Consonants

What is a consonant?

In addition to vowels, the English alphabet is also made up of consonants. While vowels represent open-mouthed speech sounds, consonants represent sounds that are made when part or all of the vocal tract is closed. Because they require a specific position of the lips, cheeks, tongue, etc., there is generally little to no difference in how consonants are pronounced between different speakers of English. (The pronunciation of vowels, on the other hand, can differ drastically depending on dialect).
There are 21 consonants: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, and Z. Note that Y can sometimes function as a vowel (as in myth [/mɪθ/] or dry [/draɪ/]), so it is often referred to as a semivowel. W can also function alongside vowels to form certain vowel sounds (as in grow [/groʊ/] or draw [/drɔ/]), but it can’t function as a vowel on its own.

Forming consonant sounds

Each consonant letter has at least one specific speech sound associated with it, but certain combinations of letters (known as digraphs) produce other specific sounds as well. For the most part, we’ll be focusing on the sounds that consonants can make on their own, but we’ll also look at certain instances in which a consonant’s sound changes when it appears next to certain vowels or other consonants. For the unique speech sounds that specific consonant combinations create, see the section on Consonant Digraphs.

B b

The consonant B (pronounced “bee,” IPA: /bi/) is formed by softly pressing the lips together before passing air through the mouth. The vocal cords are used to make a sound when this happens, so it is known as a voiced speech sound. This is the only sound associated with B in English, so the same character is used in IPA transcription: /b/.
For example:
  • boy (/bɔɪ/)
  • break (/breɪk/)
  • badly (bædli/)
  • able (/ˈeɪbəl/)
  • embarrass (/ɪmˈbɛrəs/)
  • imbue (/ɪmˈbju/)
  • dab (/ˈdæb/)
  • verb (/vɜrb/)
  • describe (/dɪˈskraɪb/)

Silent B

The only exception to the pronunciation of B is the rare time that it is silent in a word. This usually occurs when B follows the letter M. Less commonly, silent B can occur when B precedes the letter T. For example:
MB
BT
climb
(/klaɪm/)
lamb
(/læm/)
thumb
(/θʌm/)
numb
(/nʌm/)
bomb
(/bɔm/)
comb
(/koʊm/)
debt
(/dɛt/)
doubt
(/daʊt/)
subtle
(/ˈsʌtəl/)
Be careful, though, because not every occurrence of MB or BT will produce a silent B. If in doubt, consult a good dictionary that provides pronunciation guides.

C c

The letter C (pronounced “cee,” IPA: /si/) commonly produces two different sounds, depending on how it is used in a word. These are known as “hard C” and “soft C.” Generally speaking, there are predictable patterns that determine whether C will be hard or soft, depending on the vowel that follows it. (Note that digraphs featuring the letter C have their own patterns of pronunciation.)

Hard C

Hard C has the same consonant sound as the letter K, transcribed in IPA as /k/. It is made by closing the vocal tract at the back of the throat before forcing air through.
The hard C sound generally occurs when C is followed by the vowels A, O, and U. For example:
CA
CO
CU
cap
(/p/)
cat
(/t/)
catch
(/tʃ/)
corner
(/ˈkɔrnər/)
cover
(vər/)
coat
(/koʊt/)
cushion
(ʃən/)
cute
(/kjut/)
curve
(/rv/)
The hard C sound also occurs when C appears before the consonants T, R, and L, as well as when C is the last letter of a word. For example:
CT
CR
CL
Final letter
act
(kt/)
perfect
(/ˈpɜrˌfɪkt/)
predict
(/prɪdˈɪkt/)
crawl
(/krɔl/)
create
(/kriˈeɪt/)
accrue
(/əˈkru/)
climb
(/klaɪm/)
clean
(/klin/)
uncle
(/ˈʌŋkəl/)
arc
(/ark/)
graphic
(/ˈgræfɪk/)
cardiac
(/ˈkɑrdiˌæk/)

Soft C

Soft C has the same consonant sound as the letter S; both are transcribed in IPA as /s/. It is made by forcing air between the tongue and the roof of the mouth and out past the teeth. This is known as a sibilant speech sound, meaning it produces a hissing effect. The vocal cords are not engaged to produce a sound, so this is an unvoiced speech sound.
The soft C sound usually occurs when C is followed by the vowels E, I, and Y, as in:
CE
CI
CY
central
(ntrəl/)
celebrate
(ləˌbreɪt/)
nice
(/naɪs/)
circle
(rkəl/)
city
(ti/)
exercise
(/ˈɛksərˌsaɪz/)
juicy
(/ˈʤusi/)
icy
(/ˈaɪsi/)
cylinder
(lɪndər/)

Producing the /ʃ/ sound

Occasionally, C produces the sound most commonly made by the digraph SH, transcribed in IPA as /ʃ/. This sound is made by forming a narrow passageway with the sides of the tongue against the top teeth and then forcing air through partly open lips. Like the /s/ sound of soft C, it is unvoiced, meaning the vocal cords do not vibrate.
Generally speaking, C produces the /ʃ/ sound when it appears after a vowel and is followed by the letter I and another vowel. For example:
  • efficient (/ɪˈfɪʃənt/)
  • facial (/ˈfeɪʃəl/)
  • precious (/ˈprɛʃəs/)
  • social (/ˈsoʊʃəl/)
C also produces this sound in a handful of words in which it is followed by EA, as in:
  • ocean (/ˈoʊʃən/)
  • crustacean (/krəˈsteɪʃən/)

