English has quite a few words with silent letters. Today we are going to learn the silent B words and practice pronouncing them. You can practice pronouncing these words with me in the video above, and also download a .pdf copy of this lesson here:
The First Group: B after M
In older forms of English these words often had word endings that we don’t have today. Climb was climban, for example, and the m and b were in different syllables back then. When English lost those word endings, we ended up with climb, and the m and b were then in the same syllable. But since m and b are both lip sounds, it’s difficult and uncomfortable to pronounce them together clearly. So we deleted the b sound to make these words easier to say. Now let’s look at the silent b words and their meanings:
Climb is a verb that we use for using our hands and feet for going up mountains or trees. This man is climbing a mountain.
Combs are usually made of plastic. They are used for making hair neat and tidy and they help when cutting hair with scissors.
Crumbs are small bits that break off of bread, cake, or other similar foods.
Dumb is another word for stupid; it’s an adjective for something that someone does that isn’t smart. We also use it for anything we don’t like, for example, “this traffic is so dumb!”
A lamb is a young sheep.
A limb is a branch or the “arms” of a tree. This tree has a swing hanging from one of its limbs, and a hummingbird feeder hanging from another limb.
When you are numb, it means you can’t feel. When you go to the dentist, he or she may give you a shot to make you numb, so he or she can work on your teeth. That’s good because it means you won’t feel any pain.
The thumb is the name for the finger that is on the side of your hand. This person has a beautifully painted thumb.
Aplomb is a noun that means a person stays calm and self-confident even in a demanding situation, for example: “she planned the whole conference by herself and handled it with aplomb.”
A tomb is a building used to hold the body of a dead person. There are a lot of famous tombs around the world, such as the Taj Mahal in India or the pyramids in Egypt.
A womb is another word for uterus, which is the part inside a woman’s body which can grow a baby.
jamb and plumb
When you build a door in your house, you make a wooden frame around the doorway. The sides of a door frame are called jambs. And when you are building a door frame, you need to make sure that each jamb is perfectly straight up and down, and another word for that is plumb. This door has a nice white door frame with jambs that look perfectly plumb.
A plumber is someone who fixes sinks, toilets, and pipes.
The work of a plumber is called plumbing.
A catacomb is a place underground with many tunnels and rooms which was used for the burial of dead people. For example, the city of Paris, France has catacombs.
The Second Group: B before T
With these silent b words that have b before t, it’s pretty much the same story as the “mb” words. B and t are hard to pronounce together. So we drop the b sound to make them easier to say.
Debt is a noun that means that you borrowed money and you need to pay it back. Debt can be in the form of mortgages, loans, or credit card debt. It is not good to have a lot of debt.
Doubt can be a noun or a verb that means you are not sure about something, or that you don’t believe something is true. Some example sentences: “I have my doubts about what the politician said.” “Is this true? I doubt it.”
Subtle can mean a small change, or it means the opposite of something that is “overdone” or “too much.” In this picture there is a subtle change in color. It is a small change and not a big one. Also, it has subtle colors. The colors are not too bright.
Now that you know the meanings of these words, let's practice pronouncing them. Here's the full list to help you study them:
B after M:
B before T:
Now you know all the silent B words in English! To continue improving your pronunciation and spoken English, check out my Facebook page and YouTube channel, and sign up for personal accent coaching with me, Sigrid! I can help you speak clearly, pronounce words and sounds correctly, and feel confident in English, so that people say, “Wow! You speak excellent English!”