Silent -e

Many students know about silent [-e], but I sometimes find a student who is not aware of it, so I want to make sure that it is clear for everyone. When there is just one [-e] at the end of a word, it is silent. Do not try to say it! This is true for 99% of the words with one [-e] at the end.

There is only just a handful words that have a single [-e] which is pronounced: psyche / recipe / apostrophe / catastrophe / simile / resume. And of course, one-syllable words with just one [-e], such as “me”, “he”, “we”, “she” or “be”, can’t have a silent vowel! Otherwise, there needs to be [-ee] at the end, to make the Long-E sound, as in “coffee” or “employee”.

Even though the [-e] at the ends of words is silent, it is not useless. Most of the time it plays an important function in indicating how other sounds should be pronounced. Here are some examples:

  • in the word “fence” the [-e] indicates that the [c] should have a /s/ sound, rather than a /k/ sound.
  • in “tense” the [-e] indicates that the [s] should keep the sound /s/ rather than shift to /z/ like in the word “tens”. (see more about S vs. Z)
  • in “edge” the [-e] indicates that the [g] should have a /j/ sound, rather than a /g/ sound.
  • in “rate” the [-e] indicates that the [a] should be pronounced as Long-A  — without the [-e] the word would be “rat” with Short-a-1.
  • in “toe” the [-e] indicates that the [o] should be Long-O, and not the word “to”.

Adding suffixes

Silent [-e] should stay silent, even when [-s] or [-ed] gets added, unless it is needed. For example, if I add [-s] to “save”, the [-e] stays silent, “saves”. However, if I add an [-s] to “case”, then the [-e] needs to have sound, in order to separate the first and the second “S”, so that both can be heard, “cases”.

Or if I add an [-ed] to “line”, the [-e] stays silent, “lined”, but with “wade” the [-e] activates, so that the first and the second “D” can both be heard, “waded”.

With the suffixes [-ly] or [-r], the [-e] always stays silent, so “brave” becomes “bravely” or “braver”.

So, silent [-e] is not just a crazy detail to make English more confusing, it often helps other sounds — perhaps it would be better to call it “helper [-e]”.


Vowels – Long and Short

Each of the vowel letters (A-E-I-O-U) has a Long-vowel sound, plus one or two Short-vowel sounds, and those are the normal sounds for each vowel. But what does Long-vowel or Short-vowel mean?


  • The Long sound for any vowel, is the same as the name of the vowel letter (like when you say the alphabet). So for example, the sound of Long-A is “A”.
  • The label “long” does not mean that it takes a longer amount of time — it means that the vowel sound has two parts. If you look at the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols for these sounds, you can see the two parts. For example, the IPA symbol for Long-A is /ey/.
  • To pronounce a Long-vowel correctly, the tongue needs to move, or slide, in order to say both parts.
  • When making Long-vowel sounds, the tongue will be tense, not relaxed, because the tongue muscle needs to move.


  • Short-vowel sounds have just one part.
  • The tongue is still — it does not move.
  • The tongue is relaxed.

Using the Long and Short-vowel system

Learning to think in terms of the Long and Short-vowel sounds can be very useful. Here are a few examples of ways the system works.

  • Long and Short-vowels often alternate when word forms change. For example: “nature” uses the Long-A sound but “natural” is pronounced with Short-a; “meet” has Long-E but “met” has Short-e; “five” has Long-I and “fifth” has Short-i.
  • Different English accents sometimes vary between Long or Short-vowel sounds. For example, the word “tomato” is usually pronounced with Long-A in American English, but in British English it is usually said with Short-a-2, “tomato”.
  • Native speakers of English use the Long and Short-vowel system (often subconsciously), when they want to figure out how to pronounce a new word that they have never heard or seen before.

    To demonstrate this, I looked for a list of words that are rarely used in English, to find one I had never seen — I found the word “b-r-o-n-t-i-d-e”. My first guess for how to say it was “brontide” with a Short-o, but I also thought it might be said with Long-O, “brontide”. Then I checked to see which was right — my first guess was correct: “brontide”.

    This is the process native speakers often use when they need to figure out how to say a new word.

  • Some spelling patterns correspond to Long and Short-vowels. The most basic one is [-e] at the ends of words which indicate a Long-vowel pronunciation. For example, “fat” is pronounced with Short-a-1, but when an [-e] is added, the word becomes “fate” with Long-A, and the word “pin” has a Short-i, but “pine” has a Long-I.