Silent C

C often becomes silent when it comes after the letter S and is followed by E or I. For example:
  • ascend (/əˈsɛnd/)
  • descend (/dɪˈsɛnd/)
  • muscle (/ˈmʌsəl/; LE here produces a sound like EL)
  • obscene (/ɑbˈsin/)
  • scent (/sɛnt/)
  • science (saɪəns/)
We can also think of C as silent in the digraph CK, which is pronounced the same as K on its own: /k/. For instance:
  • attack (/əˈtæk/)
  • bucket (/ˈbʌkət/)
  • locker (/ˈlɑkər/)
  • stack (/stæk/)
  • truck (/trʌk/)
  • wicked (/ˈwɪkəd/)

D d

The consonant D (pronounced “dee,” IPA: /di/) is usually pronounced by softly pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth before forcing air through. The vocal cords are used to make a sound as well, making this a voiced speech sound. It is unique to the letter D, so the IPA transcription for the sound is simply /d/. For the most part, this sound does not change, regardless of where D appears in a word. However, there are three general exceptions to this rule.

Producing the /t/ sound

When the suffix “-ed” is used to form the simple past tense of a verb, D often takes on the speech sound of the letter T (/t/). This occurs when “-ed” follows an unvoiced consonant sound—that is, /f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/, and /θ/. For example:
/f/
/k/
/p/
/s/
/ʃ/
/tʃ/
/θ/
briefed
(/brift/)
laughed
(/læft/)
puffed
(/pʌft/)
baked
(/beɪkt/)
knocked
(/nɑkt/)
sacked
(/sækt/)
worked
(/wɜrkt/)
dropped
(/drɑpt/)
helped
(/hɛlpt/)
jumped
(/ʤʌmpt/)
mapped
(/mæpt/)
aced
(/eɪst/)
based
(/beɪst/)
diced
(/daɪst/)
passed
(/pæst/)
blushed
(/blʌʃt/)
crashed
(/kræʃt/)
extinguished
(/ɪkˈstɪŋgwɪʃt/)
pushed
(/pʊʃt/)
approached
(/əˈproʊʧt/)
branched
(/brænʧt/)
hunched
(/hʌnʧt/)
patched
(/pæʧt/)
birthed
(/bɜrθt/)
frothed
(/frɔθt/)
Note that verbs ending in /t/ (also an unvoiced consonant sound) are an exception to this rule, and D is pronounced /d/ as normal, as in:
  • knotted (/ˈnɑtɪd/)
  • potted (/ˈpɑtɪd/)
  • heated (/ˈhitɪd/)
  • plated (/ˈpleɪtɪd/)
  • greeted (/ˈgritɪd/)

Producing the /ʤ/ sound

Very rarely, the letter D produces the same sound as the consonant J, transcribed in IPA as /ʤ/. This sound is made by first stopping airflow by pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and then forcing air through a narrow gap between the two. It is formed the same way as the CH sound (transcribed as /ʧ/), except that it is voiced, meaning the vocal chords are vibrated.
This happens in some words in which D is preceded by a vowel and followed by the letter U, as in:
  • assiduous (/əˈsɪdʒuəs/)
  • education (/ɛʤuˈkeɪʃən/)
  • graduate (verb: /ˈgræʤuˌeɪt/)
  • individual (/ɪndəˈvɪʤuəl/)
  • residual (/rɪˈzɪʤuəl/)
(However, be aware that in some dialects this sound change is not seen, with D still pronounced as a standard /d/ sound.)
There is also one instance where a D followed by an I produces the /ʤ/ sound: soldier (/ˈsoʊlʤər/).
Additionally, D contributes to a /ʤ/ sound in the consonant combinations DG and DJ, which we’ll look at in the section on Consonant Digraphs.

Silent D

When D appears in a large consonant cluster (especially when D comes after N), it is occasionally left unpronounced. For example:
  • handkerchief (/ˈhæŋkərʧɪf/)
  • handsome (/ˈhænsəm/)
  • grandfather (/ˈgrænfɑðər/)
  • grandmother (/ˈgræ[n]mʌðər/; N is also sometimes silent)
  • granddaughter (/ˈgrændɔtər/; first D is silent, but second D is pronounced)
  • grandson (/ˈgrænsʌn/)
  • sandwich (/ˈsænwɪʧ/)
  • Wednesday (/ˈwɛnzdeɪ/)
(Note that for many of these words—with the exception handkerchief and Wednesday—the D may be pronounced in some dialects but left out in others.)

F f

The letter F (pronounced “ef,” IPA: /ɛf/) is almost always pronounced as a voiceless or unvoiced labiodental fricative—that is, by pressing the front top teeth against the lower lip (the meaning of “labiodental”) as air is expelled through the mouth without engaging the vocal cords. This is represented in IPA as /f/. For example:
  • feel (/fil/)
  • fair (/fɛr/)
  • foot (/fʊt/)
  • after (/ˈæftər/)
  • different (/ˈdɪfrənt/)
  • effect (/ɪˈfɛkt/)
  • life (/laɪf/)
  • belief (/bɪˈlif/)
  • off (f/)
There is only one word in English in which F is pronounced differently: of (/ɑv/). Rather than taking the standard pronunciation, F is here pronounced like the letter V (IPA: /v/), which is called a voiced labiodental fricative. This means that instead of just pushing air between the teeth and lower lip, the vocal chords are vibrated at the same time.

G g

Like C, the letter G (pronounced “gee,” IPA: /ʤi/) has two standard pronunciations: “hard G” and “soft G.” Again, there are patterns that dictate whether G will be hard or soft in a word, though these are a bit less reliable than they were for hard and soft C. (And, again, there are separate rules for when G appears in consonant digraphs.)

