Aesculus hippocastanum
These horse chestnuts were found on the ground under a tree. The squirrels had opened the bristly husks.

The sound of N

The letter N is a nasal consonant which may take on a nasal vowel sound when combined with g or k.

thin, win

thing, wing

think, wink

 

Silent Ns

The letter N is silent when it follows an M at the end of a word.

autumn, column, condemn, damn, hymn, solemn

Here is a word where the N is sometimes silent, depending on the dialect of the speaker.

government

 

Letter combinations

A common letter combination is —ing, a suffix with a nasal n sound and a silent g.

singing, thinning, winking, wing

 

Double Ns

Words with double nn indicate that the preceding vowel is short or soft.

annual, banner, bonnet, cannot, inner, penny

This rule applies when, in saying the word, the stress is placed on that vowel.

When the stress is on another part of the word, the n is generally single.

inhabit, combination, silent

            Exceptions:

English is very inconsistent in this rule.

These words have an unexpected single n after a short vowel.

anvil, banish, canopy, energy, finish, honey

These words have an unexpected double nn, even though the stress in saying the word is not on the preceding vowel.

anniversary, connect, personnel, questionnaire

 

Confusing N words

narthex

narwhal

nasturtium

nasty

Neanderthal

necessary

negligence

neighbour [neighbor, US]

 

Exercises

  1. Look in a text, a book, or an article on the Internet, for words containing a double-N. How are they pronounced?
  2. Look up the “Confusing N Words” for their definitions. Then use each of them in a sentence.

 

Special reading assignment

Numbers of narwhals are now never known near Norway at night.

 

This blog post is an excerpt from a book, English Manual: Letter by Letter, to be published soon.

 

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