Learning to think of the English vowels according to the Long and Short-vowel system, is a good first step toward learning to use English more like a native speaker does.

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Linking words

Linking means making words sound connected, and it’s a normal part of English pronunciation. Linking is the reason why many frequently-used short phrases, end up sounding like one big word, such as: What time is it? / How is it going? / Come on in!

Even though linking is a normal part of the way native speakers of English talk, you will not usually have problems communicating if you do not do it. However, learning to link your words can be helpful.

First, it can help make consonants at the ends of words easier to pronounce. This is explained in Ends of Words – A Special Trick.

Also, linking makes you sound smoother and more natural. Listen to the difference when I say the same sentence two different ways, first without linking, and then with normal linking: Everybody is getting tired of it.

When to link

1. Linking can happen between any words that are in the same phrase.

Vowel followed by vowel: see it “seeyit” / how are “howar”
Vowel followed by consonant: two bucks “twobucks” / go first “gofirst”
Consonant followed by vowel: save it “savit” / look out “lookout”
Consonant followed by consonant: dark sky “darksky” / help take “helptake”
Any letter with the same letter: with them “withem” / how will “howill”

2. Break long sentences into logical groups, and link inside of the groups.

Maybe we should wait / until after the storm / to go to the store.

Finally, even if you do not make linking a part of the way you speak in English, knowing about it can help you be better at understanding what you hear.

The Sounds of A

The spelling system of English is complicated, and when it comes to the vowel system, it can even sometimes seem like there are no patterns. Even though it is complex, there are some basic patterns that you can learn, to help you figure out how to pronounce new words when you see them.

The most basic key to the vowel system, is to know that each vowel letter uses three or four sounds. So the first step to understanding the vowels, is to learn the basic sounds of each.

The basic sounds for the English letter “A” are Long-A, Short-a-1, and Short-a-2.


The sound of Long-A is the same as the name of the letter “A” when you say the alphabet. Some common words with this sound are: make / name / say / came / place / change / state / day / later / able / became / face / paper / waves / space.


The sound of Short-a-1 is tricky for some students. Short-a-1 is pronounced in the front lower part of the mouth, so the mouth needs to be open enough, and it is very important to relax the tongue.  Here are some frequently used words with Short-a-1: answer / add / began / plant / last / back / after / man / ask / land / family / class / stand / happen / map.


The second Short-a sound is a sound that is also used for Short-o. This sound is what many students think of as a normal “A” sound, and is used for the word “mama”. This vowel is in the center of the mouth (not front, not back) and it is low down, so the mouth needs to be open enough, and the tongue is relaxed. Words with this sound are: almost / talk / also / start / want / car / fall / small / watch / far / father / hard / water / part / saw / dark.


Besides the basic sounds, any vowel letter can use the schwa sound. This happens in weak (unstressed) syllables. Here are some words in which the “A” is in the unstressed syllable: about / around / along / among / across / ago / another / surface / finally / machine / America. There are also some very frequently used words, which are usually unstressed in sentences, and also use the schwa sound: was / a / what.

So, when you see the letter “A” in a word, it will almost always be one of the four sounds above. It is very rare to find some other vowel sound used. There are few words with an “A” that do not use one of those sounds, such as: said / says / any / many. (Words such as “warm” and “quart” are explained in The Power of R.)

OU – Oh no!

The pronunciation of some vowel pairs is fairly easy to predict, while others are less clear, but the trickiest one of all is the pair [ou] – this vowel pair uses many different pronunciations.

Here are the different ways that [ou] can be pronounced.

Long-O: dough, your, court, though, shoulder, source, four, thorough
Short-o: thought, bought, cough, fought, ought, brought
Long-U: through, routine, group, youth, detour, you
Short-u: cousin, enough, young, couple, rough, country, tough, trouble, touch, southern
Short-oo: could, couldn’t, would, wouldn’t, should, shouldn’t
Vowel /aw/: about, cloud, count, doubt, hour, house, mouth, noun, our, out, round, shout, south, thousand
Schwa for the suffix [-ous]: enormous, nervous, famous, cautious, obvious, various, serious, tedious
R-vowel: courage, journal

And on top of that, one word has two pronunciations: “route” with Long-U and “route” with Vowel /au/.

So, the best advice for [ou] is, first, to learn the correct pronunciation for all of the words here, so that you are confident with these ones. Then, for any new words with [ou] that you find in the future, be ready to listen carefully to the vowel sound.