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The letter x can sound (most often) like [gz] and [ks]:

  • [gz] in words like exam, exactly.
  • [ks] in word like extra, hexagon, etc.

I have found that x is pronounced [gz] whenever it’s in or before the stressed syllable, and [ks] otherwise.

And in a few cases it sounds like [z] when at the beginning of a word.

Do you know other ways of pronouncing this letter? Or other facts that have something to do with its pronunciation?

  • I don't think there's a general rule. For example: exorbitant /ɡz/ (stress in first syllable) but exogenous /ks/ (stress in first syllable). The only way is to check it out the phonetics. – Alejandro Jul 19 '16 at 19:50
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    Oh, but exogenous is also stressed in the second syllable and has /ks/. – Alejandro Jul 19 '16 at 19:59
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    Actually, there are many: expect, extent, extol, etc. – Alejandro Jul 19 '16 at 20:05
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    exile and execute are both pronounced with /ks/, at least in my experience. – stangdon Jul 19 '16 at 22:05
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    @Ustanak, maurocrispin The word exogenous has a different prefix from the word excerpt, for example. The prefixes are exo and ex respectively. For ex it depends on stress and then on the voicing of the following sound /gz/ when following sound is voiced, and /ks/ when it's voiceless. However, this rule may be overridden when the prefix is itself stressed. "Exo" on the other hand always has /ks/. – Araucaria Jul 20 '16 at 7:56
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As a rule of thumb, the prefix ex- is pronounced with /ks/ when the prefix is stressed.:

  • 'excellent
  • 'exit
  • 'exile
  • 'execute

When this prefix is not stressed, then if the first sound in the root (the part after the prefix) begins with a voiced sound, the prefix will be pronounced with /gz/:

  • ex'am
  • ex'asperate
  • ex'actly
  • ex'ist

This is still true, of course if the prefix is followed by a silent /h/ in the writing. In this case of course, the first sound in the root is a vowel sound:

  • ex'hibit
  • ex'haust
  • ex'hort
  • ex'hilaration

If the prefix is followed by an unvoiced sound, then it will be pronounced with /ks/

  • ex'pect /ɪkˈspekt/
  • ex'tol /ɪkˈstəʊl/
  • ex'hale /eks'heɪl/
  • ex'ceed /ɪkˈsiːd/
  • ex'foliate /eksˈfəʊlieɪt/

In the words above we see roots beginning with the following voiceless sounds respectively /p, t, h, s, f/ and so the prefix used /ks/ instead of /gz/.

There is a different prefix in English exo- meaning 'outer' or 'outside'. The meaning is similar to ex- which tends to mean 'out of' or 'from'. The prefix exo- is always pronounced with /ks/. It is a Greek prefix. Another Greek prefix, hex(a), meaning 'six', is also pronounced with /ks/:

  • hexagon
  • hexadecimal

X at the end of a word nearly always represents the sounds /ks/.

  • latex
  • six
  • Bronx

Very few words in English begin with X. Those that do are mostly from Greek and tend to be pronounced with /z/:

  • xylophone
  • xanthar gum
  • xenon
  • To the anonymous downvoter, care to explain the downvote? – Araucaria Jul 20 '16 at 15:37
  • Won't do it. I can't imagine who did this when it's pure useful info. – Alejandro Jul 21 '16 at 2:44
  • +1 This is a solid and comprehensive answer. To add to it, I'd say that as far as I know, almost all words beginning with 'x' are borrowed from Greek and that they're always pronounced as /z/. I can't think of a single word that doesn't follow this pattern, so I'd call it quite predictable. I disagree with some of your IPA spellings, but that's just splitting hairs. In my dialect, they all begin with /e/ rather than the short 'i' /ɪ/. – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 4:34
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    +1, but I pronounce exit and exile with an /ɛɡz-/ , which is not uncommon in American Englishes. LL observes Brexit pronounced differently in news reports from opposite sides of the pond. – choster Jul 21 '16 at 16:51
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    @Araucaria Fair enough. I was strictly speaking of AmE; I tend to forget that American pronunciations are no more correct than those of any other dialect. It's still a great answer; I was nit-picking because it was so perfect. That was a lot of work on your part. – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 23:10
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In answer to the question, “Do you know other ways of pronouncing this letter?”

