I was wondering why it is that I'm unable to pronounce this sound. Apparently, the reason why I pronounce the words "seen" and "sing" the exact same way (as well as "long" and "lawn", "dean" and "ding," etc.) is because I have difficulty pronouncing the ŋ at the end of words that finish off with a g. Is it common for native English speakers - I'm from Michigan, by the way - to have this sort of dialect? And why is it that someone would have difficulty saying this sound? Is it fair to judge others who aren't able to pronounce an ŋ properly?

  • Perhaps you haven't learnt the trick because this sound is lacking in your language variety. When pronouncing the ng-sound the air passage to the nasal cavity is open and some air is passing through the nose. But I think you could learn this only with a special teacher.
    – rogermue
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 10:35
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    @Bret I haven’t seen anyone mention having difficulties pronouncing [ŋ] in particular, but what really puzzles me is that in the pairs dean/ding and seen/sing, the nasal is not the only distinguishing feature: the vowels are very different as well. Seen/dean have /iː/, while sing/ding have /ɪ/. Do you also pronounce peak and pick the same? And does this mean that you pronounce din/sin and ding/sing differently? Because those pairs do have the same vowel. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 10:50
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    @Janus: Many speakers in California have a merger of /ɪ/ and /i/ before /ŋ/, where sing is pronounced seeng. Maybe this has somehow also made its way to Michigan. There aren't any minimal pairs for this merger, because /i/ never appears before /ŋ/. But when you also merge /ng/ and /n/, all of a sudden you have lots of them. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 11:51
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    It might be wise to consult a speech therapist.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 11:58
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    How do you say "angle?" Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 14:24

4 Answers 4


This picture shows the nasal cavity http://www.zompist.com/kitcons.gif

And here is a description. The description could be much better, but that's academic style. But picture and description indicate that the air passage through the mouth is closed. The air goes through the nasal cavity and the nose. We influence this by drawing in/back the tongue as I've just found out. http://www.pronuncian.com/Lessons/Default.aspx?Lesson=19 If you click "play" you hear the sound.

And the text also says that the vocal cords are vibrating, an important feature. The vocal cords are vibrating when you say a long vowel, e.g. aaaa.

Added: I had a closer look at the ng-problem, that is how we raise the back of the tongue. The description of pronunciation.com says "the back of the tongue lifts", but how? I doubt that anybody can lift the back of the tongue, the formulation is wrong. But you can bury the tip of your tongue as far down below the lower teeth as possible. This raises the back of the tongue automatically, if you want to or not. If you do this and try to say /n/ you produce the ng-sound.

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    The formulation is quite right. Unless you have a very serious speech impediment, you can lift the back of your tongue. That’s one of the very basic movements you make hundreds, if not thousands, of times every day. Every time you say a velar consonant (/k ɡ ŋ x ɣ/, etc.), you raise the back of your tongue towards or against your soft palate. Every time you swallow, you raise the tongue against your soft palate (after the food has passed). As for how, I’m no anatomist, but I believe it happens by contraction of the styloglottis muscle. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 16:42

I have seen this problem before in a friend of mine. She consistently pronounces all /ŋ/ as /n/ in word-final positions. She's from Colorado, so it doesn't appear to be region-specific.

I'm assuming you can pronounce /g/ just fine, since you didn't mention it. If you can pronounce /n/ and /g/ separately, then there's nothing stopping you from pronouncing /ŋ/ correctly (from a technical standpoint). Perhaps the rules your brain is using to pronounce "–ng" are just wrong and are converting it to be pronounced as "–n". It's hard to say with so small a sample size.

Can you pronounce /ŋ/ inside of words? i.e. does "ringer" sound as it ought to, or does it sound like "reener"? If the latter, then your issue goes a bit deeper is all.

I don't think it's terribly detrimental. Honestly, if you're old enough to be posting things here then you probably have made it far enough in life without it affecting you too adversely. With my friend, I really didn't notice until she did it back-to-back once (by saying something like "sing a song", which came out as "seen a sonn" and we all did a double-take), and that was probably a couple months into our friendship.

Like with most phonetics, it's something you can train yourself to do. You've just got to practice combing /n/ and /g/ to make /ŋ/. (I know that might be easier said than done, but it is possible!)


It is ordinary for word final velar nasal to become alveolar in an unstressed syllable, as in "licking". It happens in my speech, and I'm from Ohio originally. The vowel of the ending "-ing" is high and tense. I consider this to be standard English. There is a dialectal variant with lax "i" usually spelled with an apostrophe: "finger lickin'".

However, the change you report which even affects "ng" in stressed syllables, as in "sing", is not so usual. I hadn't noticed that pronunciation.

Often in languages, fewer kinds of consonants are permitted at the ends of words than in other positions. Many such cases are given by Trubetzkoy in Principles of Phonology. But I don't know why word final position favors such changes.

  • I might have misunderstood what you wrote, but lax i (KIT) is by no means nonstandard for -ing.
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 18:10
  • @sumelic. I think lax i is standard before velar nasal in stressed syllables. What I said was that tense i in the ending "-ing", where it is unstressed, is standard. That's not quite the same as saying lax "-ing" is nonstandard.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 19:36
  • Hmm. Do you mean "tense" in a phonemic or phonetic sense? Merriam Webster appears to transcribe it as lax: i.word.com/idictionary/-ing
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:40
  • @sumelic, I mean in the sense that it's more like the tense i than the lax i, when people use the tense/lax terms to distinguish two sorts of English i. For instance, the i of -ing I find to be very similar to the last vowel of "city", which in the SPE system is tense and unstressed. I'd transcribe it as barred i -- a high central vowel -- and I think it differs from lax i in having the blade of the tongue higher. In -ing, I take the vowel quality to due to an assimilation, responding to the same phonetic difficulty as the inserted palatal glide found in my and other dialects in -ang words.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:54

The only way to get a reliable answer to your question is to consult a well-qualified speech therapist. Your difficulty could be one related to how you hear the sounds, it could be related to abnormalities in your oral cavity, or it could be a matter of what you learned as a child (and may need specific exercises to unlearn).

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