5 Spelling Rules For the Ending Silent E
There are many words in English that end with a silent E, and sometimes, when teaching children to read, parents might scratch their head and wonder how to explain why an ending "E" is a silent one.
There are 5 main spelling rules to be aware of, and knowing these will help you explain most situations.
The 5 Spelling Rules For Ending Silent E
Rule 1: The silent E is used to make the preceding vowel long to sound like its own name. I think most will know this rule, or have come across it at one time or another. Here are some examples:
FIN vs. FINE - without the silent E, the I in FIN is short, and with the ending silent E, the I become long to sound like its name.
FAT vs. FATE
BIT vs. BITE
NOT vs. NOTE
Rule #2: Silent E makes C soft to make the /s/ sound. It also makes G soft to make the /j/ sound, but only sometimes! This is related to the first rule in some ways. Here, I teach the "Silent E" as the "Bossy E", because in many words, it performs two functions at the same time. (It's telling other letters how to sound, and that's why we call it "bossy".) Here are some examples:
ACE, ICE, SPICE, AGE, PAGE, STAGE
Looking at these words, you'll see that the ending silent E is performing two functions:
1) (rule #1) It makes the preceding vowel long to sound like its name.
2) (rule #2) It makes the C and G soft to sound like /s/ and /j/.
These two concepts are taught later on in our Advanced Phonics program.
Rule #3: English words do not end in U or V. The ending silent E in these words do not play a part in altering the pronunciation of the word itself. It's only there so that the words do not end in U or V.
HAVE, OLIVE, SOLVE, STARVE, GLUE, BLUE, TRUE, ARGUE (exception: THRU, alternative spelling of THROUGH)
Rule #4: You won't see this rule mentioned much, but the ending silent E is also used to distinguish certain words from the plural forms of other words. That sounds a little confusing, so let me show you what I mean. Let's look at PLEAS and PLEASE. What's the difference between these two words? Let's first define them, using any online dictionary:
PLEA (plural form PLEAS) - a request made in an urgent and emotional manner.
PLEASE - used in polite requests or questions.
PLEAS is the plural form of PLEA. By adding an ending silent E, you completely change the word and its meaning to PLEASE. Here are a few more examples:
MOO, MOOS, MOOSE.
PAR, PARS, PARSE
LAP, LAPS, LAPSE
TEA, TEAS, TEASE
BROW, BROWS, BROWSE
TEN, TENS, TENSE
CORP, CORPS, CORPSE
COP, COPS, COPSE (a small group of trees)
In the above examples, the first two words in each row are the singular and plural forms of the same word, while the third word is a completely different word distinguished by the silent E ending.
Rule #5: Every syllable must have a vowel. Here are some examples for this rule:
STAPLE - 2 syllables: STA/PLE
SYLLABLE - 3 syllables: SYL/LA/BLE
PROBABLE - 3 syllables: PROB/A/BLE
Because of rule #5, these words are spelt as STAPLE, SYLLABLE, PROBABLE, and not as STAPL, SYLLABL, PROBABL.
So there you have it, the 5 spelling rules for the ending silent E.
1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S.