Why Does French Have Silent Letters

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| By : Christine
I’m a retired 65 years old and I live in western Paris. Born in Alsace, I have always lived in this beautiful region of eastern France. Passionate about travel, culture and literature. Find me on Linkedin.

Bonjour les amis,

Today, let’s take a look at a particularity of the French language: the silent letters.

This will also give my scrabble and cruciverbist friends the opportunity to discover some new French words 🙂

To increase your level in French, you can read these posts too: words starting in x , y or q.

Have a nice day!


Read Also : 17 French Words That Start With W (Wonderful!)


Do you know the old European language called “Latin”?

Silent letters in French originated from Latin, as the language evolved into Old French during the 9th-13th centuries. 

Over time, phonetic changes led to the dropping of certain sounds while retaining their spellings, resulting in silent letters.

This process, known as historical phonology, also included influences from the Celtic and Frankish languages.

The Académie Française, established in 1635, contributed to the preservation of silent letters by standardizing French orthography, maintaining a connection to Latin roots and aiding in the understanding of etymology.

the two main silent vowels

the silent “e”

In French, the silent letter ‘e’ is referred to as ‘e muet’ or ‘e caduc.’

If you do research, you, you will find It often appears at the end of words, and its primary function is to indicate the pronunciation of preceding consonants, as well as to maintain the harmony of syllables in a sentence.

While not pronounced, the silent ‘e’ is essential for understanding the structure and flow of the French language, contributing to its unique rhythm and melody.

Here is a list of 9 words with mute “e” at the end or in the middle of the word:

  1. raie – ray
  2. prairie – grassland
  3. superficie – area
  4. voie – track
  5. remerciement – thank you
  6. proie – prey
  7. paiement – payment
  8. pharmacie – pharmacy
  9. tenue – outfit

The funny H: mute or aspirated

In French, the silent letter ‘H’ is a fascinating linguistic feature that exemplifies the uniqueness of the language.

It holds no phonetic value, but its presence influences the pronunciation and grammatical behavior of surrounding words.

The two main categories of ‘H’ in French – ‘H muet’ (mute) and ‘H aspiré’ (aspirated) – each have distinct roles in liaison and elision, thus enriching the language’s subtlety and charm.

The silent letter ‘H’ adds complexity to French pronunciation, further highlighting the language’s historical evolution and its intertwining with other languages.

Here is a list of 9 words with mute “e” at the end or in the middle of the word:

  1. hydravion – seaplane
  2. bonheur – happiness
  3. malhonnête – dishonest
  4. handicap – handicap
  5. héroïque – heroic
  6. trahison – treason
  7. humide – wet
  8. inhabituel – unusual
  9. habit – outfi

Final silent consonants

general rules

Final Silent Consonants in French are an important linguistic characteristic that sets the language apart from others.

These consonants, often referred to as “muettes” or “inaudibles,” are typically not pronounced at the end of words, creating a unique fluidity and cadence in spoken French.

The most common final silent consonants are “s,” “x,” “t,” “d,” “p,” and “z.”

They can sometimes be pronounced when followed by a vowel in the next word, a phenomenon known as “liaison.”

special case of s and x in the plural

In French, the plural form of a noun is often formed by adding -s or -x to the end of the singular form.

Nouns ending with a consonant other than -s or -x usually take -s in the plural.

For example, “chien” (dog) becomes “chiens” (dogs), and “chat” (cat) becomes “chats” (cats).

But you don’t need to pronounce the end of the word.

It can be the same case when you conjugate a verb.

For example the verb to live: je vis (I live), we do not pronounce the s.


The phenomenon of silent letters in the French language is a fascinating aspect that contributes to the language’s unique charm and identity.

Throughout this post, you have explored various examples and rules governing the use and pronunciation of these silent letters.

I hope to continue to explore, learn and embrace with you the enchanting and curious world of French!

People also asked about French and silent letters :

When did French stop pronouncing letters?

The French language has evolved over time.

The rules of grammar and conjugation progressively put in place and the evolution of the semantics of the words make that certain pronunciations changed with the passing of the centuries.

Why do French don’t pronounce R?

The 1st group verbs in French all end in –er. And the -r is not pronounced.

In the other words, most of the time the -r is pronounced but it is true that it is a complex sound for the French when learning.

Often children have trouble pronouncing them.

What percentage of French words have silent letters?

According to my research, about 30% of French words have a silent letter.

Learning French :

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