There are not very many words starting with "ps-" in the English language? And most of them seem to be Greek in origin?

- psalm
- psychiatry
- psoriasis
- pseudonym
- pseudo-

Let me also add the proper noun "Psaki" to my list. (I must confess Ms Jen Psaki has enjoyed great popularity in my country lately. :-)

Now, to my point.
AFAIK, all these words begin with the sound "s", i.e. the leading two letters "ps" produce the single sound "s".
It is a little confusing because in my mother tongue both letters ("p" and "s" ) are pronounced in 'pseudonym', etc...

How come the leading letter "p" is silent in the above listed "Anglo-Greek" words?

I believe my History of the English Language teacher would explain it this way. When English was adopting Latin and Greek words into the vocabulary, due to the lack of an equivalent form, the English sound system was well established. Certain sound combinations just didn't fit the pattern already in use. These included mnemonic, psyche, and pneumatic. We ended up keeping the spelling but simplifying the pronunciation. On the other hand, philosophy and other similar words have the appearance of two sounds but were simply a diagraph for a single /f/ sound.

Something similar, but in reverse, occurs in words that began with /s/ + /C/ and were taken into Spanish. The Spanish sound system just doesn't allow for that combination in the initial position, so we have escuela, estudiante.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
MUSCOVITEHow come the leading letter "p" is silent in the above listed "Anglo-Greek" words?
Not to mention 'pterodactyl', 'ptarmigan', and 'pneumonia'. And, from German, surnames like "Pfeifer", proving it's not just prejudice against the Greeks. Emotion: smile

Except for the clusters 'pl' and 'pr', there are no consonant clusters with initial 'p' that exist (or have existed for centuries) in English. I think that alone accounts for the silent ps. It's rare for a language to add a new consonant or consonant cluster when it borrows a word from another language. The Hawaiian word for "Christmas" (Kalikimaka) is a classic example of such a borrowing. There are no rs, ss, or ts in Hawaiian, so ls and ks substitute as needed.


It seems that there are actually many words in English with this beginning. However most of these words are not commonly used ones. I did a quick search and found this list http://www.unscramblerer.com/prefix-list/words-that-start-with/ps of 274 words starting with PS.

There exists over 150 000 Greek origin words of in English. A rather big number indeed.

For words beginning with ps- (or pn- and so on) English pronunciation loses the first consonant at the start of a word.