179: The silent /p/ in 'pneumatic' and 'psychology'

A listener request for an explanation of less-common patterns.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 179th episode.

We recently received a request from Michel in Montreal to talk about the silent p in words like pneumatic and psychology. These words are part of bigger pn- and ps- spelling and pronunciation patterns that apply to both the American English accent as well as the British accent.

There will be some long and possibly unfamiliar words in this episode, so don't forget that you can read the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Let's begin with the pn- pattern. The word pneumatic begins with the prefix pneumo-, p-n-e-u-m-o, which relates to air or the lungs, and is pronounced with a silent p. In fact, almost all of the words that begin with the letters pn- use the pneumo- prefix. The most common pn- words are pneumatic and pneumonia.

You can also expect a silent p in words that begin with the letters ps-. Along with Michel's example of psychology, there are the related words psychological and psychologist and a number of other words that look mostly the same, but have a different suffix. There are also silent p's in psychiatry and it's cousin psychiatric as well as the word psychic.

The prefix pseudo-, p-s-e-u-d-o, which means fake or misleading, also has a silent p. A pseudonym is a fake name, often used by authors. Pseudoscience is a word that's used when someone believes something is scientifically proven, but isn't.

After hearing these examples, you might be surprised that we don't include these patterns in the website as common spelling patterns. This is because, of all of the words I used as examples today, only three are in the top 5000 most frequently used words of English. Those words are psychological, psychologist, and psychology. So, in fact, you're not very likely to come across these words or their patterns in daily speech, unless, of course, you're studying or working in a field that uses any of these words.

However, if you do come across any word that begins with pn- or ps-, now you can be quite confident that you don't need to include a p sound at the beginning of that word!

Thanks, Michel, for the question. If anyone else has a podcast topic you'd like us to cover, just email us at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com, or post to our Twitter page, Twitter.com/pronuncian, or write on our Facebook wall: Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. We really do love hearing from our listeners!

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening!