41: the silent b in the -mb spelling (as in 'climb' and 'thumb')

Learn this rule to sound more fluent!


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 41st episode. Don't forget, our first video podcast will be released in just a couple of days, on January 1, 2009.

I decided to start talking about a few odd silent letters that seem to get missed when many non-native speakers are first learning English. The accidental addition of these silent sounds won't usually cause miscommunication; it'll just make you sound a little more fluent if you are aware of these small rules.

Today I'm going to talk about the silent b in the mb spelling, like the word climb c-l-i-m-b. The silent b in the mb spelling only happens at the ends of words, and it only happens in about 10 words. But I want you to know about it. Just because you see the b at the end of the word does not mean that you need to say it. The final sound in the word climb is the m sound, not a b sound: climb, not climb(b)

The rule is simple: if a word ends in the letters mb, the b is silent. Lets look at some examples. I already told you the word climb. Some others are thumb, comb, crumb, lamb, limb, bomb, and dumb.

I want to make it clear that we can still add the necessary grammatical suffixes to the word. So the b is silent in climb, climbs, climbed, and even climber. The word no longer ends in mb, but the b is still silent because the original root word ended in mb.

It isn't unusual that words with surprising pronunciations are quite old. This set of 'mb' words has been around for quite a long time, most of them since Middle, or even Old English. Middle English was spoken from the 11th to the 15th century, and Old English started way back in the 5th century.

Remember, the silent b in the mb spelling rule is just for the end of the word, so don't start skipping the b in words like number, combine, or... remember.

Just in case you're interested, I'll put the list of 'mb' words up with the transcripts to this episode, along with the origin of the word. That is, just in case any of you find that interesting like I do. All transcripts can be found on Pronuncian.com (p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com). Just click the podcasts link on the right hand side of the page.

You can learn other interesting things by going to the site and reading through any of the nearly 100 lessons, or through the forum posts. Remember, you can always start your own topic, too, if there is an English question you're wondering about. Of course, we'd love to have you comment on some ongoing topics as well.

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening, and have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world comes to learn.


-mb word origins
numb: Middle English
comb: Old English/Germanic
dumb: Old English/Germanic
jamb: Middle English/French
thumb: Old English
bomb: French
crumb: Old English
lamb: Old English/Germanic
limb: Middle English/French
climb: Old English

From Dictionary (MacBook), Version 2.0.2 (51.4)