Hard G

“Hard G” is a distinct sound not shared with any other consonant, transcribed in IPA as /g/. It is pronounced by closing the vocal tract at the back of the throat as air is pushed through and the vocal cords are vibrated (making this a voiced speech sound).
Like C, G makes a “hard” sound when it is followed by the vowels A, O, and U. For example:
GA
GO
GU
gap
(/p/)
gate
(/geɪt/)
gall
(/ll/)
go
(//)
gossip
(/ˈgɑsəp/)
gouge
(/gɑʊʤ/)
guest
(/st/)
gut
(/t/)
argue
(/ˈɑrgju/)
The hard G sound also occurs when G appears before the consonants L, R, and sometimes H,* as well as when G is the last letter of a word (and is not preceded by N). For example:
GL
GR
GH
Final letter
glove
(/glʌv/)
glean
(/glin/)
gargle
(/ˈgɑrgəl/)
grow
(/groʊ/)
agree
(/əˈgri/)
flagrant
(/ˈfleɪgrənt/)
ghost
(/goʊst/)
ghastly
(gæstli/)
spaghetti
(/spəˈgɛti/)
bag
(/bæg/)
dog
(/dɔg/)
catalog
(/ˈkætəlɔg/)
(*Note: The digraph GH can produce several different sounds, as well as being silent, depending on the vowel(s) or consonant(s) that precede it. The /g/ sound is uncommon in this combination, usually only occurring when a word begins with GH.)

Soft G

Soft G has the same consonant sound as the letter J: both are transcribed in IPA as /ʤ/. It is made by first stopping airflow by pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and then forcing the air between a narrow gap. It is a voiced consonant sound, meaning the vocal chords are vibrated.
Like soft C, the soft G sound typically occurs when G is followed by the vowels E, I, and Y, as in:
GE
GI
GY
germ
(/ʤɜrm/)
age
(/eɪʤ/)
fringe
(/frɪnʤ/)
fragile
(/ˈfræʤəl/)
giant
(ʤaɪənt/)
logic
(/ˈlɑʤɪk/)
gym
(/ʤɪm/)
biology
(/baɪˈɑləʤi/)
Egypt
(/ˈiʤəpt/)
It’s important to note, though, that there are many exceptions to these patterns, and it is quite common to see hard G pronunciations that occur with these combinations (particularly GE and GI). For example:
  • get (/gɛt/ or /gɪt/)
  • gear (/gɪr/)
  • gecko (gɛkoʊ/)
  • gift (/gɪft/)
  • giggle (gɪgəl/)
  • gill (/gɪl/)
  • gynecology (/gaɪnəˈkɑləʤi/)
Note as well that these patterns become even less reliable when G is used in different digraphs, especially NG and GG.

The other soft G

While /ʤ/ is the most common speech sound used for a soft G, there is a second, similar pronunciation that appears in some foreign loanwords ending in GE after a vowel. It is the same sound used for SU in certain words (such as pleasure or usual), and the IPA transcription is /ʒ/. The sound is formed in the same way as /ʤ/, except the tongue is not pressed against the roof of the mouth initially. (It is also the same formation as the digraph SH (/ʃ/) except that it is voiced, meaning a sound is made with the vocal cords.)
There is no reliable spelling pattern that dictates when a soft G will be pronounced /ʒ/ rather than /ʤ/, so we simply have to learn them individually. Here are a few examples:
  • garage (/gəˈrɑʒ/)*
  • beige (/beɪʒ/)
  • massage (/məˈsɑʒ/)
  • rouge (/ruʒ/)
  • genre (ʒɑnrə/)
(*It is also common to hear this word pronounced with the standard soft G at the end: /gəˈrɑʤ/.)

Silent G

Occasionally, G becomes silent when it comes before the letter N. For example:
  • gnaw (/nɔ/)
  • gnat (/næt/)
  • gnash (/næʃ/)
  • align (/əˈlaɪn/)
  • sign (/saɪn/)
  • arraign (/əˈreɪn/)
  • deign (/deɪn/)
  • feign (/feɪn/)
  • impugn (/ɪmˈpjun/)
  • lasagna (/ləˈzɑnjə/)

H h

As a single letter, the consonant H (pronounced “aitch,” IPA: /eɪtʃ/) has only one pronounced sound, transcribed in IPA as /h/. It is formed by slightly constricting the back of the throat as air is passed through; the vocal chords are not engaged, so it is an unvoiced speech sound.

Silent H

However, a single H is also occasionally silent. The spelling of the word on its own is usually not enough to dictate whether H is pronounced or silent, though, so we simply have to memorize such words. Here are a few examples of words where H is either pronounced or silent:
H is pronounced
H is silent
house
(/haʊs/)
hat
(/hæt/)
hear
(/hir/)
herd
(/hɜrd/)
hour
(/aʊər/)
honor
(/ˈɑnər/)
heir
(/ɛr/)
herb*
(/ɛrb/)
(*This pronunciation is most common in American English. In British English, the H is usually pronounced: /hɛrb/.)
The only times a single H is predictably silent are when it appears between two vowels or else ends a word after a vowel. For example:
  • graham (/ˈgreɪəm/ or /græm/)
  • annihilate (/əˈnaɪəˌleɪt/)
  • vehicle (/ˈviɪkəl/)**
  • cheetah (/ˈʧitə/)
  • tabbouleh (/təˈbulɪ/)
  • hurrah (/hʊˈrɑ/)
(**The H is silent in vehicle for the vast majority of English speakers, but in some dialects it may also be pronounced: /ˈvihɪkəl/.)

H in consonant digraphs

Finally, it’s important to note that H appears in many letter combinations where it can either be silent or create a range of unique pronunciations, depending on the combination. Go to the section on Consonant Digraphs to learn more about how H behaves in such instances.

