This question below is from my English book exercise:

Choose the word whose underlined part is pronounced differently from that of the other words

a. exactly
b. exist
c. exhaust
d. extinct

(Because I couldn't underline the part of each word in this post, I made it bold)

After trying reading aloud each word a few times, I couldn't notice any differences of the above 'ex' parts. Then I looked it up in Oxford Dictionary and it showed each word's phonetic transciption like this:

a. exactly /ɪɡˈzæktli/
b. exist /ɪɡˈzɪst/
c. exhaust /ɪɡˈzɔːst/
d. extinct /ɪkˈstɪŋkt/

If the /ɪɡ/ and /ɪk/ are at the end of the word, like 'big' or 'tick', I can see the differences and pronounce them easily. However, in the exercise, it seems to me that the /ɡ/ and /k/ of all the words are canceled or silent.

Could you advise me on whether I'm correct or not in this case?

  • 1
    Keep in mind that pronunciation can vary a lot by region. "Extinct" and "exact" would sound fine to me whether pronounced with /k/ or /g/.
    – LMS
    Jan 8, 2017 at 16:19
  • 2
    Extinct is the different word, like exterior and exlamation, explanation. Jan 8, 2017 at 16:52
  • 2
    "However, in the exercise, it seems to me that the /ɡ/ and /k/ of all the words are canceled or silent." - I'm not sure what you mean by "canceled or silent", because they definitely make a sound that is very important to the pronunciation of the words. If you just mean that they don't make a difference...they are pronounced similarly, but not exactly the same. "Eggs" and "ex" should sound different. As @TonyK says, one is voiced and one is unvoiced.
    – stangdon
    Jan 8, 2017 at 17:41

3 Answers 3


A native English speaker pronounces extinct differently from egg stinked (yes I know, that should be egg stank). extinct is pronounced with an unvoiced /k/ sound, and egg stinked with a voiced /g/ sound.

As you remark, there would be hardly any difference in this context if voicing were the only distinction. But in most dialects of English, a syllable-final unvoiced consonant preceded by a vowel is pre-glottalized. In some dialects, notably Cockney, the consonant (especially /t/) can disappear entirely, and all that's left is the glottal stop: "Wha' a lo'" for "What a lot".

See the Wikipedia article on Glottalization for a discussion of this.


There are some general rules for the pronunciation of ex-:

  • It's pronounced /ks/ when it has primary stress as in execute, exile, extra etc.
  • When it's unstressed, then its pronunciation depends on the following sound:
    • if the following sound is a vowel or another voiced sound, it's pronounced /gz/ as in exact, exist, exhaust, exhilarate etc.
    • if the following sound is voiceless, it's /ks/ as in expire, explain, extreme, expunge etc.

'Exact' belongs to the first sub-category in the second category, while 'extinct' belongs to the second one in the second category.

There may be exceptions, however.


Yes, they are pronounced differently. The 'ex' in 'exact' sounds more like 'eggs'.

There is a reason for this - many words use 'ex' as a prefix. It comes from the Latin meaning 'out'. For example 'exhale' means to breathe out, 'extract' means to pull out, and 'extinct' means to die out.

That isn't the case with 'exact' - it comes from the Latin exactus, which in its entirety means 'precise', so the word has a different etymology.

It is no surprise that we over-pronounce 'ex-' in words where it acts as a prefix because it often acts to negate a word, for example, 'ex-girlfriend', or 'ex-wife'.

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