Did you know there are many jobs of silent final e? We’ve written before about the versatile letter y. Well, the silent e letter is even more versatile! In this post, we discuss the many jobs of the silent e and how to help your students apply this understanding to reading and writing.
DISCLAIMER: As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
As Denise Eide explains in her book, Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy, “Learning all the reasons for silent final E’s is one of the simplest and most helpful boosts for students struggling with reading and spelling.” (p 65)
We’ve created a handy reference tool for teachers and parents. This Final Stable e Teacher Resource Guide is a shorthand version of this blog. Click here to get your FREEBIE!
We also have a FREE kid-friendly version available in low ink or color.
Silent e makes the vowel that comes before it long. This is usually first of many jobs of silent final e most students learn. Early on in literacy instruction, students learn the vowel-consonant-e pattern. Words that contain this pattern include fire, whale, cute, theme, and stroke. Our blog post on the silent e pattern includes lots of ways to help your student master reading and spelling of these types of words. If you’d like to learn more about the specifics, be sure to visit our vowel-consonant-e post. Words that contain this pattern include fire, whale, cute, theme, and stroke.
It’s easy to support students’ mastery of this phonics element when you have the right tools. Our Silent Final e Fluency Grids, VCe Decodable Word Lists and Sentences, and VCe Decodable Readers provide students with much-needed targeted practice.
The silent final e gives the digraph /th/ a voice.
Put two fingers on your throat and say the word, math. /m/…/a/…/th/. When you say the /th/ in math your voice box does not vibrate. However, when you say words like the, them, these, and bathe, your vocal cords vibrate.
We like to remind our students to turn their voices on or off when saying certain words.
The silent final e helps readers distinguish between singular words and plurals. For instance, the word dens means more than one den. However, the word dense refers to the thickness of something. Similarly, the word tens means more than one ten but the word tense can mean that a muscle or rope is tightly stretched.
This rule provides an important opportunity to delve into vocabulary and morphemes. The letter -s when added to the end of a word is a morpheme. A morpheme is the smallest unit of a word that carries meaning all on its own. The suffix -s can mean more than one or it can change the tense of a verb.
Students should understand when an e follows the letter s, it does not change the sound of the preceding vowel(s).
There are a lot of words that contain a silent e after the letter s: house, please, and moose, but we like to teach this rule after teaching the closed vowel and the vowel-consonant-e rule. As we encounter other syllable patterns with -se, then students already have a base knowledge, and they can apply the understanding to a variety of words.
Among the many jobs of silent final e is the job of preventing certain letters from ending a word. In the English language, certain letters are not allowed to end a word. These letters are i, u, j, q, and v. The silent e helps all of these letters.
Words in the English language may not end with the letters i or u.
Previously, we’ve discussed that one of the primary jobs of the letter y is to replace the i at the end of a word. You can read more about the Versatile Letter Y here.
What about the other words such as tie and pie that have the long i sound at the end of a word that do not end with y? If the e were removed, the pattern would follow the open syllable pattern and the vowel sound would remain the same. Thus, the e is not there to help cue the reader as to the pronunciation. The e is there to simply to prevent the words from ending in i.
The same holds for words like clue and rescue. The silent e does not change the pronunciation of the letter u, its only job is to prevent the words from ending in u.
Here’s a fun tidbit about the silent vowel team -ue. When -ue follows a g or a q, the -ue is silent. These words are derived from the French language and include words such as tongue and unique.
The silent final e keeps the letter v company at the end of a word.
When e follows a v at the end of the word it often does not change the pronunciation of the word. Have is pronounced the same way as hav. Heave and heav can be pronounce the same way as can deserve and deserv. The job of the silent e is to keep the v company. When our students are learning to spell words that end with the /v/ sound, we remind them of the rule that no words in the English language can end with the letter v.
No English words may end with the letter j.
There’s a lot more to it than adding the letter e after the letter j. Words do not end with je in the English language either. See job #5 for a more detailed explanation.
The fifth job of the silent final e is to soften the /g/ sound to /j/ and the /k/ sound to /s/. When the letter g ends a word, it has the hard sound of g, /g/. Words that are spelled and pronounced this way are hug, tag, and pig. These words all follow the closed syllable pattern with the short vowel sound.
However, there are some words that follow the closed syllable pattern that end with the sound of j, /j/. This requires more than adding a silent final e because it would change the vowel to its long sound. /b/…/ă/…/j/ would become /b/…/ā/…/j/.
The question becomes, how do we add the silent final e while still keeping the vowel sound short? The answer is to add the letter ‘d’ in front of the ‘g’.
/b/…/ă/…/j/ is spelled badge, not bage, and /r/…/ǐ/…/j/ is spelled ridge, not rige.
The best way to teach this spelling pattern is to use sound-to-letter mapping. This tool encourages students to listen carefully to the vowel sound to determine if the /j/ sound is spelled with ‘dge’ or ‘ge’.
The effective spelling resource shown above has detailed lesson plans that help teachers implement with ease. It is available in our TPT Store.
In two-syllable words that end with a consonant+le, the job of the final silent e is to make the second syllable an actual syllable.
Another consistent rule of English is that every syllable must have at least one vowel. Words like fizzle are two-syllable words and pronounced as such /fiz/…/zl/. A final silent e is added simply to give voice to the second syllable.
You can learn more about how to teach this syllable type in our blog: What You Need to Know About Teaching the Final Stable Syllable.
It is important to provide sufficient practice with the targeted phonics element. Our Decodable Word Lists and Sentences: Turtle Rule with Closed Syllables is a great starting point for students just learning about the consonant + le rule.
Once students are familiar with the other syllable types, students can improve their accuracy and automaticity with targeted Multisyllabic Decoding Instruction.
The last, but no less important job of the silent final e, is to help the reader distinguish between meanings of sound-alike word pairs such as by or bye and aw or awe.
To make some words look longer – Denise Eide, author of the book, ‘Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy,’ suggests that an 8th job of the silent final e is to make the word look longer. Words like are and owe are examples of adding e to make the word look longer.
Which skill should I teach first?
All of the jobs of the silent final e are important. They don’t necessarily need to be taught in the order outlined above. We have found that this particular sequence of instruction makes the most sense for our students.
Some of these skills require a lot more systematic, explicit instruction than others. Teachers know their students’ needs best. Based on that knowledge, you’ll know which skills require additional instruction.
Here are additional sources we referenced for this blog post:
‘The ABCs and All Their Tricks: The Complete Reference Book of Phonics and Spelling’ by Margaret M. Bishop