J j

The letter J (pronounced “jay,” IPA: /ʤeɪ/) almost always has the same sound as soft G: /ʤ/. For instance:
  • job (/ʤɑb/)
  • judge (/ʤʌʤ/)
  • jeer (/ʤɪr/)
  • injury (/ɪnʤəri/)
  • project (/prɑʤɛkt/)
  • majority (/məˈʤɔrəti/)
Also like soft G, the letter J occasionally produces the /ʒ/ sound. This usually only happens in foreign loan words, as in:
  • Taj Mahal (/tɑʒ məˈhɑl)
  • Beijing (ˌbeɪʒˈɪŋ/)
However, this pronunciation is not consistently applied, and sometimes the normal /ʤ/ sound is used instead.
Very rarely, J also has the same sound as Y when used as a consonant. (Note that the IPA symbol for this sound looks like a lowercase j: /j/.) For example:
  • fjord (/fjɔrd/)
  • hallelujah (/hæləˈlujə/)

K k

The letter K (pronounced “kay,” IPA: /keɪ/) has the same consonant sound as hard C: /k/. For example:
  • kick (/kɪk/)
  • kiss (/kɪs/)
  • kangaroo (kæŋgəˈru/)
  • koala (/koʊˈɑlə/)
  • bake (/beɪk/)
  • work (/wɜrk/)
  • donkey (/ˈdɔŋki/)
  • skin (/skɪn/)
  • market (/ˈmɑrkət/)

Silent K

Like G, K sometimes becomes silent when it appears before the letter N, usually at the beginning of a word. For example:
  • know (/noʊ/)
  • knife (/naɪf/)
  • knight (/naɪt/)
  • knock (/nɑk/)
  • knot (/nɑt/)
  • knee (/ni/)
  • knack (/næk/)
  • knit (/nɪt/)
  • knead (/nid/)

L l

The consonant sound for the letter L (pronounced “ell,” IPA: /ɛl/) is formed by lightly pressing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth while air passes through. At the same time, the vocal cords are engaged to create a sound, making this a voiced speech sound. In IPA, this sound is transcribed as /l/.
L is often (but not always) doubled if it appears after a vowel in the middle or at the end of a word. For example:
  • listen (/lɪsən/)
  • lips (/lɪps/)
  • long (/lɔŋ/)
  • last (/læst/)
  • below (/bɪˈloʊ/)
  • bellow (/ˈbɛloʊ/; notice how the pronunciation of E changes with two Ls)
  • alter (ltər/)
  • cold (/koʊld/)
  • fell (/fɛl/)
  • tell (/tɛl/)
  • gel (/ʤɛl/; in this instance, the pronunciation is the same as words with two Ls)

Silent L

L sometimes becomes silent when it appears before the consonants F, V, K, and M after the vowel A, as well as before D after the vowels OU. In some cases, this silent L elongates or otherwise modifies the vowel sound that comes before it, giving the slight impression of an /l/ sound without being distinctly pronounced. Here are a few common examples:
LF
LV
LK
LM
LD
calf
(/kæf/)
half
(/hæf/)
calves
(/kævs/)
halves
(/hævs/)
balk
(/bɔk/)
chalk
(/ʧɔk/)
talk
(/tɔk/)
walk
(/wɔk/)
almond
(/ˈɑmənd/)
balm
(/bɑm/)
calm
(/kɑm/)
palm
(/pɑm/)
psalm
(/sɑm/)
salmon
(/ˈsæmən/)
could
(/kʊd/)
should
(/ʃʊd/)
would
(/wʊd/)

The strange pronunciation of colonel

There is one word in which L produces a completely different speech sound: colonel. Rather than an expected pronunciation of /kɔlənəl/ or /kɔloʊnəl/, the middle L is actually pronounced as an R, with the second O made silent: /kɜrnəl/. This strange pronunciation is the result of the word coming into spoken English from the French coronel (with a silent second O), which itself came from the Italian word colonello. As it entered the English language more regularly, writers kept the word’s spelling closer to the original Italian, but the French pronunciation was so widely spoken that it has remained the preferred pronunciation to this day.

M m

The consonant sound for the letter M (pronounced “em,” IPA: /ɛm/) is formed by pursing the lips together while the vocal cords are engaged; it is therefore a voiced speech sound. This sound is unique to the letter, so the IPA transcription uses the same character: /m/.
M produces the same sound regardless of where it appears in a word. For example:
  • make (/meɪk/)
  • merry (/mɛri/)
  • mode (/moʊd/)
  • woman (wʊmən/)
  • almost (/ˈɔlˌmoʊst/)
  • armor (/ˈɑrmər/)
  • tram (/træm/)
  • dam (/dæm/)
  • team (/tim/)

Silent M

There is one word that features a silent M: mnemonic. Here, the N is pronounced but not the M: (/nɪˈmɑnɪk/). This pronunciation also is true for the adverbial form of the word, mnemonically (/nɪˈmɑnɪk[ə]li/).

