John Larrysson's Column: NG /ŋ/

NG is a digraph (two letters to represent one sound).  (IPA: /ŋ/) It really should be a letter, but the Latin alphabet did not have a letter for that sound. Modern English writing is based on the Latin alphabet. Old English writers gave up their old runic script and rewrote English with Latin letters. At the time, nobody thought of creating extra letters to have the Latin alphabet match the English language. The NG-sound is difficult for many people who learn English as a second language, but it is not a problem for Cantonese speakers who already know the sound.

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Usually the NG-sound appears at the end of a word as in rung, king and sang.

Very few common English root words have NG in the middle. Most of those that do come from Old English and closely related languages. The words are structurally quite similar. Old English examples include: (The original spellings are in brackets.) finger (finger), hunger (hyngran), linger (lengan) and mingle (mengan). Other examples include: anger (Old Norse: angr), dangle (Danish: dangle), tangle (Old Norse: pongull) and wrangle (Low German: wringen). Note that the original spellings all include NG.

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Some N and G examples in the middle of a word are not NG. Words such as danger, angel and ginger do not count as NG because they are pronounced N and J /ndƷ/ not NG /ŋ/. Words such as hanger, wringer, Nottingham and kingly do not count as having NG in the middle. The root word ends with NG.

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No common word in English begins with the NG sound. The Cantonese surname Ng is occasionally used in English and is an exception.

In the metric system, ng is the abbreviation for a nanogram. An ng is 1 x 10-12 of a kilogram or 0.000000000001 kg. It is pronounced N and G /en dʒiː/ , and not NG /ŋ/ .

The most common use of NG is in the -ing ending. In the next article I will explain that ending. When spelling English words, remember that NG is usually at the end of a word.

audio 4

Other Phonics Articles:

PH in Suffixes and Prefixes

The F sound: FF & GH

The F Sound

The Oi/Oy Sound

Silent D Is Not Always Silent




Stranger Pronunciations of C


The Letter C is Useless

The letter B

The aw-sound

The Schwa Sound

The Magic-e

The Letter A a


by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE:Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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