Consonants and Vowels – 2 Popular Categories in English Phonics

 

The English Language has 44 English sounds. They can be divided into two main categories: consonants and vowels. A consonant sound is a sound where the airflow is stopped, either partially or completely, when the sound is uttered. 

On the other hand, a vowel sound is a sound where the airflow is unstopped when the sound is produced. The vowel sounds are the rhyme, or shift of our language. Monophthongs and diphthongs are the two categories of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are also divided into long vowel sounds and short vowel sounds.

In English, a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y are the vowel letters. The rest of the letters in the alphabet represent consonants such as b, d, g, n, r, s, and t. some consonants produce more than one sound.

What is a Vowel?

 Vowels and Consonants: Vowels
Vowels and Consonants: Vowels

A vowel is a speech sound where the mouth is open and the tongue doesn’t touch the top of the mouth, the teeth, etc. so that the flow of air is not limited. It is necessary to know that there is a difference between a vowel sound and a vowel letter in the alphabet.

The English vowel sounds are written with letters in the English alphabet. All English words have vowel letters. They are vowels in English: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.  Y is “sometimes” a vowel because the letter Y presents both vowel and consonant sounds, like ‘fry’. 

Six vowel letters are used to indicate the 13-15 vowel sounds in English. This means the vowel sounds are more than letters in the English alphabet. Monophthongs and diphthongs are the two main categories of vowel sounds.

Monophthong

A monophthong is simply a vowel. The word mono represents one and phthong represents a sound. This means that monophthong represents one vowel sound in the word. If you notice the position of the tongue, the mouth will stay the same when these words are uttered.

In English – /i:/, /ɪ/, /ʊ/, /u:/, /e/, /ə/, /ɜ:/, /ɔ:/, /æ/, /ʌ/, /ɑ:/ and /ɒ/  are 12 pure vowels or monophthongs. let’s check the list of 12 pure vowel sounds with some examples

 

Sound

Examples

/i:/

heap, leap, feet, seat, read, beat, peak, seek

/ɪ/

lift, hit, kit, pick, bill, fill, till, him, pin

/ʊ/

Food, Fool, Cool, Cook, look

/u:/

To, You, New, Who

/e/

Bet, Met, Pet, Set, Bend, Lend, Send

/ə/

The, About, Could, Us

/ɜ:/

Earl, Pearl, Sir, Worm, worth

/ɔ:/

Mall, Hall, Shall, Fall, Tall, Wall

/æ/

hand, Land, Sand, Cat, Mat, Pat, Sat 

/ʌ/

But, Up, One, Much

/ɑ:/

Start, Ask, Large, After

/ɒ/

Of, On, From, Not

Diphthongs 

A diphthong is a mix of two vowel sounds or vowel letters, like the sounds /aɪ/ in pipe /paɪp/ or the letters ou in doubt. The part ‘di’ represents two and the other part represents sounds. Although a diphthong has two different vowel sounds, they stay within the same syllable or unit of sound. 

The best way to know if a word has a diphthong with two vowel sounds, or a monophthong, is to listen to how it sounds when you say it out loud. If the vowel sound changes within the same syllable, it’s most certainly a diphthong.

Let’s check some examples of diphthongs:

long A to long E /eɪ/

long I to long E

/aɪ/

long O to long E

/oɪ/ 

long E to Ur

/i/

long A to Ur

/e/

short A to long U

/aʊ/ 

long O to long U

/oʊ/

play

cry

soil

Peer

Bear

clown

clow

Eight

pie

Enjoy

Hear

Hair

how

boat

clay

Eye

boy

Steer

Wear

brown

Toe

Long and Short Vowel Sounds

The sounds of the letters of the English alphabet can somehow vary. In some cases, it can get tricky. Not all letters produce the same sound in all words. The letters can have different sounds according to how they are used. 

The most popular sound for each vowel is its “short” sound. The short ă, pronounced /æ/ as in hat. The short ĕ, pronounced /ɛ/ as in bed. The short ĭ, pronounced /ɪ/ as in silk. The short ŏ, pronounced /ɑ/ as in crop. The short ŭ, pronounced /ʌ/ as in mug. 

“Long vowels” are the alphabet sounds when the vowel, “says its name”.  We call them ‘long’ because we hold them barely longer than short sounds. Yet, they are totally different sounds; They are not a longer version of the same sound. 

