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In school I was taught that words with the letter G followed by i or e pronounced as [ʤ] as in the words: page, cage, large, gene, giant, giraffe, image, gel, general, gentle, etc.

With time I found many words that are included in the mentioned rule and they are pronounced as ‏/ɡ/ as if they're not followed by i or e: gift, girl, geek, tigers, gear, get, give, etc.

Can I say that the mentioned rule is mostly correct in English? If I can, then what's the reason for these words to be exceptions?

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  • Because that's the way it is!. English is the language in which vowels are pronounced differently and does not correspond with the spelling. We Japanese have only 5 vowels. namely a i u e o. – user17814 Dec 25 '18 at 14:53
  • Same with consonants. They are pronounced differently according to the vowels after or before them. – user17814 Dec 25 '18 at 14:59
  • I think at the end of a word -ge will always or almost always be pronounced /ʤ/. <g> between vowels is probably normally /ʤ/ as well. Apart from that I don't think this rule is that helpful. However, and I haven't really checked this or given it much thought, it might be the case that <g> is pronounced /g/ and not /ʤ/ before the other vowels? The only exception I can think of is gaol – Au101 Dec 25 '18 at 21:50
  • See en.wiktionary.org/wiki/… for more examples of exceptions. – sumelic Dec 26 '18 at 3:37
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Use the rule, as it often works, but you will need to learn the exceptions.

The rule of soft and hard "g" works quite well for words derived from French or Italian (cage, page, giant, large, image are French; giraffe and gel are Italian)

It works less well for words from Old English or Germanic roots (girl, get, give are from Anglo Saxon; gift and gear are from Norse; geek is from Low German)

Of course, it is impossible to know if a word is from a Romance or Germanic root without checking it in a dictionary. So this doesn't help in practice. And there are always exceptions to the exceptions: "Gene" is from (modern) German (but ultimately from Latin), and Tiger comes from French (where it is spelled Tigre, showing the hard g before r).

Now, for a native speaker or advanced learner, if you come across a word that you do not know, it is more likely to be from Latin or French than from Germanic (since most of the Old English Germanic words part of the core vocabulary). So it is a good idea to guess that for an unknown word, the "g" is soft if followed by an i,e or y. And if you get it wrong, someone will surely correct you.

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