silent letters

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Hela, Jan 7, 2007.

  1. Hela Senior Member

    Tunisia - French
    Dear members,

    I read that the "s" in "Grosvenor" is not pronounced, woud you please tell me what this word is ?

    Apart from "isle, islet, island, aisle" do you know other words where the "s" is not pronounced?

    Best wishes and happy New Year to all of you.
  2. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I have never seen this word before. I don't think it is a real word, unless perhaps it is a very archaic spelling of "governor"?

    No, those are the only examples I can think of.
  3. l3376876 Banned

    Chinese, Taiwan
    Here is one good example: corps and corpsman.
  4. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    Isn't there a Grosvenor Square in London? It's definitely pronounced without the "s". British English has all sorts of words (it ssems to be mainly proper nouns) with unpronounced letters. I only know them through films, television shows and books on tape from England. There's one pronounced "chumley" that has a huge number of letters in it. :) I believe one of them is an "s".

    As for other words used in English with an unpronounced "s", I can only find a few:

    demesne (a rare word, but does show up in legal and historical contexts)
  5. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    The names of two American States have unpronounced s's at the ends of them: Illinois and Arkansas.

    Cholmondeley is the British name pronounced like Chumly (as in the Cholmondeley Gardens in Cheshire).

    P.S. I just thought of another unpronounced s in viscount.
  6. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    No, it is a word Song Sprite, a place name in fact.

    I can't think of any examples off-hand oif silent 's', but I now they exist, I just can't think of any...

  7. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Yeah, I see that now. What's it etymology? Anybody know?
  8. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    Grosvenor: From a surname which meant "great hunter" in Norman French.

  9. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Thank you very much, Joelline. :) My curiousity is satisfied.
  10. mplsray Senior Member

    While the s is never pronounced in corps, the s in corpsman may be left silent or pronounced [z].

    Fleur-de-lis is usually pronounced with a silent s, which reflects an outdated French pronunciation of the wordthe French currently pronounce the s as [s].

    When fleur-de-lis is taken as a plural, the s may be pronounced [z] or left silent in English. There is another plural, fleurs-de-lis. In English, that first s is never pronounced, but the second s may be pronounced [z] or left silent.

    The traditional English pronunciation of avoirdupois has the s pronounced as [z]: avver-duh-POYZ. That is the only pronunciation given in the Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, 11th ed. There is a newer pronunciation, ah-vwahr-doo-PWAH, a Frenchified pronunciation which I believe is recognized by some dictionaries, in which the s is silent.
  11. Hela Senior Member

    Tunisia - French
    Thanks to all of you for your help.

    JamesM, how would you pronounce "Grosvenor"?

    a) /'grəuvnə/ (2 syllabic word ?) with a diphthong (like the vowel sound in "no"?) + stress on the first syllable ? OR

    b) /'grəuvənə/ (3 syllabic word?)

    All the best,
  12. Stefan Ivanovich Senior Member

    Paris, France
  13. Hela Senior Member

    Tunisia - French
    Thank you Stefan :)
  14. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I just said it to myself, and for my own pronunciation (and probably my parents to, because I have heard it only on the BBC since they were alive) it is a 2 syllable word with a diphthong.

  15. mplsray Senior Member

    I started searching Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.—I have a subscription to the online version—for other words ending in -ois in which the s is silent:


    Belgian Malinois (ois being pronounced "wah"), a breed of dog.
    bois d'arc (ois being pronounced "oh"), another name for the Osage Orange.
    Bruxellois (ois being pronounced "wah"), adjective for Brussels, noun for an inhabitant of Brussels.

    coureur de bois (ois being pronounced "wah"). A French or métis trapper.

    I stopped at that point, since I expect that there are a lot more words ending in ois with a silent s than I was aware, and it would take me a while to look them up. (I was eliminating foreign geographical terms, except for Bruxellois since that appears to be naturalized in English.)
  16. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    It certainly appears that the English language owes most of its silent s's to William the Conqueror and the long-lasting influence of his imposition of Norman French on Britain!
  17. mplsray Senior Member

    The French were directly responsible for most of them, and indirectly responsible for some (see aisle and island below), but I don't think you can say that the Normans were responsible to most English words with a silent s, and perhaps are responsible for none!

    If I research just the words mentioned in this thread whose dates I can look up in Webster's 11th Collegiate, the evidence that Norman French had anything to do with the silent s's in them is not there.

    Arkansas, bois d'arc, coureur de bois, and Illinois were coined after the New World was discovered.

    The s in aisle and island is the result of errors committed by etymological respellers who were influenced by the French word isle, which wasn't adopted into English until the 13th century.

    Fleur-de-lis came into the language in the 14th century, and we know it to have been pronounced with an [s] at the time because two of the early spellings were flour de lice and flower de luce.

    And of the others:

    antibourgeois (must have been coined after bourgeois, see below)
    avoirdupois 1619
    apropos 1668
    Belgian Malinois 1968
    bourgeois circa 1565
    corps 1707
    corpsman 1901
    debris 1708
    demesne 14th century
    viscount 15th century

    The s became silent in 11th century France, according to the French version of the Wikipedia, so perhaps it was silent in Norman French. But it was spelled with an s instead of the later circumflex for a long time after that, so I expect a lot of the borrowed words containing a silent s had the s eventually pronounced in English as a spelling pronunciation. That might be the case with forest and host, for example.

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