Why do some words ending with "gue" sound different from other similar words?
Examples: rogue and argue.
- Rogue -> /'rəʊɡ/
- Argue -> /ˈɑːɡjuː/
They both sound different. What's the reason?
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Current pronunciation often (but not always) reflects the origins of the word. English has two major influences: Romance Languages and Germanic languages.
From the OED
Argue - Etymology: < Old French argue-r < Latin argūtāre -
French is a Romance language.
Rogue- Etymology: Origin unknown.
However, we have another example:
Tongue: Etymology: Old English and Middle English tunge weak feminine > Old Saxon tunga (Middle Low German, Low German tunge , Middle Dutch tonghe , Dutch tong ) = Old Frisian tunge,
Old Saxon is Germanic.
English pronunciation has a lot of exceptions; in your specific case it is probably due to the origin of the two terms:
Rogue for instance:
- 1560s, "idle vagrant," perhaps a shortened form of roger (with a hard -g-), thieves' slang for a begging vagabond who pretends to be a poor scholar from Oxford or Cambridge, which is perhaps an agent noun in English from Latin rogare "to ask."
While argue has retained part of its original sound:
- c. 1300, "to make reasoned statements to prove or refute a proposition," from Old French arguer "maintain an opinion or view; harry, reproach, accuse, blame" (12c.), ultimately from Latin arguere "make clear, make known, prove, declare, demonstrate,
The letters “g”, “u” and “e” all have multiple values in English, as well as in French (from which we get a significant number of modern English spelling patterns). That’s why the ending “-gue” is ambiguous.
In “argue”, “u” is functioning as a vowel. The spelling pattern is the same as in words like “cue”, “cute”, “fuse”: “u” represents a glide followed by a syllabic vowel sound, /ju/.
In “rogue”, “u” is not functioning as a vowel, but as part of the digraph “gu”, which represents the sound /g/ here and in other words such as “guess”, “guest”, “guile”, “guard”. The historical origin of this digraph is a sound change in French that replaced /gw/ (a /g/ sound followed by the glide /w/) with just the sound /g/. Eventually, “gu” came to be used even in the spelling of some English words that weren’t originally pronounced with /gw/, as a way to indicate a “hard g” sound (/g/) rather than the “soft g” sound (like the j sound) before the letters e and i. Words ending in -ge, such as rage and age, tend to be pronounced with the j sound.
While the other answers specifically address these two words that you asked about, here I want to address the apparent underlying assumption that there are some fixed rules for pronunciation that work for most English words. This assumption is quite false; it works with 'standard' grammatical forms but fails for a disproportionate number of common words (partly because common words are used so often that those with 'idiosyncratic' pronunciations cannot be easily 'standardized').
As DJClayworth put it: "Because English"! More specifically, because of the history of English.
Even the specific ending of "gue" has other words with totally different pronunciation from "argue" and "rogue", such as "dengue" and "segue". But this phenomenon is ten times worse (informally speaking) for common words. For fun, read this famous poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité in 1920, which incidentally does not have "argue" or "rogue" in it...
The short answer is: because there was not a better way to write it.
If we would write "roge", the spelling suggests a pronunciation of "ge" like in "Roger" or "George".
The "u" is inserted to indicate that "g" is pronounced like it is in "go", "good", "guarantee" etc.
However, the u also has a role as a consonant (/j/), in words like "uniform" and "argument". Of course, we could write those words as "yooniform" and "argyooment".
And now the problem is that those words came from French or Latin. In French, "u" is not pronounced like "yoo", so there was a reason why they wrote "argument" .
And now, people writing English are rebuked (or not understood) if they alter the existing spelling.