All the letters in the alphabet are either consonants or vowels. A consonant is a speech sound in which the air is at least partly blocked, and any letter which represents this. Consonants may come singly or in clusters, but must be connected to a vowel to form a syllable.
Consonants have friction when they are spoken, mostly using the position of the tongue against the lips, teeth and roof of the mouth. b and p are plosives, using the lips to produce a tiny sharp sound. Phonetics texts give more details, with diagrams. Consonants may be voiced or unvoiced. The th in the is voiced, but in breath is not.
- There are 21 consonant letters in English, for 24 consonant sounds in most English accents.p242 Because of the history of the English language, there is no neat one-to-one relationship between letter and sound. th and ch each stand for a single sound, and x in fox stands for two sounds (ks). All these letters are consonants:
- B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, (sometimes Y), and Z. "Y" is often used as a consonant, but it is sometimes used as a vowel. For example, in the word yellow, y is a consonant. But in the word happy, y is a vowel.
- The rest of the letters of the alphabet are called vowels. Vowels are underdone, for there are about 20 vowel sounds in most English accents.p237 The vowels are:
|IPA pulmonic consonants chartchart image • audio|
|Where the sound is made →||Labial
(Tip of Tongue)
(Middle of Tongue)
(Base of Tongue)
|↓ How the sound is made||Bilabial
(Lips and Teeth)
(Against Ridge behind Teeth)
(Back of Ridge behind Teeth)
(Roof of Mouth)
(Roof of Mouth)
(Back Roof of Mouth)
|Trill||ʙ||r||• *||ʀ||я *|
|Flap or tap||ⱱ̟||ⱱ||ɾ||ɽ||ɢ̆||ʡ̯|
|Lateral flap||ɺ||ɺ̢ *||ʎ̯|
|These tables contain phonetic symbols, which may not display correctly in some browsers. [Help]|
|Where symbols appear in pairs, left—right are the voiceless—voiced consonants.|
|Shaded areas show the pulmonic consonants which are impossible to pronounce.|
|* Symbol not in IPA.|