The most surprising fact about silent letters versus digraphs you must know

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

The question whether the letter h or w is silent in words such as “where, why and who”, causes a lot of arguments among native speakers as well. You may find silent letter lists on the Internet where these words are listed as including silent h or w.

Let me show you why they shouldn’t be on a silent letter list, though.

Let’s look at the definitions at first.

Silent letters: Silent letters are the letters in words that are written but not pronounced.

e.g.: In the word hour the letter h is not pronounced.

Digraphs: a combination of two letters representing one sound.

e.g.: In the word photograph the letter combination of PH is pronounced /f/.

And to answer our main question, whether the letter h or w is silent in the words “where, why and who”, you have the answer immediately when I tell you that WH is a digraph, representing the sound /w/ as in where, why, while and /h/ in a few words such as who and whole. So, the words “where, why and who” do not include silent letters!

The English language has 14+ consonant digraphs such as PH, RH, SC and several vowel digraphs such as OE, EA, IE.

The benefits of knowing how English digraphs work

As the definition shows, these digraphs represent one English sound. For example PH is pronounced /f/ as in elephant. Knowing how to pronounce English digraphs can give an enormous boost to your English pronunciation and spelling skills.

Are you interested in improving your English pronunciation?

Check out our interactive online short course English Pronunciation, where you can learn all about the English sounds, pronunciation and many more.

Would you like to know more about English silent letters? Read our previous blog post,

The complete guide to the notorious English silent letters to immediately improve your pronunciation.

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