N n

The consonant N (pronounced “en,” IPA: /ɛn/) creates a similar sound to that of M. The airway is still blocked, but the tongue is pressed against the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth, while the lips are kept open. The vocal cords are again engaged to produce a sound, so it is a voiced speech sound. In IPA, this sound is transcribed as /n/.
N almost always produces the same sound, regardless of its position. For example:
  • now (/naʊ/)
  • near (/nɪr/)
  • nag (/næg/)
  • energy (/ˈɛnərʤi/)
  • wander (/ˈwɑndər/)
  • enter (/ˈɛntər/)
  • men (/mɛn/)
  • fan (/fæn/)
  • dawn (/dɔn/)

Producing the /ŋ/ sound

Occasionally, N forms the sound /ŋ/ (the sound formed by the digraph NG, as in sing) when it appears before the consonant sound /k/, most often represented by C, CH, K, or Q. For example:
NC
NCH
NK
NQ
distinct
(/dɪˈstɪŋkt/)
junction
(/ˈʤʌŋkʃən/)
puncture
(/ˈpʌŋkʧər/)
anchor
(/ˈæŋkər/)
bronchitis
(/brɑŋˈkaɪtəs/)
synchronize
(/ˈsɪŋkrəˌnaɪz/)
ink
(ŋk/)
bank
(/bæŋk/)
monkey
(/ˈmʌŋki/)
conquer
(/ˈkɑŋkər/)
relinquish
(/rɪˈlɪŋkwɪʃ/)
tranquil
(/ˈtræŋkwɪl/)

Silent N

N becomes silent when it appears after M at the end of a word. For example:
  • autumn (/ˈɔtəm/)
  • condemn (/kənˈdɛm/)
  • column (/ˈkɑləm/)
  • hymn (/hɪm/)
  • solemn (/ˈsɑləm/)

P p

The consonant sound for the letter P (pronounced “pee,” IPA: /pi/) is the unvoiced counterpart to the letter B. That is, they are both formed by pressing the lips together and then forcing air through the mouth, except the vocal cords do not make a sound when making the sound for the letter P. The IPA symbol for the sound is the same as the letter: /p/.
P nearly always makes the same sound, regardless of its position in a word (except in the digraph PH, which we’ll look at separately). For example:
  • part (/pɔrt/)
  • play (/pleɪ/)
  • president (prɛzəˌdɛnt/)
  • apart (/əˈpɑrt/)
  • deeply (/ˈdipli/)
  • happy (/ˈhæpi/)
  • atop (/əˈtɑp/)
  • jump (/ʤʌp/)
  • cheap (/ʧip/)

Silent P

Occasionally, P can be silent when it is followed by the letters N, S, or T, usually in certain letter combinations that come from words of Greek origin or influence. For example:
PN
PS
PT
pneuma
(/ˈnumə/)
pneumatic
(/nuˈmætɪk/)
pneumonia
(/nuˈmoʊnjə/)
psychology
(/saɪˈkɑləʤi/)
psalm
(/sɑm/)
pseudo
(sudoʊ/)
ptarmigan
(/ˈtɑrmɪgən/)
pterodactyl
(/ˌtɛrəˈdæktɪl/)
ptisan
(tɪzæn)
Silent P occurs in a handful of other words, as well:
  • cupboard (/ˈkʌbərd/)
  • raspberry (/ˈræzˌbɛri/)
  • corps (/kɔr/; both P and S are silent, unless the word is plural, in which case S is pronounced /z/)
  • coup (/ku/)
  • receipt (/rɪˈsit/)

Q q

The letter Q (pronounced “cue,” IPA: /kju/) has the same speech sound as K: /k/. It is almost always followed by the letter U, and the two letters together most commonly form a /kw/ sound. This usually occurs when they appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word. For example:
  • quiet (/ˈkwaɪət/)
  • quick (/kwɪk/)
  • queen (/kwin/)
  • request (/rɪˈkwɛst/)
  • equipment (ˈkwɪpmənt/)
  • inquire (/ɪnˈkwaɪr/)
QU does not always result in a /kw/ sound, though; sometimes it is simply a hard /k/, such as:
  • antique (/ænˈtik/)
  • bouquet (/buˈkeɪ/)
  • conquer (/ˈkɑŋkər/)
  • liquor (/ˈlɪkər/)
  • mosquito (/məsˈkitoʊ/)
Finally, there are a handful of words in which Q is not followed by a U, but nearly all of them come from other languages, such as Iraq, burqa, or qabab (usually written in English as kebab).

R r

The consonant sound for the letter R (pronounced “ar,” IPA: /ɑr/) is formed by narrowing the airway at the back of the throat as air is pushed through and the vocal cords are engaged (making it a voiced speech sound). The IPA transcription for the sound is the same character as the letter: /r/.
R always produces the same speech sound, which can appear anywhere in a word. For example:
  • right (/raɪt/)
  • roll (/roʊl/)
  • read (/rid/)
  • art (rt/)
  • pork (/pɔrk/)
  • care (/kɛr/)
  • tar (/tɑr/)
  • endure (/ɪnˈdʊr/)
  • error (/ˈɛrər/)
It’s important to mention that R often has the effect of altering the sound of a vowel that comes before it. To learn more about this, go to the section on Vowels.

S s

The consonant S (pronounced “ess,” IPA: /ɛs/) has four different pronunciations, depending on the word it appears in. We’ll briefly cover each sound here, but go to the section Pronouncing the Letter S to learn more.

Producing the /s/ sound

The primary sound associated with the letter S is the same as a soft C, transcribed in IPA as /s/. It is made by forcing air between the tongue and the roof of the mouth and out past the teeth. This is known as a sibilant speech sound, meaning it produces a hissing effect. The vocal cords are not engaged to produce a sound, so this is an unvoiced speech sound.
The /s/ sound can be made whether S is at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. For example:
  • sand (/sænd/)
  • see (/si/)
  • soft (/sɑft/)
  • assent (/əˈsɛnt/)
  • basic (/ˈbeɪsɪk/)
  • persuade (/pərˈsweɪd/)
  • gas (/gæs/)
  • this (/ðɪs/)
  • tapes (/teɪps/)
However, when S appears in the middle or at the end of a word, it can also often make the sound /z/.

