Gel and jel are homophones,

but why g sounds as j in that case (and similar words as gelatin)?

Is it related to word origin?

Borrowed from French gélatine (“jelly, gel”), from Italian gelatina (“jelly, gel”)

It was decided to support both options as French/Italian?

  • 2
    Your basic premise is wrong. The spelling of an English word does not represent its pronunciation. Consequently there is no way to predict when French spelling has been borrowed or whether English spelling has been used. Every word has its own history, its own pronunciation, and its own spelling. English doesn't require you to memorize genders or paradigms; but it does require you to learn the pronunciation of a word independently of its spelling. Nov 16, 2020 at 15:01
  • What if you replace the L's with T's; get and jet. They don't rhyme, do they? Nov 16, 2020 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


A general guideline is that "g" is sometimes soft before "i", "e" and "y". It is invariably hard for all the other vowels, i.e. "a", "o" and "u".

Given the inconsistency of English spelling, one can never formulate a cast-iron rule.

My guess is that words derived from Latin or French, soften the "g" before "i" and "e" and that words that come from German don't.

I will be very surprised if someone has a complete rule for this. Let's wait and see.

  • It really depends on whether the language the word was borrowed from underwent palatalization before the borrowing (which would give g spelling but fricative pronounciation). Also on whether clerks had complicated the spelling by making it more Latinate. Nov 16, 2020 at 15:05
  • 1
    The word gill has a hard 'g' when it's the fish's body part (from Old Norse, according to Oxford) and a soft 'g' for the old liquid measure (from Old French), so you could well be right. Nov 16, 2020 at 15:06
  • Invariably hard before "a" ... I like gaol, the alternate (UK) spelling of jail.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 16, 2020 at 15:23
  • The concept of soft and hard g's is nebulous. You might want to use phonetic symbols for the hard and soft g's. /d͡ʒ/ as in 'jet', /g/ as in 'get'. Nov 16, 2020 at 16:09

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