The 44 Phonemes in English

Despite there being just 26 letters in the English language there are approximately 44 unique sounds, also known as phonemes. The 44 sounds help distinguish one word or meaning from another. Various letters and letter combinations known as graphemes are used to represent the sounds.

The 44 English sounds fall into two categories: consonants and vowels. Below is a list of the 44 phonemes along with their International Phonetic Alphabet symbols and some examples of their use. Note that there is no such thing as a definitive list of phonemes because of accents, dialects and the evolution of language itself. Therefore you may discover lists with more or less than these 44 sounds.

Consonants

Phoneme IPA Symbol Graphemes Examples Voiced?
1 b b, bb bug, bubble Yes
2 d d, dd, ed dad, add, milled Yes
3 f f, ff, ph, gh, lf, ft fat, cliff, phone, enough, half, often No
4 g g, gg, gh,gu,gue gun, egg, ghost, guest, prologue Yes
5 h h, wh hop, who No
6 j, ge, g, dge, di, gg jam, wage, giraffe, edge, soldier, exaggerate Yes
7 k k, c, ch, cc, lk, qu ,q(u), ck, x kit, cat, chris, accent, folk, bouquet, queen, rack, box No
8 l l, ll live, well Yes
9 m m, mm, mb, mn, lm man, summer, comb, column, palm Yes
10 n n, nn,kn, gn, pn net, funny, know, gnat, pneumonic Yes
11 p p, pp pin, dippy No
12 r r, rr, wr, rh run, carrot, wrench, rhyme Yes
13 s s, ss, c, sc, ps, st, ce, se sit, less, circle, scene, psycho, listen, pace, course No
14 t t, tt, th, ed tip, matter, thomas, ripped No
15 v v, f, ph, ve vine, of, stephen, five Yes
16 w w, wh, u, o wit, why, quick, choir Yes
17 z z, zz, s, ss, x, ze, se zed, buzz, his, scissors, xylophone, craze Yes
18 ʒ s, si, z treasure, division, azure Yes
19 ch, tch, tu, ti, te chip, watch, future, action, righteous No
20 ʃ sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, ti sham, ocean, sure, special, pension, machine, conscience, station No
21 θ th thongs No
22 ð th leather Yes
23 ŋ ng, n, ngue ring, pink, tongue Yes
24 j y, i, j you, onion, hallelujah Yes

What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?

How can you pronounce a word you’ve never read? It can be a bit tricky. How about a word in a foreign language? Now that must be impossible! Or is it? Imagine a set of symbols that could tell you how to pronounce any word in any language on the planet? Well that is exactly what the International Phonetic Alphabet is. Currently, the IPA consists of 107 sound symbols, 52 diacritics (accents) and 4 prosodic marks (intonations) encompassing virtually every phoneme used in every language on the earth.  So for any written word, you can identify the associated phoneme symbols, and with a bit of practice, pronounce the word! Congratulations, you can speak Greek now!

The IPA was created by the International Phonetic Association. Founded in 1886 in Paris, their original mission was to help school children pronounce words in foreign languages and to aid in the teaching of reading. Today their mission is to promote the scientific study of phonetics.

 

Vowels

Phoneme IPA Symbol Graphemes Examples
25 æ a, ai, au cat, plaid, laugh
26 a, ai, eigh, aigh, ay, er, et, ei, au, a_e, ea, ey bay, maid, weigh, straight, pay, foyer, filet, eight, gauge, mate, break, they
27 e e, ea, u, ie, ai, a, eo, ei, ae end, bread, bury, friend, said, many, leopard, heifer, aesthetic
28 i: e, ee, ea, y, ey, oe, ie, i, ei, eo, ay be, bee, meat, lady, key, phoenix, grief, ski, deceive, people, quay
29 ɪ i, e, o, u, ui, y, ie it, england, women, busy, guild, gym, sieve
30 i, y, igh, ie, uy, ye, ai, is, eigh, i_e spider, sky, night, pie, guy, stye, aisle, island, height, kite
31 ɒ a, ho, au, aw, ough swan, honest, maul, slaw, fought
32 o, oa, o_e, oe, ow, ough, eau, oo, ew open, moat, bone, toe, sow, dough, beau, brooch, sew
33 ʊ o, oo, u,ou wolf, look, bush, would
34 ʌ u, o, oo, ou lug, monkey, blood, double
35 u: o, oo, ew, ue, u_e, oe, ough, ui, oew, ou who, loon, dew, blue, flute, shoe, through, fruit, manoeuvre, group
36 ɔɪ oi, oy, uoy join, boy, buoy
37 ow, ou, ough now, shout, bough
38 ə a, er, i, ar, our, ur about, ladder, pencil, dollar, honour, augur
39 eəʳ air, are, ear, ere, eir, ayer chair, dare, pear, where, their, prayer
40 ɑ: a arm
41 ɜ:ʳ ir, er, ur, ear, or, our, yr bird, term, burn, pearl, word, journey, myrtle
42 ɔ: aw, a, or, oor, ore, oar, our, augh, ar, ough, au paw, ball, fork, poor, fore, board, four, taught, war, bought, sauce
43 ɪəʳ ear, eer, ere, ier ear, steer, here, tier
44 ʊəʳ ure, our cure, tourist

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