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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.[1] Consonants may come singly (by themselves) or in clusters (two or more together), but must be connected to a vowel to form a syllable.

Notice that the consonant (C) and vowel (V) notation does NOT match the letters of English spelling in a one-to-one relationship (e.g. 'th' is one sound), but rather individual sounds.

Words with single consonants include:

  • Go (CV), which has one consonant and one vowel in that order
  • On (VC), which has one vowel and one consonant in that order
  • Ton (CVC), which has a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant in that order

Words with consonant clusters include:

  • Pro (CCV), which has two consonants in-a-row and one vowel afterwards
  • Old (VCC), which has one vowel and two consonants in-a-row afterwards
  • Spree (CCCV), which has three consonants in-a-row and one vowel afterwards
  • Arcs (VCCC), which has one vowel and three consonants in-a-row afterwards
  • Strengths (CCCVCCCC), which has three consonants in-a-row, one vowel afterwards, and finally four consonants in a row

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[2] or unvoiced.[3] 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.[4]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.[4]p237 The vowels are:
A, E, I, O, U (and sometimes Y)

References[change | change source]

  1. Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. Sound pronounced with the vibration of the vocal cords
  3. Sound pronounced without the vibration of the vocal cords
  4. 4.0 4.1 Crystal, David 1995. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge.
IPA pulmonic consonants chartchart image • Loudspeaker.svg audio
Where the sound is made → Labial



(Tip of Tongue)


(Middle of Tongue)


(Base of Tongue)



↓ How the sound is made Bila​bial

(Both Lips)


(Lips and Teeth)




(Against Ridge behind Teeth)


(Back of Ridge behind Teeth)


(Roof of Mouth)


(Roof of Mouth)


(Back Roof of Mouth)









Nasal m ɱ n ɳ ɲ ŋ ɴ
Plosive p b t d ʈ ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ ʡ ʔ
Fricative ɸ β f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ ʜ ʢ h ɦ
Approximant ʋ ɹ ɻ j ɰ
Trill ʙ r  * ʀ я *
Flap or tap ⱱ̟ ɾ ɽ ɢ̆ ʡ̯
Lateral Fric. ɬ ɮ ɭ˔̊ ʎ̥˔ ʟ̝̊
Lateral Appr. l ɭ ʎ ʟ
Lateral flap ɺ ɺ̢ * ʎ̯
Non-pulmonic consonants
Clicks ʘ ǀ ǃ ǂ ǁ
Implosives ɓ ɗ ʄ ɠ ʛ
tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ kxʼ kʼ
p̪f ts dz ʈʂ ɖʐ
Co-articulated consonants
Fricatives ɕ ʑ ɧ
Approximants ʍ w ɥ ɫ
Stops k͡p ɡ͡b ŋ͡m
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.