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10.19: Sometimes [n] is Spelled < gn >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Sometimes [n] is Spelled <gn>

1. There are several English words in which [n] is spelled <gn>. Many of them come from the Latin word signum, which meant “mark, sign”:

\begin{align*}& \text{sign} && \text{assign} && \text{consign} && \text{design} && \text{resign} && \text{ensign}\end{align*}

Five of these six words all contain a prefix plus the free base sign. Write each of these five words below and analyze each one into prefix and base, showing any assimilation that occurs. (The prefix en- in ensign is the French form of the prefix in-, “in, into.”)

Word = Analysis
assign = a\begin{align*}\cancel{d}\end{align*} + s + sign
consign = co\begin{align*}\cancel{m}\end{align*} + n + sign
design = de + sign
resign = re + sign
ensign = en + sign

2. Very often when you add suffixes to these sign words, you can hear the <g>. Here are some examples. Analyze each one as instructed. Then in the right column write down whether or not you can hear the <g> in the word in the left column:

Word = Analysis Do you pronounce the <g>?
signal = Free base + suffix = sign + al Yes
resignation = Prefix + free base + suffix = re + sign + ation Yes
designate = Prefix + free base + suffix = de + sign + ate Yes
insignia = Prefix + free base + suffix = in + sign + ia Yes
signature = Prefix + free base + suffix = sign + ature Yes
signing = Free base + suffix = sign + ing No
designer = Prefix + free base + suffix = de + sign + er No
resignation = Prefix + free base + suffix = re + sign + ation Yes
unsigned = Prefix + free base + suffix = un + sign + ed No
consignment = Prefix + free base + suffix = co\begin{align*}\cancel{m}\end{align*} + n + sign + ment No
assigns = Prefix + free base + suffix = a\begin{align*}\cancel{d}\end{align*} + s + sign + s No
signify = Free base + suffix = sign + ify Yes
signet = Free base + suffix = sign + et Yes

3. Below are the sign words with which you worked in Item 2. Hyphens mark the boundaries between syllables. Be ready to discuss when we do and when we do not pronounce the <g> in these words so far as syllable boundaries are concerned:

\begin{align*}& \text{sig-nal} && \text{sign-ing} && \text{as-signs} \\ & \text{re-ig-na-tion} && \text{de-sign-er} && \text{sig-ni-fy} \\ & \text{des-ig-nate} && \text{re-signed} && \text{sig-net} \\ & \text{in-sig-ni-a } && \text{un-signed} \\ & \text{sig-na-ture} && \text{con-sign-ment}\end{align*}

4. The sound [n] is also spelled <gn> in the word reign, as in “The king reigned for fifty years.” Reign comes from the Latin word regnum, which meant “the power of a king” and in which the <g> was pronounced.

But [n] is also spelled <gn> in sovereign and foreign, which come from the Latin words superanus and foranus, with no <g>'s. So why are there <g>'s in sovereign and foreign? Long ago people decided that sovereign and foreign must have come from the word reign. So they changed the spelling to make the three words look more alike.

5. In design and other words with the base sign, [n] is spelled <gn> . And [n] is also spelled <gn> in the words reign , sovereign , and foreign.

Teaching Notes.

The following lesson deals with the remaining cases in which [n] is spelled <gn>. You may or may not decide that they are important enough to have the student work with them.

More Words with [n] Spelled <gn>

1. The Latin word campus meant “field, plain.” It is the direct source of our words camp and campus. It produced the Latin word Campania, the name of an area in ancient Rome. In French Campania became Champaign and Champagne. In English we have three words, all of which eventually go back to the Latin Campania and all of which contain [n] spelled <gn>: campaign, champagne “a bubbly wine”, champaign ”a plain; open country.”

Here is a “family tree” for these English words: camp, campaign, campus, champagne, champaign. Fill the five words into the proper boxes:

2. There are five more fairly common words that end in [n] spelled <gn>. They all come from Latin words with <g>'s that were pronounced. The five are benign, deign, feign, impugn, and malign. Below are the five Latin words from which our five words came. See how well you can match each modern English word with its Latin original:

Latin Original English Word
benignus “kind, generous”
dignari “to judge worthy”
fingere “shape, invent, feign”
impugnare “to attack”
malignus “bad natured”

3. There are a very few other words that contain [n] spelled <gn>. None of them are very common and all start with <gn>. Three have to do with the mouth or chewing gnarl, gnash, gnaw. One is the name of a wise little elf: gnome. A long time ago all of those <g>'s were pronounced. Try saying gnash and gnaw, pronouncing the <gn> as [gn], and see how much more the words thus pronounced sound and feel like what they mean.

4. Another <gn> word is gnu, which is pronounced [n\begin{align*}\bar {\mathrm{u}}\end{align*}] and is a very new word in our language. It is the name of a rather odd-looking antelope, famous for the cartoon line: “‘Gno, gnever!’ said the gnu.” It comes from the African name for the animal, nqu.

5. The <gn> is gnome is perhaps the most interesting one of the lot. The gn is what is left of a base that means “to know.” In fact, the <gn> is related in a roundabout way to the <kn> in know, with which you will work in the next lesson. The same <gn> occurs in words like ignore, recognize, and agnostic, in all of which the <g> is pronounced.

Latin Original English Word
benignus “kind, generous” benign
dignari “to judge worthy” deign
fingere “shape, invent, feign” feign
impugnare “to attack” impugn
malignus “bad natured” malign

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