It is pronounced like the letter Y or unpronounced in the case of Bexar County (the county in which San Antonio, Texas, is located). So, it is said by locals like bear, or Bayer—the company known (among other things) for making aspirin/ASA. But honestly, that is an edge case, probably not worth committing to memory.

Cf. Bexar County, Texas Talk Notes on Wikipedia and Bexar County pronunciation on forvo.com.

  • 'X' is never pronounced like 'y', and the 'y' in Bayer is not silent. It is part of the diphthong /eɪ/. Also, Bexar is from Spanish, and the x was not silent. It was pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative /x/. That sound does not exist in English, so I'd imagine that overtime it became silent. In modern Spanish, it would be spelled 'Bejar.' – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 4:47
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    Around San Antonio, they pronounce it both ways (Bayer and bear). I am not talking about Spanish. He asked about English. It is a county in a U.S. state, and I don't think that they were being careful to capture the nuance of the mother tongue. – David Eldridge Jul 21 '16 at 4:54
  • Spanish is relevant because it's the origin of the word and it explains why the 'x' fell silent. Again, the sound was a voiceless velar fricative /x/. The closet sound in English is /h/. Over time the 'x' fell silent as is often the case with /h/. Bayer is pronounced /beɪ'eɹ/ And if you pronounce it as bear it is /bɛɹ/. None of what you've written is relevant to the pronunciation of 'x'. You've picked one oddball example that is a remnant of 18th century Spanish orthography. That 'x' is pronounced like 'y' (and is silent) is laughable. So then is your position that 'x' can form diphthongs? – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 5:14
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    I am sorry, @Giambattista. I only meant that I don't think that this is ultimately Spanish, which would be of no interest to the questioner, but that it was an English pronunciation, like kruh-sahnt for croissant. It is a French word, but that is an American pronunciation, and in this case a hyperlocal pronunciation at that. And oddball? Yes, and I said as much: “But honestly, that is an edge case, probably not worth committing to memory.” But you can follow those links. I didn't make those pronunciations up. I lived there and learned the hard way, after pronouncing it Beks-ar, …. – David Eldridge Jul 21 '16 at 16:17
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    I'm trying to explain to you how the /x/ in Bexar fell silent. That's why I started with the language of origin. I am familiar with Bexar County. Anyway, my overall point that you seem to be missing is that the pronunciation of 'x' in your example is extremely rare. The 'y' in bayer is not only not silent, but it's functioning as a vowel. 'X' is strictly a consonant and never a vowel. And BTW, it doesn't happen all of the time, but words are often borrowed into US English retaining their original pronunciation, particularly from French. – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 23:06
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I think your summary is good for UK English. Any controversy would be in how to pronounce the leading X

Xavier

You have stated the normal UK pronunciation, which I think follows from the French. If you see the X-men films you will see it pronounced

exavier

I have seen statistics that suggest that this is a more usual US pronunciation

  • Well... actually I think it is not just for uk. I think [gz] and [ks] are the common pronunciation, even for US English. Xavier could be pronunced /ˈzeɪvi.ər/ or /ˈseɪvi.ər/; like Zavier or Savier. – Maurocrispin Jul 19 '16 at 19:53
  • @Maurocrispin, it could be pronounced that way, but in the U.S. at least it is generally not. – The Photon Jul 20 '16 at 2:05
  • Actually, Xavier should be pronounced exactly the same as Javier. There was a sound shift in Spanish that moved /x/ (i.e voiceless velar fricative) from th letter x to j. That's why there are inconsistent spellings such as Mexico/Mejico. Mexico is the original spelling used by the Spanish, and it was pronounced exactly the same as Mejico. The Royal Spanish Academy changed spellings to reflect the sound shift. I do realize that non-Spanish speakers don't follow this however, with many people using the English/Modern Spanish /ks/ – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 4:27
  • @Giambattista: "Xavier" should be pronounced the same as "Javier" when people treat it as a loanword from modern Spanish. Often, it is instead treated as a normal English latinate word, with "x" = /z/. There are many other words that have been adapted like this based on the spelling, such as "zenith" with voiced /z/ from Arabic samt. – sumelic Jul 21 '16 at 17:56
  • @sumelic Yeah I know that people don't treat Xavier as a loanword, but at the end of the day, that's exactly what it is, and that was my point. I'm not familiar with the /z/ pronunciation, but I'm sure it exists. In the US, it's commonly pronounced /eks/. – Giambattista Jul 21 '16 at 22:56

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