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It's really confusing when to be sure if the letter g is to be pronounced like giraffe or like girl. Both are followed by i. So how can we know the difference? On the other hand, we have gender and general. So is there a rule?

  • the question is broad. there's no one rule you'll have to practise it by reading words that begin with 'g'. – Maulik V Mar 11 '14 at 9:12
  • @MaulikV. As usual in English there are lots of exceptions, but there are some broad rules concerning the pronunciation of the letter g and the question is very interesting to deal with. A shame it should be closed. – Laure Mar 11 '14 at 10:44
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There are two ways to pronounce the letter "g" at the beginning of a syllable.

The hard g /g/

is the most common pronunciation. It comes:

  • before a consonant (great)
  • before a back vowel (go, garden, get)
  • before a front vowel in most words of Germanic origin (girl, gift,...)
  • at the end of a word (frog)

The soft g /ʒ/

  • It is extremely rare at the beginning of a syllable. The only words I can think of at the moment are
    • genre [ʒɒnrə].
    • bourgeois [ˈbʊəʒwɑː]

which are both loan words from French that have kept the French sound /ʒ/.
/ʒ/ is a little more common at the end of a word, but there again we only find it in loan words from French (rouge, garage)

  • /ʒ/ is more frequent in combination with /d/ in //
    It is the usual pronunciation if "g" is before the letters ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.

    • giraffe [dʒɪ'rɑːf]
    • gin [dʒɪn]

This is only a general framework to start with and you will find exceptions of course. When you are not sure you can consult a dictionary, even online dictionary will give the IPA phonetic notation.

I've just found this online article Why are there two pronunciations for the letter 'G'? with a little humoristic touch on the pronunciation of GIF.

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    I think it's not very common to call /ʒ/ the "soft g" sound in English. Usually, that term would refer to the affricate [dʒ]. The sound /ʒ/ is only associated with "g" in recent loanwords. Maybe you could flip around the order in which you discuss those two sounds? Otherwise everything in this answer looks good to me. – sumelic Aug 15 '16 at 6:48
  • @sumelic I don't quite understand what you are saying (I'm not a professional phonetician), do you mean you would not refer to the /ʒ/ sound (as in beige for example) as a "soft g", but you would not say it is pronounced with a "hard g", would you? I know there would be a lot more to say about the pronunciation of the letter "g" but I suppose at the time I wanted to give a quick answer before the close suggestion became effective. I went from the most common sound to the least common, why do you think would the reverse order would be better? – Laure Aug 20 '16 at 6:43
  • Well, in English, the most common sound is /dʒ/ rather than /ʒ/. That's why I think it would make more sense to start with /dʒ/. I wouldn't say "beige" is pronounced with hard g, but it's not pronounced with a usual English soft g sound either. It's pronounced with a French soft g sound. – sumelic Aug 20 '16 at 6:53

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