Long A (ā), pronounced /eɪ/ as in hate or fate. Long E (ē), pronounced /iː/ as in eat or heat. Long I (ī), pronounced /aɪ/ as in kite or night. Long O (ō), pronounced /oʊ/ as in coats, note or coat. Long U (ū), pronounced /juː/ as in cute or /uː/ as in glue.

There are some rules for what sound the vowels make in different examples. 

Vowel Position

Vowel Sound

Examples

If a word has only one vowel and ends with a consonant

Vowel makes a short sound

‘a’ in ‘jar’

‘e’ in ‘nest’

‘o’ in ‘not’

‘i’ in ‘kit’

‘u’ in ‘sun’

If a word has two vowels separated by two or more letters

The first vowel makes a short sound

as in ‘apple’

as in ‘octopus’

as in ‘basket’

as in ‘elephant’

as in ‘umbrella’

If  a word ends with the letter ‘e’ (magic ‘e’/ silent ‘e’)

The first vowel makes a long sound

‘hat’ becomes ‘hate’

‘kit’ becomes ‘kite’

‘cub’ becomes ‘cube’ 

as in ‘name’

as in ‘lime’

If  a word has two vowels walking together the first one does 

the talking

The first vowel makes a long sound

The second vowel remains silent

as in ‘pie

as in ‘coat’

as in ‘grain’

as in ‘value

as in ‘meet’

Let’s check the list of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA):

IPA

Example

/æ/

cat, bad, sad, sand, land, hand

/ɑː/

calm, palm, father, start, dark (British English)

grass, can’t, half, bath (American English)

/ɒ/

god, pot, top, spot (British English only)

/ʌ/

but, cut, gun, come, some, glove

/ɛ/

get, bed, set, sell, fell, men

/ɪ/

pit, bin, fill, will, village, bullet

/i/ or /iː/

he, she, see, keep, family, hyperbole

/ɔː/

saw, straw, dawn, fall, call, wall

/ʊ/

put, full, good, wood, could, would

/uː/

you, who, chew, shoe, cool, tool

/ə/

a, syllable, moment, terrible, felony, papyrus

/ɚ/

mister, standard, editor (Am. English only)

/ɜː/, /ɝː/

curve, purge, herd, serve, 

Consonants

A consonant is a sound that is produced by blocking air from flowing out of the mouth with the teeth, tongue, lips or palate. Consonants may come alone or in clusters but have to be connected to a vowel to form a syllable.

English has 21 consonant letters, for 24 consonant sounds in most English accents:  H, J, K, L, M B, C, D, F, G, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X,  Z and (sometimes Y). The letter ‘y’ produces a consonant sound if at the beginning of a word ‘yellow’ but a vowel sound if at the end of a word ‘sunny’. 

Consonant Digraphs

Digraphs are two letters that produce just one sound. These are the seven basic consonant digraphs; ch, ck, th, sh, ph, ng, wh. Yet, some digraphs have more than one pronunciation.  ‘ghosts’ are some digraphs like ‘wr’ and ‘gn’  because the first letter is not pronounced. Let’s check the list of the digraphs with examples:

Digraph

Examples

ch

Makes the sound /t∫/ in Chair , /k/ in chorus and /sh/ in chute

ck

which makes the sound  /k/ sound as in click

ff

which makes the sound /f/ sound as in stuff

gh

which makes the sound /g/ sound as in yoghurt or /f/ as in enough

gn

which makes the /n/ sound as in reign and foreign

kn

which makes the /n/ sound as in know and knot

ll

which makes the /l/ sound as in hall

lm

which makes the /m/ sound as in calm and palm

mb

which makes the /m/ sound as in dumb and thumb

ng

which makes the /ŋ/ sound as in ring and hung

ph

which makes the /f/ sound as in photo, and elephant

sh

which makes the /ʃ/ sound as in splash and sheet

ss

which makes the /s/ sound as in less and grass

ss

which makes the /ʃ/ sound as in assure and issue 

th

which makes the /θ/ sound as in three and myth

th

which makes the /ð/ sound as in that and them

wh

which makes the /w/ sound as in where and where

wr

which makes the /r/ sound as in wreck

zz

which makes the /z/ sound as in jazz and buzz

dg

Which makes the sound /ʤ/ as in edge and wedge

ng

which makes the /nʤ/ sound as angel

nk

which makes the /ŋk/ sound as in link

Consonant Blends

A consonant blend occurs when two or more consonants are blended together, yet each sound may be heard in the blend. The most common beginning consonant blends include: pl, pr, sl, sm, sp and st, bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fr, tr, fl, gl, gr. Blends can also appear at the end of words. 

