Is there a silent K?

The short answer is yes, there is a silent K in some English words. The silent K usually appears at the beginning of words before the letters N, L, and W. Some examples of words with a silent K include knee, knight, knot, know, and wrong.

Why is there a silent K in some words?

The silent K dates back to the Old English language. In Old English, the letter K was pronounced at the beginning of words like knee, knight, and knot. However, over time, the pronunciation of these words evolved and the K sound was dropped but the letter K remained.

This is an example of how spelling does not always match up with pronunciation in English. The silent K was preserved in the spelling even though it was no longer pronounced. This is because English spelling did not change as quickly as pronunciation evolved.

What are some examples of words with a silent K?

Here are some common examples of words that have a silent K at the beginning:

  • Knee
  • Knife
  • Knight
  • Knock
  • Knack
  • Knot
  • Know
  • Knowledge
  • Knuckle
  • Knit

The K is silent in all these words. Note that the silent K almost always comes before the letters N, L, or W.

Are there any patterns or rules for when a word has a silent K?

There are a few reliable patterns that can help identify when a word will likely have a silent K:

  • The silent K almost always comes before N, L, or W in a word.
  • It tends to appear at the beginning of one-syllable words.
  • Most two-syllable words starting with KN, KL, KW, GN, or WR have a silent K.

Some examples following these patterns:

  • Knee, know, knock (silent K before N)
  • Knight, knit, knot (silent K before N and L)
  • Wrong, wrinkle (silent K before W)
  • Knack, knave (one-syllable words starting with KN)

There are occasional exceptions like kiwi and kangaroo where the K is pronounced. But the silent K patterns apply to the vast majority of English words.

Why do some words break the silent K pattern?

For words like kiwi and kangaroo, the reason the K is pronounced is because they come from foreign languages. Kiwi comes from the Maori language and kangaroo comes from an Australian Aboriginal language. The foreign roots of these words led to the K being pronounced.

There are also some English words like kayak and kilo where the K is pronounced even though they start with KN and KL. These words follow the typical silent K pattern. But the K is pronounced anyway to make the word easier to say and distinguish from other words.

Overall though, most English words will conform to the standard silent K conventions before N, L, and W.

Are there any silent K words that break the rules?

One exception to the silent K patterns is the word knoll. A knoll is a small hill or mound. This word begins with KN but the K is silent anyway.

Some linguists believe knoll originally came from a German root word with a silent K. The silent K spelling carried over into English even though it does not follow the usual convention of appearing before N, L or W.

The other exceptions are loanwords from French like knack and knelt. These words take on the silent K spelling from French even though they break the English rules.

Besides a handful of exceptions like these, the vast majority of silent K words in English adhere to the standard conventions.

When did the silent K originate in English?

The silent K has existed in English for many centuries. It dates back to Old English between the 5th and 12th century AD. In Old English, the letter C was pronounced like a K sound.

There were many words in Old English starting with CN, CL, and CW like cneo (knee), cniht (knight), and cnotta (knot). The K sound at the beginning was pronounced at this time.

In Middle English from the 12th to 15th century, the pronunciation of words evolved and the initial K sound began to be dropped from these words. But the original C spelling was replaced with a K to keep the connection with the Old English origin.

So by Middle English around the 1300s, the silent K spelling had been established and became a standard part of English orthography that continues today.

How did the silent K impact English pronunciation?

The introduction and spread of the silent K had a noticeable impact on English pronunciation that still affects the language today. It caused many words that were once pronounced with an initial K sound to lose that sound over the centuries.

For example, knee, knight, and knot would all have been pronounced starting with a K sound in Old English. The loss of the K sound led to changes in vowel sounds in some words as well.

This silent K also created ambiguity with certain consonant sounds. For example, the silent K may make it unclear if a word starting with “kn” should be pronounced starting with an N sound vs. a K+N combined sound.

Overall, the silent K influenced many subtle aspects of English pronunciation that are still evident today. Native English speakers must memorize words with a silent K since it is not phonetic or straightforward to determine from spelling alone.

How prevalent is the silent K across different English dialects?

The silent K is a feature found in English dialects around the world. However, there are some dialects where the silent K is less common.

In Scottish English, the silent K is often pronounced. Words like knee and knight will start with a /k/ sound. This traces back to the Scottish language’s roots in older forms of English that predate the loss of the K sound.

In American English accents like New York City English, the silent K can become partially pronounced. For example, knee may be pronounced “kuh-nee” with a light K sound.

Among accents of English around the world, the standard silent K is most prevalent in England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It is less common in Scotland, parts of the United States, and areas where English is a second language.

Why do some people pronounce the K in silent K words?

There are a few reasons why some English speakers still pronounce the “silent” K at the start of words:

  • They learned English as a second language and carried over the K sound from their first language.
  • They have a regional dialect like Scottish English that preserves the K sound.
  • They hypercorrect the pronunciation by over-emphasizing the K.
  • They learned silent K words by reading before hearing them spoken.

Typically mispronouncing the silent K does not cause confusion among fluent English speakers. But it may signal that the speaker learned English later in life or has an accent from certain regions like Scotland.

Does pronunciation of the silent K vary by age?

There are not major differences in pronunciation of the silent K between different age groups of English speakers.

However, some studies have found that younger speakers are more likely to hyperarticulate or over-emphasize certain sounds. This could potentially lead to a lightly aspirated K being used at the start of silent K words by some young people, especially children still learning to read.

On the other end, elderly speakers who learned English many decades ago may be more likely to preserve older dialectical features. This could include a more frequent use of the pronounced K in some communities.

Overall though, the silent K pattern is well established in English. It does not show significant generational differences unlike many other language features.


In summary, the silent K is an integral part of English spelling and pronunciation that dates back hundreds of years. It originated from Old English words starting with a pronounced K that lost that sound over time but retained the letter. The silent K now conforms to certain conventions like appearing before N, L and W in most words of English origin. It creates idiosyncrasies between spelling and pronunciation that are a core challenge of mastering English. But this quirk of the language also adds to the richness of English vocabulary and its long history of evolution.

Word Pronunciation Origin
Knee Silent K Old English cneo
Knight Silent K Old English cniht
Kiwi Pronounced K Maori origin

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