Producing the /z/ sound

S also often makes the same sound as the letter Z, transcribed in IPA as /z/. The sound is formed the same way as /s/, but it is voiced, meaning the vocal cords are engaged while making the sound.
S only produces the /z/ sound when it appears in the middle or at the end of certain words (it does not create this sound at the beginning of a word). For example:
  • desert (/ˈdɛzɜrt/)
  • easy (/ˈizi/)
  • president (/ˈprɛzɪdənt/)
  • has (/hæz/)
  • goes (/goʊz/)
  • toys (/tɔɪz/)

Producing the /ʃ/ sound

S most commonly produces the /ʃ/ sound in the digraph SH, but it can also occur when S appears on its own. The sound is made by forming a narrow passageway with the sides of the tongue against the top teeth and then forcing air through partly open lips. Like the /s/ sound, it is unvoiced, meaning the vocal cords do not vibrate.
Generally speaking, S produces the /ʃ/ sound when it appears after a consonant and is followed by the letter I and another vowel; it is also sometimes formed when S is followed by the letter U. For example:
  • controversial (/ˌkɑntrəˈvɜrʃəl/)
  • tension (/ˌkɑntrəˈvɜrʃəl/)
  • obsession (/ˌkɑntrəˈvɜrʃəl/)
  • issue (/ˈɪʃu/)
  • pressure (/ˈprɛʃər/)
  • sugar (/ˈʃʊgər/)
  • sure (/ˈʃʊr/)

Producing the /ʒ/ sound

S also forms another sound when it is used in combination with certain vowels. It is the same sound used for GE in certain foreign loanwords (such as beige or garage), and the IPA transcription is /ʒ/. The sound is formed in the same way as /ʃ/ except that it is voiced, meaning a sound is made with the vocal cords while air is being pushed through the mouth.
The /ʒ/ sound is most often pronounced when S appears after a vowel and is followed by UAL, URE, or ION. For example:
SUAL
SURE
SION
usual
(/ˈjuʒuəl/)
casual
(/ˈkæʒəwəl/)
visual
(/ˈvɪʒəwəl/)
exposure
(/ɪkˈspoʊʒər/)
leisure
(/ˈliʒər/)
measure
(/ˈmɛʒər/)
collision
(/kəˈliʒən/)
division
(/dɪˈvɪʒən/)
illusion
(/ɪˈluʒən/)

T t

The consonant sound for the letter T (pronounced “tee,” IPA: /ti/) is produced by pressing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and then forcing air through. No sound is made with the vocal cords, making it an unvoiced speech sound. The IPA transcription for this sound is the same as the letter: /t/.
On its own, T can produce the speech sound /t/ anywhere in a word. For example:
  • tap (/tæp/)
  • toll (/toʊl/)
  • trunk (/trʌŋk/)
  • banter (/bæntər/)
  • retire (/rɪˈtaɪr/)
  • attribute (/ˈætrəˌbjut/)
  • apt (/æpt/)
  • react (/riˈækt/)
  • sat (/sæt/)

Producing the /ʃ/ sound

The letter T can also form the /ʃ/ (SH) sound when it is followed by IAL, IEN, or (most commonly) ION. These combinations are usually preceded by a vowel, but they sometimes come after consonants too. For example:
TIAL
TIEN
TION
initial
(/ɪˈnɪʃəl/)
partial
(/ˈpɑrʃəl/)
spatial
(/ˈspeɪʃəl/)
patient
(/ˈpeɪʃənt/)
patience
(/ˈpeɪʃəns/)
education
(/ˌɛʤjuˈkeɪʃən/)
rational
(/ˈræʃənəl/)
mention
(/ˈmɛnʃən/)
action
(/ˈækʃən/)
function
(/ˈfʌŋkʃən/)

Producing the /ʧ/ sound

While T usually produces the /ʃ/ sound when it is followed by a vowel, it can sometimes produce the /ʧ/ sound as well. This sound (most commonly associated with the digraphs CH) is made by first stopping airflow by pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and then forcing air through a narrow gap between the two. It is formed the same way as the J sound (transcribed as /ʤ/), except that it is unvoiced, meaning the vocal chords are not vibrated.
T most commonly produces the /ʧ/ sound when it is followed by U, but it can also occur when TI follows the letter S. For example:
TU
TI
adventure
(/ædˈvɛnʧər/)
century
(/ˈsɛnʧəri/)
eventually
(/ɪˈvɛnʧəwəli/)
fortune
(/ˈfɔrʧən/)
future
(/ˈfjuʧər/)
picture
(/ˈpɪkʧər/)
nature
(/ˈneɪʧər/)
situation
(/ˌsɪʧuˈeɪʃən)
bastion
(/ˈbæsʧən/)
Christian
(/ˈkrɪsʧən/)
congestion
(/kənˈʤɛsʧən/)
digestion
(/daɪˈʤɛsʧən/)
exhaustion
(/ɪgˈzɑsʧən/)
question
(/ˈkwɛsʧən/)
suggestion
(/səˈʤɛsʧən/)

Pronouncing equation and righteous

Uniquely, the word equation is pronounced /ɪˈkweɪʒən/; it is the only instance in which TI produces a /ʒ/ sound rather than /ʃ/ or /ʧ/.
Another time T creates a unique pronunciation is in the word righteous (pronounced /ˈraɪʧəs/), which the only instance in which TE produces the /ʧ/ sound.
These pronunciations also carry over to words derived from them, as in equational (/ɪˈkweɪʒənəl/) or righteousness (/ˈraɪʧəsnəs/).

