The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and OED accept /n/ as a secondary pronunciation /ˈdæmnɪŋ/ for the form damning (unlike for, say, condemning).

Is the latter used for the adjective, similarly to the appearance of /n/ in say damnable?


1 Answer 1


The n in words like damn, condemn, solemn, autumn is silent because the cluster /-mn/ violates the Phonotactic rules of English. Phonotactic rules are language-specific rules that determine the permissible sound sequences in a particular language. According to English Phonotactics, 'two nasals cannot occur next to each other within the same syllable'. Donka Minkova says 'the cluster [-mn] is perceptually opaque because of the overlapping features of the two adjacent nasals'. [A Historical Phonology of English]

According to A History of Modern English Sounds and Morphology by Eilert Ekwall, the loss of n after m is attested from the 16th century. Eilert goes on to say that the [n] was lost regularly in final position and before consonant (e.g. solemnly). Dobson says that the loss of [n] can be attributed to the loss of final e ([ə]).

Almost all these words that end with -mn came from French and had a final [ə] after the -mn-, so the [n] must have been pronounced because there was a vowel after the -mn- which would split up the cluster /mn/.

In some cases, the /n/ gets pronounced when a vowel-initial suffix (such as *-able, -ation, or -er) follows the ‹mn›, where the [n] is resyllabified as the onset of the next syllable, though the pattern is very irregular. Damnable is pronounced [ˈdæm.nəbl̩] — the vowel in ‑able splits up the cluster /mn/. The same thing happens in damnation, solemnity, autumnal, condemnation, hymnal etc (I.e. the /n/ is resyllabified as the onset of the next syllable).

The /n/ doesn't get surface in inflectional words such as damning, damned, hymning, hymned, condemning, condemned etc. Eilert says that they're influenced by damn, hymn, condemn.

Damning is not pronounced with an /n/ in Modern English. William Henry in How Should I Pronounce? Or, The Principles of the Art of Correct Pronunciation says that 'damning' is not pronounced with an /n/:

daming, not damning

However, some sources claim that the pronunciation with an /n/ has existed. A Practical Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster does list the pronunciation with /n/:


John Walker in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary also lists a second disyllabic pronunciation for damned, where the /n/ gets pronounced:

damned pronunciation

Also from Fowler's Modern English Usage (p195):

damn. In all uses as n., adj., v., and adv. the n is silent; also in the oblique forms damned (but often disyllabic in verse), damning. The n is sounded in damnable, damnation, damnatory, damnification, and damnify.

About limn, Fowler says (p461):

... the base-form is, like solemn, pronounced with the n silent. The inflected forms are limns /lɪmz/, limned /lɪmd/, limner /ˈlɪmnə/ and limning /ˈlɪmɪŋ/ or /ˈlɪmnɪŋ/.

The -ed endings were pronounced with a separate syllable back in Middle English, so banned would've been pronounced with two syllables. In Early Modern English, however, the unstressed vowel in the suffix -ed was lost (except after /t/ and /d/). So after a voiced sound, the -ed became /d/ and after voiceless sounds, it became /t/.

In most adjectives such as wicked, naked, blessed, crooked etc., the vowel remained, so the -ed is still pronounced as a separate syllable in those words. I assume damned followed the same sequence at some point, that's why John Walker lists the disyllabic pronunciation. In Modern English, however, both damning (v & adj) and damned (v & adj) are pronounced without the /n/. Or the adjectives lost their /n/'s due to analogy with damn which had no /n/.

From Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (7 vols.). 1–7 (1949) by Otto Jespersen.

Loss of final /n/

After /m/, a final /n/ has been lost (assimilated to /m/): damn /damn/ now [dæm], condemn, hymn, limn, column, solemn, autumn. The loss is shown by such inverse spellings as solembe, (Sh LL V. 2.118, quarto of 1598); C 1627 expressly says that n is mute in solemne and hymne. N has been everywhere retained in spelling, except in occasional dam (for damned?: Meredith EH 134 “and dam rum chaps they were!”).

Homonyms: damn = dam, hymn = him, limn = limb formerly lim.

Before a vowel, /n/ is retained: damnation, condemnation, damnable, autumnal, solemnity. Before ‑ing /n/ was formerly heard in “the solemn articulation of damning, condemning etc.” (E 1766, also Walker); now the pronunciation without [n] has been analogously extended to these forms, though the NED has both pronunciations for the participle (but not the verbal noun) damning and recognizes [ˈdæmnɪd] as a poetical form of damned by the side of [dæmd].

I think the shift from amn’t to ain’t is also relevant. The contraction of am not used to be amn’t, where we see the same cluster /mn/, but it got reduced to /n/. Here it’s /n/ and not /m/ because of the following /t/, and also per Phonotactics because:

a nasal following an obstruent in the coda should be homorganic (having the same place of articulation) with the obstruent.

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