Hearing 'engine' pronounced with a long 'i', as the final 'e' seems to suggest, sounds odd:

'fin'/'fine' but 'gin'/'engine'.

Looking here for an explanation, I just found another example: 'opposite'

Wiktionary has 'engine' coming from the old French 'engin', and an entry for 'engin' as "an obsolete form of 'engine'".

  • 6
    If you continue looking, you'll find that most English spelling doesn't represent the sounds of Modern English. The reason is that the spelling hasn't changed since Middle Engish, but lots of new words and new spellings have been added, willy-nilly. So you really shouldn't be surprised; just learn the spellings as well as the pronunciations. They're all pretty arbitrary, after all. Jan 4, 2017 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


There doesn't seem to be any clear reason. The OED implies that the word could be spelled with final e in some forms of French as well:

< Anglo-Norman engine, enginne, engynne, ingein, Anglo-Norman and Old French engign, enging, Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French engin, engien (French engin)

But it's unclear how much this might be responsible for the English spelling. The "e" might also just have been meant to indicate vowel length; the vowels in French loanwords were often perceived as long. Similar cases are use, for which the OED says "< Anglo-Norman eos, heus, huis, oes (masculine), use (feminine), Anglo-Norman and Old French hus (masculine), Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French us" and ace, from French as. It would not be unexpected for a originally long vowel to be shortened and reduced in an unstressed syllable.

The OED does list some early spellings that seem to indicate a reduced pronunciation, such as "ME–15 engen". But, it also cross-references the entry for ingine which is currently pronounced /ɪnˈdʒʌɪn/, and describes the latter as a variant of engine. I would guess there was some variation historically in the pronunciation of this word that later got leveled out with the rise of standardization. As I mention in my answer to this related question, Why does the suffix of "iodine" sound different in American and British English?, the sequence "ine" at the end of a word can correspond to various pronunciations with no apparent pattern.

  • Thanks - the link to your other answer is helpful too, as is the inclusion in the answer of similar offenders 'masculine' and 'feminine' Jan 6, 2017 at 12:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.