Silent T

Occasionally, the letter T becomes silent in a word. This occurs in some words when T comes after the letter S and is followed by a schwa (/ə/), as in:
  • apostle (/əˈpɑsəl/)
  • castle (/ˈkæsəl/)
  • nestle (/ˈnɛsəl/)
  • pestle (/ˈpɛsəl/)*
  • thistle (/ˈθɪsəl/)
  • whistle (/ˈwɪsəl/)
  • wrestle (/ˈrɛsəl/)
  • christen (/ˈkrɪsən/)
  • fasten (/ˈfæsən/)
  • glisten (/ˈglɪsən/)
  • hasten (/ˈheɪsən/)
  • listen (/ˈlɪsən/)
  • moisten (/ˈmɔɪsən/)
  • Christmas (/ˈkrɪsməs/)
In a few words, silent T also occurs with other consonant combinations. For example:
  • mortgage (/ˈmɔrgəʤ/)
  • often (/ˈɔfən/)*
  • soften (/ˈsɔfən/)
Finally, certain loanwords that come from French maintain a silent T at the end of the word. For instance:
  • ballet (/bæˈl/)
  • bouquet (/buˈk/)
  • gourmet (/gʊərˈm/)
  • valet (/væˈl/)
(*Depending on regional dialect or personal preference, the T is sometimes pronounced in pestle [/ˈpɛstəl/] and often [/ˈɔftən/].)

V v

The letter V (pronounced “vee,” IPA: /vi/) always* produces the same speech sound, transcribed in IPA as /v/. This sound is formed the same way as the letter F—by pressing the front top teeth against the lower lip as air is expelled through the mouth—except that the vocal cords are engaged, making it a voiced speech sound.
V forms this sound regardless of where it appears in a word. It can appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word; it is usually not the last letter of a word, almost always being followed by E. For example:
  • vast (/væst/)
  • very (/ˈvɛri/)
  • voice (/vɔɪs/)
  • advertise (/ˈædvərˌtaɪz/)
  • invitation (/ˌɪnvɪˈteɪʃən/)
  • subversion (/səbˈvɜrʒən/)
  • have (/hæv/)
  • give (/gɪv/)
  • nerve (/nɜrv/)

*have to

In standard pronunciation, V always produces the /v/ speech sound. However, it is sometimes pronounced as an /f/ in the phrase have to, especially colloquially. So while the pronunciation /hæv tʊ/ would be considered standard, /hæf tʊ/ is also fairly common.

W w

As a distinct consonant, the letter W (“double U,” pronounced “dubbel yuu,” IPA: /ˈdʌbəlju/) creates a voiced speech sound, formed by constricting the entire mouth and pursing the lips into a narrow gap while the vocal cords are vibrated. It is transcribed in IPA as /w/.
This consonant sound may appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word, generally when W is followed by a vowel. For example:
  • way (/weɪ/)
  • wire (/waɪər/)
  • work (/wɜrk/)
  • awake (/əˈweɪk/)
  • between (/bɪˈtwin/)
  • otherwise (/ˈʌðərˌwaɪz/)

Silent W with consonants

In some consonant combinations, W is not pronounced at all. This occurs in some words beginning with WH when it is followed by O, as in:
  • who (/hu/)
  • whole (/hoʊl/)
  • whom (/hum/)
  • whose (/huz/)
W also becomes silent in most words that begin WR. For instance:
  • wrap (/ræp/)
  • wreck (/rɛk/)
  • wrestle (rɛsəl/)
  • wrist (/rɪst/)
  • write (/raɪt/)
  • wrong (/rɔŋ/)
  • wrung (/rʌŋ/)
Finally, there are three words in which W is silent after another consonant:
  • answer (/ˈænsər/)
  • sword (/sɔrd/)
  • two (/tu/)

Silent W after vowels

When W follows the vowels A, E, or O and either ends the word or is followed by a consonant, it is no longer distinctly pronounced. Instead, it usually serves to alter the vowel or else elongate the sound into a diphthong. For example:
  • bow (/b/ or /b/)
  • drawl (/drɔl/)
  • fawn (/fɔn/)
  • flew (/flu/)
  • grow (/gr/)
  • strewn (/strun/)
In some cases, W can become silent between two vowels as well, as in:
  • coward (/ˈkaʊərd/)
  • jewel (/ˈʤl/)
  • flower (/ˈflaʊər/)
To learn more about how vowels change their sounds in different letter arrangements, go to the sections on Vowels, Diphthongs, and Triphthongs.

X x

The letter X (pronounced “ex,” IPA: /ɛks/) does not have a single, unique consonant sound associated with it; instead, it is usually formed from a combination of two other sounds. It almost always appears in the middle or at the end of a word (other than a few exceptions, which we’ll look at later).

Pronounced as /ks/

Most commonly, X is pronounced as a combination of the unvoiced sounds /k/ and /s/. For example:
  • axe (ks/)
  • expert (/ˈɛkspərt/)
  • dexterity (/dɛksˈtɛrəti/)
  • galaxy (/ˈgæləksi/)
  • excellent (/ˈɛksələnt/)
  • box (/bɑks/)
  • fix (/fɪks/)
  • phoenix (/ˈfinɪks/)
  • index (/ˈɪndɛks/)

Pronounced as /gz/

When X appears before a stressed vowel sound (and almost always after the letter E) it becomes voiced as the combination of the sounds /g/ and /z/. For instance:
  • example (gˈzæmpəl/)
  • exact (gˈzækt/)
  • executive (gˈzɛkjətɪv/)
  • exist (gˈzɪst/)
  • exude (gˈzud/)
  • exotic (gˈzɑtɪk/)
  • exhaust (gˈzɑst/)
  • exhibit (gˈzɪbɪt/)
(Note that the H is silent in the last two of these examples.)

