166: Understanding /ŋ/, the 'ng' sound

When does (and doesn't) the g sound follow the ng sound?


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 166th episode.

Today I'm going to talk about that odd little sound at the end of the word sing: the ng sound (ng sound). The ng sound is one of the three nasal sounds of English. Nasal sounds are those strange sounds that are created when air passes out through our nose instead of our mouth. Here's a very quick little experiment to show what this means.

Create the m sound with me (m sound).

Now, pinch your nose shut while creating this sound (pause).

You can't do it! You can't create a nasal sound while your nose is held shut. That's because, during nasal sounds, the lips or tongue completely block the air from leaving the mouth. Then, if the air also can't leave through your nose, it can't leave at all, and no sound will occur.

English has three nasal sounds: the m sound, the n sound, and the ng sound. Listen to the difference between these three sounds:

m sound (m sound)
n sound (n sound)
ng sound (ng sound)

For this episode, let's focus on the ng sound. The ng sound gets its name because it is often spelled 'ng' as in the words sing, young, and doing.

The trouble that ESL students have with the ng sound usually occurs in relation to the g sound (g sound). Be careful here because the g sound (g sound) is not actually a part of the ng sound. Listen to the ng sound again: (ng sound).

Notice that I did not say (ng sound+g sound). (ng sound+g sound) is a combination of the ng sound followed by the g sound.

Although the g sound is not included with the ng sound, there is a similarity between the ng sound and the g sound that is worth noting. Both of these sounds are velar sounds. Velar sounds are pronounced when the back of the tongue lifts and gets near to or presses against the soft palate. The soft palate is that mushy area at the top, back of the mouth. Notice that when we create the g sound (or the k sound, for that matter), the tongue presses against the soft palate. Then the tongue is released with a little puff of air (k sound, g sound). When pronouncing the ng sound, the tongue presses into the soft palate in the same manner, but instead of immediately releasing, the tongue stays in place, and air is forced out the nose instead.

In addition to the similar tongue position, there are a couple of other valid reasons why people are adding the g sound to the ng sound.

First, it looks like it should be there. The letter g is often a part of the spelling, so it makes sense to want to add it to the pronunciation. When we see the ng spelling, especially at the end of a word, it's helpful to think of the ng spelling the same as we think of the sh spelling. When we see the sh spelling, as in the words she or wish, we don't think of adding an additional s sound or h sound; we realize that those two letters together are pronounced as (sh sound). Think of the ng spelling the same way. At the end of a word, those two letters together are pronounced (ng sound).

Listen to and repeat these words:


Even when people know to not say the g sound, adding the g sound can happen completely by accident. We need to eventually lower the tongue from the soft palate to release the ng sound. This release must be gentle, or a g sound will happen all by itself. It can take some extra practice to end the ng sound without adding a g sound.

I practice this nice, soft release with my students by using verbs that end in the ng sound that can then have the -ing ending added to them. This lets you practice releasing the ng sound twice for each word. For this practice, I want to hear singing, not sing+g sound ing+g sound). Repeat after me, and be very careful to not add any g sound to these words:


That was the ng spelling at the end of a word or immediately before a suffix. When we see the ng spelling in the middle of a word, we can usually expect the g sound to be included in the pronunciation. Listen to and repeat these words:


Besides the ng spelling, the ng sound often occurs when a word is spelled nk or nc. Notice that the nk and nc spellings usually do include the k sound in the word's pronunciation. Listen to and repeat the following words:


A great way to practice all of these possibilities for the ng sound is to listen to the ng sound drills! You can access the drills for free online by going to Pronuncian and clicking the "Sounds" tab. Then you can click "Study now" for any English sound you would like to practice!

These spelling patterns and the sound drills are also included in our book "Pronunciation Pages 2." You can download the book as a PDF or have it shipped to you as a physical, paper book. Both the PDF format and the physical book include MP3 files for all of the sounds of English so you can listen and repeat directly from your digital audio device.

And there is one other way to get extra practice. Pronuncian subscribers have access to the extra listening practice and quizzes associated with the ng sound. To sign up for a Pronuncian subscription, go to www.pronuncian.com/join.

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.