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Why is there a silent 'w' in TWO?

language acquisition languages May 22, 2021

Don’t you think it’s weird that the English word ‘two’ has a silent ‘W’ in it? Especially when all the other numbers that start with a ‘tw’ we pronounce the ‘w’ – twenty, twice, twelve! Can you think of any related words? What do we call two babies born together...? 

It is probably the case that this silent ‘w’ in two became silent over time in spoken English, but not before the written spelling had been fixed (in the 15th century or so). Hence the ‘W’ is like a spelling fossil, giving us a clue to the pronunciation history of the word. It is connected to the German ‘zwei’ and the Dutch ‘twee’ and going back further in time both actually come from *dwóh.

*Dwóh is two in Proto-Indo-European – a language we linguists have reconstructed based on clues from languages all around Europe and India!

We look at this in more detail during one of the sessions in our membership. In the meantime, if you’d like a free taster click here!