Can anyone provide some insight into the pronunciation of the word algae? Various dictionaries give either the /g/ version as in gear or the /dʒ/ version as in jeep. For example:

Is there an American or British convention for pronouncing this word? Are these conventions the same on both sides of the Atlantic?

Is one pronunciation more common in biology circles or technical circles that the other one?

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    Please include the research you’ve done. It is not sufficient to say 'various dictionaries disagree'; you need to provide their individual recommendations in attributed quotes. You may still have a valid question, but you should not expect contributors to do reasonable research you could provide. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '18 at 13:49
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    I looked for but didn’t find an earlier question asking the same of fungus/fungi, which surprised me given how this is actually “the same question” as one about how to pronounce fungi (the plural of fungus), which has exactly the same “dual-standards” behavior occurring in distributions exactly parallel to that of the alga/algae pairs. ← One could well address both here. Less common instances of this phenomenon of oddly-pairing pronunciation doublets can be found in sarcophagus/sarcophagi, basilica/basilicae, focus/foci, locus/loci, diplococcus/diplococci, diplodocus/diplodoci. – tchrist Jul 5 '18 at 14:24
  • @EdwinAshworth I've added the two main sources that I use in general. So how do you pronounce algae yourself ? – Kantura Jul 5 '18 at 14:28
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    I use /ˈalɡiː/, but there's so much cross-fertilisation in scientific circles and on the media that it's probably unwise to look for a US/UK divide here. And certainly neither is incorrect. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '18 at 15:42
  • I've removed the survey-type question asking each person says it or has heard it said: those aren’t a good fit for our format here. – tchrist Jul 5 '18 at 19:05

I (American English) have only ever heard /ˈældʒi/, to the extent that this question surprised me—I hadn't really considered the possibility of pronouncing the word any other way, although I am well aware of the variation in the pronunciation of g in other words such as fungi.

I listened to the first 20 pronunciations of algae on Youglish. The 4 speakers who used [g] all sounded like they had an accent other than American English.

When I listened to the first 18 British English pronunciations, 14 of them used /giː/, 1 used /geɪ/, and 3 used /dʒiː/.

A WordReference Forums thread from 2009 seems to provide further anecdotal support for the idea of a UK/US split.

Based on this, it does seem to me that the ratio of /dʒ/ to /g/ is higher in the US than in other areas (the Oxford English Dictionary also seems to indicate this with the order in which it gives the pronunciations for British English and American English, as tchrist says in a comment below GEdgar's answer).

I don't know of any tendency for the word to be pronounced differently by biologists and non-biologists. There is no uniform, unanimously agreed-upon system of pronouncing biological terms in English—in general, there is similar variation among biologists as among other speakers in the pronunciation of words taken from Latin.

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    Interestingly, I’ve heard both /ɡ/ and /ʤ/ in algae, but I’ve never heard /ʤ/ in fungi. Then again, ODO lists only /ˈfʌŋɡiː/ for fungi, which I’ve also never heard. I never considered that there were any other ways to pronounce it than /ˈfʌŋɡaɪ/. The more you know! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 5 '18 at 16:24
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: One thing I am wondering now is if any speakers pronounce "algae" as /algaɪ/. I haven't heard that so far, but since some speakers use /g/ it seems plausible. For "fungi", I heard /ˈfʌŋɡaɪ/ most often growing up, but the other pronunciations were sufficiently common that they don't sound strange to me. – herisson Jul 5 '18 at 16:25
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    One of the speakers on Youglish (the newscaster with the rotating globe in the video) definitely said "algal blooms," not "algae." I personally have never heard anyone say "algal" any other way than with /g/. – R. Barrett Jul 5 '18 at 18:59
  • @R.Barrett: I agree. I believe my reported counts are accurate, as I excluded mis-transcriptions and mis-classifications from my Youglish count, but I didn't mention that in the answer for simplicity. In any case, the Youglish videos themselves are not a perfect sample of English speakers, but I think looking at them can provide a rough estimate of the relative frequencies of different pronunciations – herisson Jul 5 '18 at 19:02

There are different systems for pronouncing Latin. And then, when a word is adopted in English its pronunciation may then change to fit English-speakers better. So it is not surprising that pronunciations vary.

According to the OED, the difference in UK/US is in the letter a, not in the g. For the pronunciation of the g in algae, in both US and UK, /g/ and /dʒ/ are both given. But for the singular alga, only /g/.

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    The OED says that the distribution flips between US/UK. Singular alga is Brit. /ˈalɡə/, U.S. /ˈælɡə/ and plural algae is Brit. /ˈalɡiː/, /ˈaldʒiː/, U.S. /ˈældʒi/, /ˈælɡi/. They say the same thing about fungi. But it depends on the technical circle, as you’ve written. Also be aware that when the OED uses the open front-vowel /a/ for the ᴛʀᴀᴘ vowel in the UK but the near-open front vowel /æ/ for that “same” ᴛʀᴀᴘ vowel in the US, that these aren’t really different phonemes at all. It’s not /ɑ/. – tchrist Jul 5 '18 at 14:51

IMHO, alga should be pronounced close to /al-guh/, but algae should be pronounced /al-jie/, or rather like Algy, short for Algernon, would be pronounced.

After all, as the poet said, "Algy met a bear, / A bear met Algy. / The bear was bulgy, / The bulge was Algy."

As for fungus/fungi, the singular would be /fun-gus/ or /fung-us/; the latter would be /fun-ji/, but /fun-ghi/ is acceptable. I would be tempted to use "focuses" and "locuses" for almost all but the most technical mathematical uses--which are usually read and not spoken aloud.

  • Is your humble opinion backed up by any sources? The question isn't a "how do you pronounce it?" opinion poll. – David Richerby Jul 6 '18 at 1:33
  • My source is my own usage, David, which is based on examples heard from other users of the words over the last 60 - 70 years. – tautophile Jul 6 '18 at 1:37
  • Other users of the word where? The other answers suggest that pronunciation differs between the US and UK, as is so often the case. Answers of the form "Well, I say 'tom-ay-toh'" are rarely what we're looking for, here. – David Richerby Jul 6 '18 at 8:39

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