Pronounced as /kʃ/ or /gʒ/

In a few rare instances, X is pronounced as /kʃ/ instead of /ks/, as in:
  • anxious (/ˈæŋəs/)
  • complexion (/kəmˈpɛən/)
  • flexure (/ˈflɛər/)
  • sexual (/ˈsɛuəl/)
Even less commonly, X is pronounced as /gʒ/ instead of /gz/:
  • luxury (/ˈlʌəri/)
  • luxurious (/ləˈəriəs/)

Pronounced as /z/

X predominantly appears in the middle or at the end of words. However, it does appear as the first letter of a few words, in which case it usually has the same sound as the letter Z (IPA: /z/). For example:
  • xanthan (/ˈzænθən/)
  • xenolith (/ˈzɛnəlɪθ/)
  • xenophobia (/ˌzɛnəˈfoʊbiə/)
  • xerography (/zɪˈrɒgrəfi/)
  • xylophone (/ˈzaɪləˌfoʊn/)
Note that other than the rare words of which X is the first letter, X also has the /z/ pronunciation in one other word: anxiety (/æŋˈzaɪəti/).

Y y

The letter Y (pronounced “wye,” IPA: /waɪ/) is often referred to as a “semivowel” because it can act as either a vowel or a consonant, depending on where it appears in a word.
When it functions as a consonant, the speech sound for Y is formed by first pressing the sides of the tongue up to the roof of the mouth to form a narrow passageway, as air is pushed through and the vocal cords are vibrated; then, mid-sound, this passageway is widened with the tongue to let more air through at a time. Because the vocal cords are engaged, it is a voiced speech sound. In IPA transcription, it is written as /j/. (Do not confuse this symbol with the consonant letter J; they produce very different sounds.)
As a consonant, Y almost always appears at the beginning of a word. For example:
  • yacht (/jɑt/)
  • yank (/jæŋk/)
  • yard (/jɑrd/)
  • yearn (/jɜrn/)
  • yes (/jɛs/)
  • yet (/jɛt/)
  • yoga (/ˈjoʊgə/)
  • yoke (/joʊk/)
  • you (/ju/)
  • yuck (/jʌk/)
  • yummy (/ˈjʌmi/)
Much less commonly, Y can appear as a consonant in the middle of a word:
  • canyon (/ˈkænjən/)
  • lanyard (/ˈlænjərd/)
  • lawyer (/ˈlɔjər/)
  • pinyon (/ˈpɪnjən/)
  • unyielding (/ənˈjildɪŋ/)
  • vineyard (/ˈvɪnjərd/)
However, Y never appears at the end of a word as a consonant; it always functions as a vowel in that location. For more information on how Y behaves as a vowel, see the section on Vowels.

Z z

The letter Z (pronounced “zee,” IPA: /zi/, in American English and “zed,” IPA: /zɛd/, in British English) almost always produces the same consonant sound, transcribed in IPA as /z/. It is formed the same way as the sound /s/—by forcing air between the tongue and the roof of the mouth and out past the teeth—except that the vocal cords are vibrated to create sound, making /z/ a voiced speech sound.
Z most often appears in the middle of a word after a vowel. For example:
  • amazing (/əˈmeɪzɪŋ/)
  • Amazon (/ˈæməˌzɑn/)
  • bizarre (/bəˈzɑr/)
  • breeze (/briz/)
  • brazen (/ˈbreɪzən/)
  • citizen (/ˈsɪtəzən/)
  • emblazon (/ɛmˈbleɪzən/)
  • freezing (/frizɪŋ/)
  • size (/saɪz/)
Z also usually maintains the /z/ pronunciation if it is doubled in the middle of a word, as in:
  • blizzard (/ˈblɪzərd/)
  • dazzle (/ˈdæzəl/)
  • fuzzy (/ˈfʌzi/)
  • muzzle (/ˈmʌzəl/)
  • nozzle (/ˈnɑzəl/)
  • tizzy (/ˈtɪzi/)
Z can appear at the beginning or end of a word, but it is much less common. It is usually (but not always) doubled if it ends the word. For instance:
  • zig (/zɪg/)
  • zag (/zæg/)
  • zeal (/zil/)
  • zucchini (/zuˈkini/)
  • buzz (/bʌz/)
  • fizz (/fɪz/)
  • jazz (/jæz/)
  • topaz (/ˈtoʊˌpæz/)
Z can also appear after the letter T at the end of some words, but its pronunciation changes (which we’ll look at a little later).

“-ize” and “-ization”

Perhaps the most common use of Z is in the suffix “-ize” (which indicates a verb formed from a noun or adjective) and its derivative “-ization” (which indicates a noun formed from such a verb).* For example:
IZE
IZATION
realize
(/ˈriəˌlz/)
specialize
(/ˈspɛʃəˌlz/)
visualize
(/ˈvɪʒwəˌlz/)
realization
(/ˈriələˈzeɪʃən/)
specialization
(/ˌspɛʃələˈzeɪʃən/)
visualization
(/ˌvɪʒwələˈzeɪʃən/)
(*In British English, these suffixes are more commonly spelled “-ise” and “-isation.”)

Producing the /s/ sound

In words in which Z appears after the letter T, it is pronounced /s/ rather than /z/. For example:
  • blitz (/blɪts/)
  • klutz (/klʌts/)
  • glitzy (/glɪtsi/)
  • pretzel (/ˈprɛtsəl/)
  • quartz (/kwɔrts/)
  • waltz (/wɔlts/)
Note that this /ts/ sound also occurs when Z is doubled in certain foreign loanwords, as in pizza (/ˈpitsə/), mozzarella (ˌmɑtsəˈrɛlə), and mezzo (/ˈmɛtsoʊ/).

Producing the /ʒ/ sound

Finally, there are two instances in which Z will be pronounced as /ʒ/ rather than /z/: azure (/ˈæʒər/) and seizure (/ˈsiʒər/).

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