Hard and soft G: Wikis


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In the Latin-based orthographies of many European languages (including English), a distinction between hard and soft ‹g› occurs in which ‹g› represents two distinct phonemes. The sound of a hard ‹g› (which often precedes the non-front vowels ‹a o u›) is usually [ɡ] (as in go) while the sound of a soft ‹g› (typically before ‹i› or ‹e›), depending on language, may be a fricative or affricate. In English, the sound of soft ‹g› is /dʒ/ (as in George).



This alternation has its origins in a historical palatalization of /ɡ/ which took place in Late Latin, and led to a change in the pronunciation of the sound [ɡ] before the front vowels [e] and [i].[1] Later, other languages not descended from Latin, such as English, inherited this feature as an orthographic convention.


In English orthography, the pronunciation of hard ‹g› is /ɡ/ and that of soft ‹g› is /dʒ/; in a number of French loanwords, soft ‹g› is /ʒ/. In word roots of non-Germanic origin, the soft ‹g› pronunciation occurs before ‹i e y› while the hard ‹g› pronunciation occurs elsewhere;[2] Digraphs and trigraphs, such as ‹ng› , ‹gg›, and ‹dge›, have their own pronunciation rules.

Notable exceptions include words of Greco-Romance origin, such as algae.[2] (Other notable irregularities include margarine, pronounced with a soft ‹g›; gaol and gaoler, alternative spellings of jail and jailer; as well as a few American English spellings such as judgment and abridgment, pronounced the same as the more-common-in-British English spellings judgement and abridgement.

While ‹c›, which also has hard and soft pronunciations, exists alongside ‹k› (which always indicates a hard pronunciation), ‹g› has no analogous letter or letter combination which consistently indicates a hard ‹g› sound. This leads to special issues regarding the "neatness" of orthography when suffixes are added to words that end in a hard-‹g› sound.



When adding suffixes with ‹i e y› (such as -ed, -ing, -er, -est, -ism, -ist, -edness, -ish(ness)), or -(l)y–related suffixes (including -ily, -iness, -ier, -iest, -ingly, -edly, and -ishly) to root word ending in hard ‹g›, the hard pronunciation is maintained. This is commonly reinforced with a double ‹gg› so that bagged is pronounced /ˈbæɡd/, not as /ˈbædʒd/.

A silent ‹e› can occur at the end of a word — or at the end of a component root word that is part of a larger word — after ‹g› as well as word-internally. In this situation, the ‹e› usually serves a marking function that helps to indicate that the ‹g› immediately before it is soft. Examples include image, management, and pigeon. Such a silent ‹e› also indicates that the vowel before ‹g› is a historic long vowel, as in rage, oblige, and range. When adding one of the above suffixes, this silent ‹e› is often dropped and the soft pronunciation remains. While ‹dge› commonly indicates a soft pronunciation, American spelling conventions drop the silent ‹e› in a number of words like judgment and abridgment while retaining the soft pronunciation. Also, the word veg, which results from a clipping of vegetate, retains the soft pronunciation despite being spelled without a silent ‹e›. Similarly, hard ‹g› is sometimes replaced by ‹j› in some names of commercial entities, such as with Enerjy Software, or "Majic 105.7" in Cleveland, Ohio and some names commonly spelled with ‹j› are given unusual soft ‹g› spellings such as Genna and Gennifer.

There are exceptions to this general pattern, such as -ify and -ize/-ise; —these are occasionally added to root forms in order to create rarely-used words neologisms. Whether the pronunciation of ‹g› is hard or soft in these words is not always clear

In a number of words, particularly with the suffixes -gion and -gious, the otherwise silent ‹i› indicates a soft ‹g› pronunciation. Examples include region, contagious.

There are several cases in English that exhibit alternations between a hard and soft ‹g› upon suffixation. For example, contrast analogous with analogy; prodigal with prodigy. In these cases, ‹g› is soft before front vowels, but hard when otherwise, which mimics the general pattern of Romance-origin words.

Letter combinations

A number of two-letter combinations or digraphs follow their own pronunciation patterns and, as such, may not follow the hard/soft distinction of ‹g›. For example, ‹ng› often represents /ŋ/ (as in ring), /ŋɡ/ as in finger. The trigraph ‹nge› represents/ndʒ/, as in orange unless it is formed through adding a suffix to a root word ending in ‹ng› such as singer. Similarly, ‹gg› may represent /ɡ/ as in dagger but may also represent /ɡdʒ/ or /dʒ/ as in suggest. Other letter combinations that don't follow the paradigm include ‹gh›, ‹gn›, and ‹gm›.

