From A to Z

6th February 1998 at 00:00
Sue Palmer's weekly guide to the alphabet

E appears in words more often, and has a more varied job description, than any other letter of the alphabet.

It can make its short vowel sound, as in egg, or its long vowel sound as in be or bee. It can appear in vowel digraphs, standing for a variety of sounds, such as ea (teach, head or great), er (herb or farmer), ei (rein, either or ceiling), and ew (new, with a y sound), or blew (without). Or it can sit on the ends of words, silently affecting what has gone before.

Most teachers refer to the "final silent e" as "magic e" since it can transform mat into mate, met into mete, tim into time, rob into robe and cub into cube. It does, however, have other jobs to do at the end of words.

As English words never end in v or u, e is drafted in to finish them off, eg give, have (no magic there) and blue. Along with i and y, it's also a softening agent for the letters c and g, which explains why it turns up at the end of mice, mince, cage and cadge. It is also part of the common English ending -le (table, puzzle, etc), one of many occasions on which e contributes to the vowel-grunt known as a "schwa".

Effervescent, energetic and positively everywhere - especially on the end. Mind you, final e isn't always silent: in words from other languages - like the Greek apostrophe, Japanese karate and Italian finale - final e is both seen and heard.

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