Letter B, it is so nice and reliable without a doubt. Wait a sec! That’s dumb, letter B is not such a friendly letter after all.  Listen to this post and read along here 

How to make the sound

Press your lips together, slightly, your teeth don’t touch. Let a little air out and stop. That’s a /b/.  Embed from Getty Images

The difference between /p/ and /b/

When you say /b/ or /p/ your mouth is actually the same shape, but /b/ is voiced and /p/ isn’t. What does that mean?! When you say /b/ you use your vocal chords and with /p/ you don’t. If you touch your throat when you say /b/ you might feel a vibration, which shouldn’t be there with /p/. That’s hard to feel, so hold a piece of paper in front of your mouth, when you say /b/ the paper will move a little, when you say /p/ the paper should move more. Or if you hold your hand in front of your mouth and say /b/ you’ll feel a little bit of breath, when you say /p/ you’ll feel more breath.

How to spell it

Good news! There is nothing like a B except B. So when you hear a /b/ you know there is a B in that word somewhere.

For example

  • bake, job, double, neighbour, cupboard, problem, strawberry.

Bad news! Sometimes letter B is silent. But don’t let anyone tell you Silent Letter B is useless. In fact although we don’t say a /b/ sound, the Letter B reminds us to make the vowel long, usually.  Have a look at the words with silent B below:

  • Lamb, climb, thumb, plumb, comb, womb, bomb, doubt, debt, subtle

Can you see any rules about when B is silent?

The rules for silent B

When the word ends in -MB, B is silent.

That’s it. It’s not true to say all words that have the -mb combination have silent B, ambassador, crumble, clamber and thimble all have voiced B.

Three little words, doubt, debt and subtle all have a silent B followed by T, it is not true that B is always silent after T. In words like bobtail, obtain, and any words starting sub+t (subtitle, subterranean) the B is not silent.

Embed from Getty Images

Why do we have silent B?

English spelling is really telling you a story about the origins of the words, in -mb words sometimes the B used to be voiced, about 700 years ago people stopped saying the B. The word ‘dumb’ from Old English had a B – dheubh, so although the pronunciation changed, the B stayed. Doubt and debt are examples of scholars in the 16th century trying to teach us history through spelling to show these words come from Latin. Read more about that here.

Can you think of more words where B is silent, what B words do you have trouble spelling? Let me know below!


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