In a few English words (including some Anglo-Celtic proper nouns), the digraph ‹gu› is used to indicate a hard ‹g› pronunciation before ‹i e y› (e.g. guess, guild, Guinness, and guy), including when ‹e› is silent (rogue, intrigue, and, in Commonwealth spelling, catalogue and analogue). Loanwords from Italian go against this tendency, e.g. segue is pronounced /ˈsɛɡweɪ/.

In loanwords from non-Romance languages, such as the Japanese loanword geisha, the Polish loanword pierogi, and the largely-Greek-derived gynecomastia, the ‹g› is frequently hard, even before ‹e i y›.

Other languages

Latin script

All modern Romance languages make the hard/soft distinction with ‹g›,[1] except a few that have undergone spelling reforms such as Ladino or Haitian Creole. The hard ‹g› is [ɡ] in almost all these languages (with the exception of Galician, which may instead be a voiceless pharyngeal fricative), though the soft ‹g› pronunciation, which occurs before ‹i e y›, differs amongst them.

Similarly, languages use different strategies to indicate a hard pronunciation before front vowels:

A soft pronunciation before non-front vowels is usually indicated by a silent ‹e› or ‹i› (e.g. Italian giorno, French mangeons), though Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan use ‹j› as in jueves.[1][6][11]

Icelandic orthography is a bit more complicated by having lenited pronunciations of ‹g›.

Other languages typically have hard ‹g› pronunciations except possibly in loanwords where it may represent [ʒ] or [dʒ].

The orthography of Luganda is similar to Italian in having a soft ‹g› pronunciation before front vowels (namely ‹i y›) and ‹gy› indicates this soft pronunciation.

Other scripts

In Modern Greek, which uses the Greek alphabet, the Greek letter gamma (uppercase: ‹Γ›; lowercase: ‹γ›) — which is ancestral to the Roman letters ‹g› and ‹c› — has "soft-type" and "hard-type" pronunciations. The "soft" pronunciation (that is, the voiced palatal fricative [ʝ]) occurs before ‹αι› and ‹ε› (both which represent [e]), and before ‹ει›, ‹η›, ‹ι›, ‹οι›, and ‹υι› (which all represent [i]). In other instances, the "hard" pronunciation, [ɣ] occurs.

In the Russian alphabet (a variant of Cyrillic), ‹г› represents both hard (твёрдый [ˈtvʲo.rdɨj]) and soft (мягкий [ˈmʲæ.xʲkʲɪj]) pronunciations, [ɡ] and [ɡʲ], respectively. The soft pronunciation of ‹г› occurs before any of the "softening" vowels ‹е ё и ю я ь› and the hard pronunciation occurs elsewhere.

In Modern Hebrew, which uses the Hebrew alphabet, the letter gimel (‹ג›) typically has the [ɡ] sound within Hebrew words, although in some Sephardic dialects, it represents [ɡ] or [ʒ] when written with a dagesh (i.e., a dot placed inside the letter: ‹גּ›), and [ɣ] when without a dagesh. An apostrophe-like symbol called a Geresh can be added immediately to the left of a gimel (i.e., ‹ג׳›) to indicate that the gimel represents an affricate /d͡ʒ/).

See also



  • Andersson, Erik (2002), "Swedish", in König, Ekkehard, The Germanic Languages, Routledge language family descriptions, Routledge, pp. 271-312, ISBN 0-415-28079-6 
  • Arnaud, Leonard E. (1945), "Teaching the Pronunciation of "C" and "G" and the Spanish Diphthongs", The Modern Language Journal 29 (1): 37–39 
  • Chițoran, Ioana (2001), The Phonology of Romanian: A Constraint-based Approach, Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 3110167662 
  • Emerson, Ralph H. (1997), "English Spelling and Its Relation to Sound", American Speech 72 (3): 260–288 
  • Gönczöl-Davies, Ramona; Deletant, Dennis (2002). Colloquial Romanian: the complete course for beginners. Routledge. 
  • Hall, Robert, Jr. (1944), "Italian Phonemes and Orthography", Italica 21 (2): 72–82 
  • Hualde, José Ignacio (2005). The sounds of Spanish. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Mateus, Maria Helena; d'Andrade, Ernesto (2000). The Phonology of Portuguese. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823581-X. 
  • Venezky, Richard L. (1970), "Principles for the Design of Practical Writing Systems", Anthropological Linguistics 12 (7): 256–270 
  • Wheeler, Max W (1979). Phonology Of Catalan. Oxford: Blackwell. 


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