The magic ‘e’ rule, sometimes known as the unspoken ‘e’ or the silent ‘e,’ is where the ‘e’ at the end of a word is silent but changes the way that the word is spoken or pronounced. This happens when ‘e’ is the second letter in a split digraph with another vowel sound, such as in the word ‘like.’
What is the magic ‘e’ rule?
The magic ‘e’ rule is something we use all the time when talking and communicating, often without us even realizing it. It’s where you have a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word that completely alters how that word is pronounced.
You’ll sometimes see them referred to as the “bossy e” since they tell the other vowels what to do. When the letter ‘e’ is at the end of a word, it’s usually silent and ‘tells’ the other vowel in the word to pronounce itself. So it goes to the end of a word to give power to the vowel, giving up its power and pronunciation.
Let’s look at the word ‘sham,’ for example. The ‘a’ in the word isn’t strongly pronounced. When we add a silent ‘e,’ the word becomes shame. The ‘a’ is now pronounced, but the ‘e’ is silent.
The fancy name for a magic ‘e’ word is a split digraph. This is when vowels split between consonants go together to make a sound. A digraph is any two letters that go together to make a sound. Some examples of digraphs include ‘sh,’ ‘ch,’ ‘th’, ‘ai,’ and ‘oa.’
What are the split digraphs?
There are five different split digraphs in the English language: a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e, and u-e. Children will most likely be introduced to these digraphs in year one as part of their phonics learning.
Remember that no matter which of these split digraphs appears in a word, the ‘e’ at the end will always be silent.
What are some examples of silent ‘e’ words?
To help us understand the magic ‘e’ rule, let’s take a look at some everyday examples of how it applies to different words:
In all of these examples, the silent ‘e’ at the end of each word informs how we pronounce the vowels that come before it. For example, if we took the words ‘gape’ and ‘hate’ and removed the unspoken ‘e,’ we would end up with the words ‘hat’ and ‘gap.’ This lets us see how adding the silent ‘e’ sound causes the ‘a’ to become a long vowel sound.
When do we lose the unspoken ‘e’?
When adding a suffix that begins with a vowel to the end of a word, we remove the silent ‘e.’ For example:
Take+ the suffix ‘ing’ = Taking
Have+ the suffix ‘ing’ = Having
Make+ the suffix ‘ing’ = Making
However, if the suffix begins with a consonant, we keep the silent ‘e.’ For example:
Love + the suffix ‘ly’ = Lovely
Care+ the suffix ‘less’ = Careless
Arrange+ the suffix ‘meant’ = Arrangement
Why do we call it the bossy “e” and the magic “e”?
You’ll often see this rule called by these names because it helps make learning about it more fun and engaging for little ones. Because let’s be honest: while ‘split digraphs’ might be the correct terminology, it doesn’t make for a very compelling name!
Referring to split digraphs as ‘magic’ or ‘bossy’ allows teachers to develop a fun story or made-up anecdote to explain how it got its name. And what’s more, it also makes split digraphs easier for children to understand. For example, they’re able to see that as if by magic, the silent letter ‘e’ at the end of a word can turn a short ‘o’ into a long ‘o’ sound or a short ‘i’ into a long ‘i’ sound.