the NG Sound
/ŋ/ is a nasal sound made in the same position as /k/ and /g/, so the tongue is raised at the back, touching the soft palate and the noise is released through the nose. Have a go:
All the /ŋ/ sounds in this lesson are in red, so let’s get going.
How /ŋ/ is Spelt
/ŋ/ is always written with < n > in English, and you can spot it because it’s followed directly by < k > like in TANK, < g > like in LONG, or occasionally < c > like in ZINC. It is one of only a handful of consonant symbols, along with /θ, ð, ʃ, ʒ/ which appear in the English phonemic alphabet, but not the English written alphabet.
It’s also worth noting that /ŋ/ doesn’t appear at the beginning of words in English, so if you make one up, like NGIPS /ŋips/ and ask a native speaker to repeat it, they might not be able to….
/ŋ/ in Connected Speech
/ŋ/ can replace /n/ whenever the next sound is /k/ or /g/, so if the word IN is followed by the word COURT, the /n/ can change to /ŋ/ so /ɪŋ ˈkɔːt/. This is known as assimilation, and can occur within words too, like INCREDIBLE or UNGRATEFUL. The assimilation is optional, and it is often hard to hear. Native speakers will do this without realising it:
/ŋ/ in Accents
All native English speakers use /ŋ/, though there is huge variation in the way speakers from different areas apply it. In nearly every regional English accent throughout the entire world, speakers change /ŋ/ for /n/ in < ing > endings, so WORKIN’ /ˈwɜːkɪn/, TALKIN’ /ˈtɔːkɪn/, and SITTIN’ /ˈsɪtɪn/.
This also used to be a feature of very posh country folk, who would famously ponder a day’s huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’. It’s quite common now to hear natives mixing this up in their speech: using /ŋ/ for more careful speech, and /n/ for more casual speech, though it may be considered by some to be less ‘correct’.
In London, many speakers pronounce compound words ending < thing > with /ŋk/: EVERYTHING /ˈevrifɪŋk/, ANYTHING /ˈenifɪŋk/, SOMETHING /ˈsʌmfɪŋk/.
That’s very funny, I can’t stop laughing. In some areas of England, particularly in the Midlands and in the North, we tend to pronounce the < g > so we say THING /θɪŋg/ SINKING /ˈsɪŋkɪŋg/ and STRONGLY /ˈstrɒŋgli/.
When to Add /g/
In standard GB English, < ng > is pronounced without /g/ at the end of words, so WRONG /rɒŋ/ HANG /hæŋ/ and FIGHTING /ˈfaɪtiŋ/ are pronounced with /ŋ/. If < ng > appears in the middle of a word, we also pronounce the /g/, so ANGER /ˈæŋgə/, HUNGRY /ˈhʌŋgri/ and ENGLAND /ˈɪŋglənd/ are all pronounced with /ŋg/.
If < ng > is at the end of a root word that has an ending added, it will still be pronounced /ŋ/ so WRONGLY /ˈrɒŋli/ and HANGER /ˈhæŋə/ don’t have /g/ because they come from the root words WRONG /rɒŋ/ and HANG /hæŋ/. The exceptions to this rule are superlatives LONGEST /ˈlɒŋgɪst/ and STRONGEST /ˈstrɒŋgɪst/, and the comparatives LONGER /ˈlɒŋgə/ and STRONGER /ˈstrɒŋgə/, which all contain /ŋg/.
Tips for Learners
/ŋg/ and /ŋk/ are not normally difficult to pronounce for second language learners of English, though /ŋ/ in isolation is often more challenging. Since this only occurs in some English accents, General British and Received Pronunciation being two, it is only important if one of these accents is the target. In order to master /ŋ/ in isolation, try repeating it like this: /ŋɑː əŋɑː ɑːŋ/, then making some ‘ing‘ endings, ensuring your tongue makes contact at the back of the mouth on the soft palate each time.
This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notes, diagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.