Why a silent k? I don’t _now.

After class today a student politely asked me, “Could you tell me why the k in knife is silent?” I replied, “I don’t know.”

My reply wasn’t good, but it was the truth. There are a few words like this, for example: knee, knot, knock, knickers, knuckle and, of course, know (plus knew and known). So I decided to do some research and find the answer.

It was actually quite easy to find. I googled ‘Why a silent k’, and Google found 26,200,000 sites in 0.15 seconds. The third site had the answer.

In Old English the k was not silent. So the word ‘knife’ was pronounced in full. But this was a little difficult to pronounce. I guess that humans are always finding easier ways to do things, and sometime during the 16th and 17th centuries the difficult k was dropped.

The only mystery is why it remains in the spelling. Maybe it was in so many books that no-one felt like changing the spelling. And if the spelling of ‘know’ was changed to ‘now’ it would probably be a little confusing.

Some people believe that in Scotland the k is not completely silent and that they can hear a small sound before the n.

So the answer is that the k used to be pronounced, but it was a little too difficult so the k sound was dropped but the letter k wasn’t. Know I now!

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Pizza isn’t very delicious

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Pizza is tasty. Pizza is very tasty. Pizza is delicious. But pizza isn’t very delicious.

The problem is that the adverb ‘very’ and the adjective ‘delicious’ are not used together.

‘Very’ can be used in front of most adjectives, for example: ‘very hungry’, ‘very cold’, and ‘very nice’, and it is used to show a strong feeling. So ‘very tasty pizza’ is a very nice phrase.

However ‘very’ is not used before all adjectives. Some adjectives, for example ‘tasty’, are known as basic adjectives, and they have a strong adjective as a partner, for example ‘delicious’.

Please look at a short list:

basic adjective – strong adjective

tasty – delicious

tired – exhausted

cold – freezing

nice – wonderful

interesting – fascinating

scared – terrified

hungry – starving

‘Very’ can be used with a basic adjective but it is not used with a strong adjective. So ‘very cold’ is OK, but ‘very freezing’ is not OK. And ‘very tasty’ is OK, but ‘very delicious’ is not.

What can we do? The answer is simple: use ‘absolutely’.

The adverb ‘absolutely’ is used with strong adjectives so ‘absolutely delicious’ is what you can say. But, be careful, ‘absolutely’ is used mainly with strong adjectives, so don’t say ‘absolutely tasty’.

If this is very confusing don’t worry because there is an even more useful adverb: ‘really’. This can be used with both basic and strong adjectives, yippee! So ‘really tasty’ and ‘really delicious’ are both OK.

You may think that ‘really’ is not so easy to pronounce, but all you do is touch the top of your mouth with your tongue when you say ‘l’.

So pizza isn’t very delicious, it’s really delicious, especially with ham and pineapple!