Blends are most of the time categorized into r-blends, such as “br” and “cr”, s-blends, such as “sc” and “sk” and l-blends, such as “bl” and “cl”. There are also blends that include three consonants. Popular three consonant blends include str, spl, and spr.

Let’s check the list of two letters blends

blends

examples

bl

which make the /bl/ sound as in blend and black 

br

which make the /br/ sound as in bread and brave

cl

which make the /cl/ sound as in clap and clip

cr

which make the /cr/ sound as in crab and crew

dr

which make the /dr/ sound as in drum and drag

fl

which make the /fl/ sound as in flame and flat

fr

which make the /fr/ sound as in fresh and frame

gl

which make the /gl/ sound as in globe

gr

which make the /gr/ sound as in grammar

nd

which make the /nd/ sound as in bend 

pl

which make the /pl/ sound as in please

pr

which make the /pr/ sound as in print and prey

sl

which make the /sl/ sound as in slim and sleep

sm

which make the /sm/ sound as in smash

sn

which make the /sn/ sound as in snail

sp

which make the /sp/ sound as in spare

st

which make the /st/ sound as in strange

Consonant Clusters

Consonant cluster refers to two or more consonants positioned side by side in a word. They are also called consonant blends. The longest possible cluster in English is three consonant sounds at the beginning. They can be up to four consonants long at the end of the word.

Let’s check the list of consonant clusters examples:

Three-letter blends

examples

shr

which make the /ʃr/ sound as in shrimp

spl

which make the /spl/ sound as in splendid

spr

which make the /spr/ sound as in spread

squ

which make the /sqw/ sound as in squash

str

which make the /str/ sound as in string

thr

which make the /θr/ sound as in threw

lfths

As in twelfths

Consonants charts

Symbol 

example

/b,(b)/

Bin, back

/k,(k)/ 

Cat, key

/ch,(ʧ)/ 

Check, cheese

/d,(d)/   

Dog, doll

/f,(f)/ 

Fish, fries

/g,(g)/

Goat, great

/h,(h)/  

Hotel, hat

/j,(ʤ)/ 

Bridge. Jigsaw 

/l,(l)/   

Lemon, ballon

/m,(m)/

Ment, lamb

/n,(n)/ 

Nest, pen

/ng,(ŋ)/ 

King, ring

/p,(p)/

Plenty, hippo

/r,(r)/ 

Rat, wrist

/s,(s)/ 

Sad, dress

/sh,(ʃ)/ 

Shine, splash

/t,(t)/ 

Tent, cart

/th,(θ)/

Thin, length

/th,(ð)/

There, father

/v,(v)/

Vowel, love

/w,(w)/

Where, well

/y,(j)/ 

Yet, yellow

/z,(z)/ 

Zero, prize

/zh,(Ʒ)/

Measure, television

What Do You Know about Place and Manner of Articulation of Consonants and Vowels?

Manner of Articulation refers to the “how” of making sounds. There are six different ways or manners of articulation. Place of Articulation refers to the ‘where’ of pronunciation. It is the location where sounds are made. Let’s check the below charts that show the manner and place of articulations of consonants and vowels.

Place and Manner of Articulation
Place and Manner of Articulation

THE ARTICULATION OF VOVELS
THE ARTICULATION OF VOVELS

Some Fun Activities For Learning Vowels and Consonants

Short Vowel Craft Stick: Learners say a word by turn with a short vowel sound out loud. The other learners catch up with the correct sound stick.

Picture Sorts: Students hold cards with the sounds and have to match pictures to the correct sounds.

Short or Long? The teacher says a word out loud and the students have to know the sound and whether it is short or long.

Bend letters with pipe cleaners: Kids use the pipe cleaners to make consonant sounds.

Find invisible letters with watercolours: Use a white crayon to draw letters on white paper. Provide the kids with watercolour, ask them to paint the paper, and watch the letters appear.

Conclusion

So, Vowels and consonants are the two main categories in the English language. There is no English word that contains more than three consecutive consonants. Each word contains at least one vowel sound. The English language has short vowel sounds and long vowel sounds. The pronunciation of the sounds is produced according to the place and manner of articulation.

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