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6.13: Soft < g > and Hard < g >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Soft <g> and Hard <g>

1. You've seen that a soft <c> spells the sound [s], as in acid, and that a hard <c> spells the sound [k], as in actor. You’ve also seen that a soft <c> has to have either an <e>, <i> , or <y> right after it.

The letter <g> sometimes spells the sound [j] as in gem, and it sometimes spells the sound [g] as in gum. When it spells the [j] sound, it is called soft <g>. When it spells the [g] sound, it is called hard <g>.

2. Pronounce each of the following words. Pay special attention to the sounds being spelled by the <g> in each of them. Sort the words into the matrix:


Words in which <g> spells ...
[j]: [g]:
Words with <e>, <i>, or <y> right after the <g>:













Words with no <e>,<i>, or <y> after the <g>:














3. You should have found that the letter <g> spells the [j] sound only when it has one of three letters right after it. The three letters are <e> , <i> , and <y>.

The letter <g> is called soft <g> when it spells the sound [j].

A soft <g> always has one of three letters right after it: <e>, <i> , or <y>.

4. Soft <g> always will have <e>, <i>, or <y> , after it. But not every <g> that has one of these three letters after it is a soft <g>! Look at these words, with hard <g>'s where we'd expect soft ones: get, together, hunger, give, and girl.

So we can't say that any <g> with <e>,<i>, or <y> after it will be soft. But we can say that any soft <g> will have <e>, <i>, or <y> after it.

5. The letter <c> is soft when it has the letters <e> , <i> , or <y> after it. The soft <c> spells the sound [s].

6. Soft <c> and <g> always have the letters <e> , <i> , or <y> after them.

7. Combine these free stems and suffixes. Watch for cases of twinning and final <e> deletion:

Free Stem + Suffix = Word
god + d + ess = goddess
biologist + s = biologists
disgust + ing = disgusting
gold + en = golden
gyp +p + ing = gypping
intelligent + iy = intelligently
legislate + or = legislator
ignore + ance = ignorance

Teaching Notes. The distinction between hard and soft <g> is a perfect historical parallel to that between hard and soft <c>. Notice that the two hard sounds, [k] and [g], are an unvoiced-voiced pair. That is, they are identical sounds except that [k] is unvoiced, [g] voiced. Both are pronounced well back in the mouth. Just as with hard and soft <c>, the distinction between hard and soft <g> arose from the influence of the following vowel on the pronunciation of the consonant sound being spelled by the <g>. Front vowels, usually spelled <e>, <i>, or <y>, tended to urge the pronunciation of the preceding consonant more towards the front of the mouth, so that [g] developed into [j].

This explanation is particularly true of words that came to English from or through Latin and French (exs: gelatin, gender, general, genesis, genius, gentle, genuine, geography, germ, gesture, giant, gigantic, ginger, giraffe, gist, gymnasium, gypsum). In native English words (exs:geese, gild, girdle) and in words from German and Scandinavian (exs: get, geyser, gift, gill, girth, give, gear), hard <g> is common before <e>, <i>, or <y>. The soft <g>, [j], by and large echoes developments in late Latin, when the consonant spelled <g> came to be pronounced [j] before front vowels, which were usually spelled with <e>, <i>, or <y>.

Item 2. The hard-soft distinction can help students keep straight the often-confused angle and angel. Angel has <g> = [j] because of the <e> immediately following, while angle has <g> = [g] because there is no <e>, <i>, or <y> immediately following.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
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Jul 07, 2015
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