220: The 'n-g' spelling creates /ŋ/, as in the word 'song'

At the end of the word, the /ŋ/ doesn't need an additional /g/. The /g/ is potentially included mid-word.

Today I’m going to talk about the 'ng sound' /ŋ/, which is *not* just a reverse of the /g+n/ that we practiced in the last episode. As a quick reminder, the /g+n/ is created when the end of the /g/ briefly overlaps the beginning of the /n/, as in the words “ignore” and “signal.” The 'ng sound' /ŋ/ is a completely different thing. When I’m talking about the 'ng sound' /ŋ/, I’m talking about the single sound 'ng sound' /ŋ/, as in the words “song” and “bring.”

Practice the 'ng sound' /ŋ/.

In linguistics, when two letters are used to create one sound, it’s called a digraph. Think about the 'sh sound' /ʃ/. It’s called the 'sh sound' /ʃ/ because it’s frequently spelled with the letters ’s-h.’ But the pronunciation of the 'sh sound' /ʃ/ has nothing to do with the individual /s/ or /h/. They are a new sound, the sh sound: (sh sound).

Practice the 'sh sound' /ʃ/.

The 'ng sound' /ŋ/ is the same idea. The 'ng sound' /ŋ/ is not an /n/ followed by a /g/. Instead, it is one, single nasal sound created with the back of the tongue in the same place as the /g/. It sounds like ('ng sound' /ŋ/), and I think it’s the hardest of the three nasal sounds in English. If you remember from our last episode, the other two nasal sounds are the /n/ and /m/.

Practice the 'n' sound /n/.
Practice the 'm sound' /m/.

Listen to me say the word “song.” I’m going to hold the end of the word so you can really clearly hear it: “song.”

Notice that I did not say “song+g.” I don’t have to add a /g/ to this word, just like I don’t have to add an /h/ to the end of the word “wish.” Again, if I were to add a /g/ to the end of “song,” it would sound like “song+g.” Can you hear the difference? First, correctly: “song.” Now, with an unnecessary /g/ at the end: “song+g.”

Don't add a /g/ to the /ng/ sound!

Those were “song,” and “song+g.”

Not adding that /g/ is hard for a lot of non-native English speakers. Some of the problem might be that you don’t realize that there is no /g/ on the end of the word 'song,' and some of the problem might be that it’s actually kind of hard to not add the /g/ because you have to release the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ at some point.

Practice the 'g sound' /g/.

Why don’t you try it? Say the word “song,” and hold the end sound: “song.”


A way I like to practice saying the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ without adding a /g/ is to take verbs that end in the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ and add the -ing ending to them. This allows twice the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ practice, and includes going from the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ into a vowel.

So let’s do it. I’ll say a word and leave time for you to repeat after me. Each word will have two 'ng sounds' /ŋ/, and no /g/.




Now that you’ve had that practice, I don’t want you to over-apply and never say a /g/ after an 'ng sound' /ŋ/. We don’t add it to the ends of words, but there are words where there is a /g/ after the 'ng sound' /ŋ/ in the middle of a word.

Let’s practice a few of those words:


Remember, our book Pronunciation Pages 2 includes the spelling patterns for all 43 sounds of American English and practice lists for all of the sounds. That, of course, includes the 'ng sound' /ŋ/. If you’re in the United States, we can ship you a physical copy with an MP3 CD for the audio. Or, you can buy the ebook version anywhere in the word and have have that and the MP3 audio and have it delivered immediately to your computer or other device. You can get it by going to pronuncian.com, spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n. com. You can find the transcripts for this and all of our past podcasts there as well.