Many words have the silent 'e' on the end. How can I tell whether I should pronounce the 'e' or not? Is there a rule for this?
Most of the time, when you see a word end in this pattern:
where V represents a vowel, C represents a consonant, and e represents an ending e, then the e will be silent.
Here are a few exceptions:
- recipe, simile, hyperbole
but such exceptions are very rare compared to the large number of words that follow the general guideline.
Also, when words have endings such as -ple, -cle, and -dle, those letters typically form a syllable at the end, as in sample, icicle, and candle.
If you are unsure about a word, though, you can check the pronunciation guide of any dictionary.
Edit: The answer I have provided here is at a basic level. The "e" in words such as hope, fade, and wine is sometimes referred to (particularly at a more elementary level) as a "silent e" that changes the sound of the vowel. However, at a more advanced level, linguists would differentiate between the "e" in gave, which changes the sound of the "a", and the "e" in give, which does not, concluding that the latter "e" is really the silent one, and the former "e" is not truly silent, because it affects the pronunciation of the word. Really, this comes down to the matter of what the O.P. means by "when should I pronounce the ‘e’?" If the word "pronounce" in that context means "add an extra syllable" (as in epitome), then my answer here would apply. However, if to "pronounce" in that context means "to change (or not change) the sound of the vowel" (as in have vs. hive), then Matt's answer below would be more applicable.
One book gets around this potential ambiguity by used the term "magic e", but then uses the term "Silent E" in its description:
The MAGIC E When E is at the end of a word it is silent, but the vowel before it changes to a long vowel (the name of the letter). The pattern of the word is usually Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Silent E.
There aren't any particularly hard and fast rules in English. Normally an 'e' at the end of a word is not "truly silent", but rather modifies the sound of the final constanant:
Without silent e With silent e IPA transcription slat slate /slæt/ → /sleɪt/ met mete /mɛt/ → /miːt/ grip gripe /ɡrɪp/ → /ɡraɪp/ cod code /kɒd/ → /koʊd/ run rune /rʌn/ → /ruːn/
There are some words in the English language where the 'e' is "truly silent", i.e. the word is read as if the 'e' at the end were not there at all. These words are typically derived from French words or expressions:
promenade Femme Fatale minute
I don't think there is any general rule that can be applied in every case; you just have to know which words have silent letters.
A silent e is often employed to modify the pronunciation of the preceding vowel, functioning much like a diacritic would in many other languages. For example, in at and ate, the a is pronounced differently. In cases like this, the silent letter serves to disambiguate written words and indicate pronunciation.