English words with silent K

Silent K in English

I like to say that spelling and pronunciation in English are a bit of an adventure. The silent K is an interesting example. No one is sure exactly why the K became silent in English words like knight and knife. However, some time around six hundred years ago, people began to drop the K sound when it was associated with N.

Why do we still use the K if no one actually says it?

That’s a great question. Personally, I like it. English has a rich history. It’s the history of the people who spoke it in England centuries ago, and the people around the world who use it today. So, when I spell words with the silent K, I feel a connection to speakers from long ago, and that’s fun. 

Is the K always silent before N? 

No. Actually, it is pronounced in some family names. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we often went to an amusement park called Knoeble’s Grove. Everyone pronounced it “kuh-no-bels”. My family refused because, after all, the K is silent right? Wrong! Turns out, Knoeble is a family name, and the K is not silent. (I pronounced it wrong for years!)

In all of the words below, the K is silent. Simply pronounce the N. For example, knead sounds the same as need, and knot sounds the same as not.

  • knack
  • knackered
  • knapsack
  • knave
  • knead
  • knee
  • kneel
  • knell
  • knick-knack
  • knickers 
  • knife
  • knight
  • knit
  • knob
  • knock
  • knoll
  • knot
  • know
  • knuckle
  • knurling

Which “Kn” word is your favorite? Mine is “knurling”. That’s the rough pattern we see on barbells and dumbbells in the gym. 

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