John Larrysson's Column: How We Got Hard And Soft Gs

A long time ago, in a land far far away there was a king worried about his country. Many foreign people wanted to steal his country. His name was Harold Godwinson and he was King of England. He was a strong leader and wore a beard like all Englishmen. He spoke Old English and used hard G words (The original spelling is in brackets.), such as game (gamen), got/get (getenn/geta) give (giefan), gift (gift – Old Saxon) and girl (gyrle). England would soon be invaded by soft G words.

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In the north of England an army from Norway was trying to invade England. King Harold ran with his soldiers from London to Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. King Hardrada of Norway wanted to have England. But King Harold said, “You can have seven feet of English ground, when I bury you, because you are taller than other men.” They fought the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the English destroyed the army from Norway. King Hardrada of Norway was buried at Stamford bridge and got his seven feet of England.

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King Harold had to rush his tired soldiers back south again to fight another army in the south. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy had landed with his army. William was called the bastard, because his father was not married to his mother. But William cut the heads off of people who called him a bastard. Unlike the Englishmen, William scraped a sharp knife over his face and cut off his beard. The Old English, like King Harold, did not usually shave.

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In Normandy they spoke French and used soft G words such as gem (gemme), geometry (géométrie), giant (géant), gentle (gentil), energy (énergie) and effigy (effigie). They also spoke a few hard G words such as: garden (gardin)*, elegant (élégant), government (governement), dragon (dragon), guide (guider) and guardian (gardien). He used a soft G before the vowels I, E and Y . He used a hard G before the vowels A , O and U.

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King Harold Godwinson lost the Battle of Hastings to William the Bastard, now called William the Conqueror. King Harold was the last English King of England. Afterwards all the Kings and Queens of England would be from foreign families. The Norman kings shaved and did not wear beards. English was now spoken with both soft and hard G words making spelling more difficult.

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* The old and modern spelling of these French words is generally the same, except: The word garden is spelled jardin in Old French and Modern French, but was spelled gardin in Old Norman French. The word government was spelt governement in Old French and gouvernement in Modern French.

Other Phonics Articles:

-ING Endings


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

[email protected]

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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