Words with misleading beginnings

Some English words can be difficult to find in a dictionary because of the way in which their first letter is pronounced. You might think, for example, that the word phantom begins with an f and therefore search for it among other words beginning with the letters ‘fa-’.

So, if you have trouble finding a word, have a look in this quick-reference list to see if you might have been misled about the first letter or couple of letters:

Words beginning with di-?

Some words which sound as though they might begin with the letters di- are in fact spelled de-. Examples include:

deter

dessert

deposit

detach

Words beginning with e-?

Some words are pronounced with an ‘e’ or an ‘ee’ sound at the beginning, but their initial letters are actually ae- or oe- instead. Examples of this type of word include:

aesthetic

aeon

oestrogen

oesophagus

Words beginning with f-?

Some words which sound as if they begin with f- are actually spelled with ph- instead. Examples include:

phrase

phantom

phobia

phenomenon

pharmacy

Words beginning with g-?

There are quite a few words that are pronounced with a ‘hard’ g sound that don't begin with a g- on its own. Some begin with gh-, such as:

ghost

ghastly

gherkin

ghetto

Others begin with gu-, for example:

guilt

guard

guess

guitar

Words beginning with h-?

Some words are pronounced with an ‘h’ sound at the beginning, but actually begin with the letters wh-, for example whole or whom.

Words beginning with j-?

Many words that sound as if they begin with the letter j-, are spelled with g- at the beginning. Examples include:

giraffe

genie

gym

giant

Words beginning with k-?

Some words sound as if they have an initial letter k-, but actually begin with the letters ch-, for example:

chorus

cholesterol

chameleon

chrysalis

Words beginning with n-?

Various words that sound as though they should begin with n- are spelled with different letters. Some begin with gn-, for example:

gnarled

gnat

gnaw

gnome

Others begin with kn-, e.g.:

knee

knife

knot

knowledge

A small group begin with pn-. These words came into English from Greek and the main examples are:

pneumonia

pneumatic

Words beginning with r-?

Certain words that sound as though they begin with the letter r- start with wr- instead. Examples include:

wrap

wreck

wring

wry

Words beginning with s-?

Quite a few words that are pronounced with an ‘s’ or a ‘sh’ sound at the beginning are spelled with c- or ch- instead. For example:

ceiling

city

civilian

charade

champagne

Some words which sound as if they begin with an s- in fact begin with ps-. Like the pn- words, they entered English from Greek. Examples include:

psalm

pseudonym

psychologist

psychic

Words beginning with z-?

Several words sound as if they begin with z- but actually start with x-. The main examples are:

xenophobia

xylophone

xerox


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Grammar and usage