's avatar

Woahhh, tsunami***

pisatel6's avatar

bdelygmia, ptarmigan, ptosis,phthysis. The first letters are silent, like the q in billiards/

robmandu's avatar

^ ^ ^ “silent q in billiards”


sircrabshorts's avatar

A pretty funny story about what this is about. Words with GN-

kellb73's avatar

We’re writing a list like this to use in the call centre i work in. But we’re stuck on D, J, N, S and Z…. Any suggestions?

gailcalled's avatar

The names in Spanish, Jaime and Jorge, are pronounced chimay and chorhey_.

D as in djinn. (Gin).

kellb73's avatar

Hmm… not really well known are they?!?!

aliduman's avatar

Was the dude that brought this up a man named Z’berg or in anyway around McChord AFB in 2000–2004?

mcbealer's avatar

which I learned just yesterday on the 20k Congrats thread for @tinyfaery

joefinkle's avatar

I’m thinking you might as well just tell them your name is pothead. That’s “pothead”, P for psycho, o for Ouija, t for tsunami, h for hour, e for euphoria, a for aisle, d for djinn. In case you have trouble spelling it.

djon's avatar

a – aegis
b – bdellium
c- colonel
d- djinn
e – ewe
f –
g- gnostic
h- human
i -
j – Jose
k- knowledge
m- mnemonic
o- ouija
p- pharmacology
t- Tchaicovsky
w- wrist
x- xerox

breedmitch's avatar

Umm…I’m pretty sure the “h” in human isn’t silent.

AstroChuck's avatar

Nor is the J in José. It’s Spanish and sounds like an English H but the J is definitely prounounced.

Cejona's avatar

Now my dad wants to write an ” ANTI-PHONETIC alphabet” and I’ve made some good progress but we’re still stuck on the letter i aaargh!!!! do you know any words that start with a silent i???

ooonor's avatar

e as in eye?

columbus8myhw's avatar

For silent ‘i’, try this:

Have ‘i’ be: “I as in illicit”
Have ‘e’ be: “E as in elicit”

If you are talking over the phone, your friend can’t be sure if you said ‘e’ or ‘i’.

Also, Isle/Aisle, Irruption/Eruption, Irruptive/Eruptive, and Islet/Eyelet.

columbus8myhw's avatar

Also, this doesn’t really make up an anti-phonetic alphabet, but saying:

“I as in I’ll and Isle, but not as in Aisle”

might be used.

For ‘q’, um, uh… there are no silent ‘q’s. However, using ‘q’ – whithout – a – ‘u’ words are okay… qi, qat, qis, qadi, qaid, qoph, qibla, qorma, qabala, qanats, qasida, qawwal, qigong,
qindar, qintar, qiviut, qormas, qwerty, qabala, qawwali, qiviuts, qaimaqam, qalamdan, qindarka, qabalism, qabalist, and qinghaosu are good examples. (I got these words from a scrabble website: link)

columbus8myhw's avatar

fernandoman said this:

Everyone listen to “Crazy ABC” by Barenaked Ladies. Its on their album “Snacktime”.
It’s the alphabet song with every letter begining with a silent. Such as,
A is For Aisle or
B is for Bdellium,
C is fro Czar and
D is for Djinn. I could go on

Reply: Not all the letters they had was a silent letter: Aisle, Euphrates, Fohn, Irk, Llama, Qat, etc.

columbus8myhw's avatar

I’ll add to djon’s list. Words in bold are my additions, strikethroughs are used when I feel like replacing words. Thank you djon for making the original list!

a – aegis
b – bdellium
c – colonel cents and cense but not scents or sense
d – djinn
e – ewe eyelet but not islet
f – fohn but not phone
g – gnostic gnu but not knew, new, or nu
h – human
i – islet but not eyelet
j – Jose
k – knowledge knew but not gnu, new, or nu
l –
m – mnemonic
n – new and nu, but not gnu or knew
o – ouija
p – pharmacology
q – qat but not cat
r –
s – sents and sents but not cense or cense
t – Tchaicovsky
u –
v -
w – wrist
x – xerox xhosa
y – yclept
z -

columbus8myhw's avatar

Xhosa is pronounced like kōsə where the ‘k’ is like the german ch or the hebrew ח (or just a regular k).

columbus8myhw's avatar

h – human hour

otto's avatar

These are my favorites because they are them most confusing when used to explain your spelling.
A as in Are
E as in Eye
S as in See
Y as in You

Elfie's avatar

H for honest!

Dutchess_III's avatar

@AstroChuck In the word “colonel” the first L is WORSE than silent. It’s pronounced as though it was an R. I never understood that either.

AstroChuck's avatar

@Dutchess_III- When you ever get confused by something you can always count on Cecil Adams to have the answer.

smu95rp's avatar

I’ve been working on this too.
a as in aeons
b as in bdellium
c as in czar
d as in djinn
e as in europe
f ?
g as in gnostic
h as in honour
i ?
j as in jalapeño
k as in knickers
l as in pound (lb)
m as in mnemonic
n ?
o as in one
p as in pneumatic
q as in Qing
r ?
s ?
t as in tsunami
u as in uilleann
v ?
w as in wrist
x ?
y ?
z ?

0p_'s avatar

I don’t think pound should qualify.

Paraplegal's avatar

Y as in Ypres
W as in whole
X as in Xylophone
P as in (ironically enough) Phonetic
Q as in Quetzalcoatl

R as in (in a big stretch to Korean) Rodong Sinmun (pronounced “Nodong”)

AstroChuck's avatar

The X in Xylophone is hardly silent. Same goes for Phonic, Ypres, and Quetzalcoatl. You got Whole right though.

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