In Italian, the group gn is pronounced differently from English. (See for example magnolia, which is pronounced /ma'ɲoːlja/ in Italian.)

What is the correct pronunciation of gn, in English, for example in the following words?

  • Campaign
  • Foreign
  • Sign
  • Signed

Is there any word containing gn that is pronounced differently from the usual because of its origin, or because it is a loanword?

  • 3
    Are requests for lists valid on ELL? All the words provided have gn sounded just like a single n. However in the word signature the gn is split across two syllables and is pronounced as a hard g followed by an n And then there is the word gnu. Which I've heard pronounced both ways.
    – Jim
    Jan 28, 2013 at 1:46
  • 1
    I am not requesting a list. I simply asked if there is any word for which gn is pronounced differently because of the word origin, for which the answer is simply yes, or not. Also, that is not the main question; users are free not to answer that part.
    – apaderno
    Jan 28, 2013 at 1:52
  • 1
    I thought of lasagne and signor, which get a y sound after the n. Of course, these are derived from words of Italian origin.
    – J.R.
    Jan 28, 2013 at 2:31

3 Answers 3


In all of these ‘gn’ words the ‘g’ is silent—not pronounced. They all came into English from French fairly early and have been thoroughly ‘naturalized’.

Words with ‘gn’ which came into English directly from Latin, such pugnacious, preserve the /g/ sound. But some of these have French-mediated cognates without the /g/—impugn is one such. Signature, although it came into English from French in the 14th century, was at some point reinterpreted as if it came directly from Latin signatus, and is pronounced with the /g/. Your magnolia is even more curious—it derives from the name of the French botanist Magnol, but by way of the Latinized botanical name of the plant (which was conferred upon it by an English admirer), so it pronounces the /g/.

There are some ‘gn’ words from Greek; these preserve the /g/ when it follows a vowel (agnostic, anagnorosis), but not at the beginning of a word (gnostic, gnome).

There are many more recent words from both French and Italian which are so to speak ‘permanently resident aliens’; these retain their native pronunciations (more or less—you might not be very happy with our pronunciation of terms from your own language) with /nj/: cognac, lasagne, carmagnole, bagnio and gnocchi.

Finally there are the words starting with ‘gn’ which descended from Old English. These all retained the /g/ into Middle English down to the period when spelling began to be regularized, but subsequently lost it. ‘gn’ inside OE words lost the /g/ sound much earlier, which is why the letter ‘g’ no longer appears in (for example) rain < OE regn.

And Jim reminds us of gnu. Dictionaries license both /nu:/ and /nju:/; the word is variously said to derive via Dutch gnoe from Khoikoi gnou or Khoikhoi i-ngu repesenting Southern Bushman !nu:.

  • 2
    One might add that the language learner may benefit as much by paying attention to the effect of surrounding sounds as by paying attention to the word's origin -- as you imply, /g//n/ at the front of words is disallowed in English. There are other useful patterns: the /g/ is pronounced in signature, signet, significance, resignation--i.e., when the 'i' is short. But /g/ is not pronounced when the 'i' is long, as in sign, co-sign, resigning, etc. (Interestingly, signet and sign appear to have been borrowed around the same time, but that doesn't help in distinguishing them.)
    – Merk
    Sep 30, 2013 at 7:36
  • 1
    The "g" in "gnome" is silent? Huh, TIL Mar 24, 2017 at 19:29
  • I think the "g" in OE "regn" may have been pronounced as a semivowel /j/ anyway.
    – rjpond
    Aug 30, 2020 at 19:19

I beg to differ with the previous answers.

It has nothing to do with the etymology/origin of these words. It's a phonological phenomenon. The <gn> in English is weird; when it comes at the end of a word, it lengthens the preceding vowel. When the <gn> is followed by a vowel, it shortens the preceding vowel in most cases.

Words that end with <gn> have the /g/ elided from them because English phonotactics does not permit the /gn/ cluster in the coda or onset of a syllable. However, it's a permissible cluster across the syllable boundary.

Whenever the <gn> comes word-initially or word-finally, the /g/ gets removed.

However, in word-medial position, the /g/ is pronounced when it's followed by a vowel (because it's allowed across the syllables and the following vowel splits it up into two syllables) and is not removed.

When the <gn> is followed by a vowel, the /g/ is usually pronounced except when some suffixes like -ing, -er and -able are appended. There may be exceptions, however.

Examples: When the <gn> is followed by a vowel, the /g/ is not removed:

  • Signature → /ˈsɪɡ.nə.tʃə/
  • Resignation → /ˌrez.ɪɡˈneɪ.ʃ(ə)n/
  • Malignant → /məˈlɪɡ.nənt/ etc.

When the <gn> comes word-initially or word-finally, the /g/ is removed:

  • Gnat → /næt/
  • Gnome → /nəʊm/
  • Campaign → /kæmˈpeɪn/
  • Foreign → /ˈfɒr.ən/
  • Sign → /saɪn/
  • Malign → /məˈlaɪn/ etc.

All these words end/start with <gn>, so the /g/ is removed.

However, some suffixes like -able, -ing etc don't let the /g/ to be pronounced in these words:

  • Signable → /saɪnəb(ə)l/
  • Signing → /saɪnɪŋ/
  • Aligning → /əlaɪnɪŋ/ etc don't have the /g/.

i can think of only one other gn pronunciation in the English language and that rare occurence is the result of slang. In the instance of the Parker Brothers game gnip gnop in which the g is pronounced with a hard g followed by an n. this game title resulted by spelling ping pong backwards! ha! hilarious!

  • Welcome to ELL. This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, and your response does not answer the original question. I encourage you to visit the help center for guidance.
    – choster
    Mar 7, 2014 at 15:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .