Introduction to Consonant Sound in English | Phonetics

Consonant Letters in English Language

English language has total 26 alphabets that are divided in two categories: consonant letters and vowel letters. Letters are divided on bases of the way we make a speech sound. Consonant letters create consonant sound and vowel letters create vowels sounds.

A consonant sound is a speech sound that is produced by a partial or complete obstruction of the airstream by a constriction of the speech organs. Out of 26 letters, 21 letter are consonant and create 24 consonant sounds. In this lesson, we will discuss these 24 consonant sounds. These 24 consonant sounds are sometime voiced (made by a vibration of the vocal cords) and some voiceless (no vibration).

English consonant sounds are classified as plosives, nasals, fricatives, affricates, and approximants. Now we will discuss each type of consonant sound in detail.


Plosive sounds

Plosive sounds include those sounds that are made by full obstruction of air in the vocal tract. These sounds occur in two steps; the obstruction of air and sudden release of that air. Examples of stop are p, b, t, d, k, and g.

Examples of plosive sounds in words:

  • /p/ : pin, pair, cup
  • /b/ : bin, bad, stab
  • /t/ : tin, tall, fit
  • /d/ : dark, din, head
  • /k/ : kin, cab, luck
  • /g/ : gun, tag, good


Nasal sounds

When air from lungs is obstructed at some point of oral cavity and air passes through nasal cavity, it creates a very different sound. These sounds are known as nasal sounds. The examples of nasals are m, n, ŋ.

Examples of nasal sounds in words:

  • /m/ : man, mail, sum
  • /n/ : sun, nose, tan
  • /ŋ/ : sung, ring, tongue


Fricative sounds

When we push air through a narrow gap to create a hissing noise, we make a fricative sound. Sometimes, this hissing sound is voiced such as v, ð, z, ʒ, and sometime it is voiceless such as f, θ, s, ʃ, h. Examples of fricatives are f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, and, h.

Examples of fricative sounds in words:

  • /f/ : fine, wife, leaf
  • /v/ : vine, above, very
  • /θ/ : think, both, thing
  • /ð/ : this, father, thus
  • /s/ : seal, soon, house
  • /z/ : zeal, goes, dozen
  • /ʃ/ : sheep, sure, push
  • /ʒ/ : measure, pleasure
  • /h/ : how, hen, ahead


Affricate sounds

The manner of articulation in affricate is similar to plosive, but it does not remain stop for a long time. Unlike plosive, the air is released slowly in affricate.

Examples of affricate sounds in words:

  • /ʧ/ : chain, match, choose
  • /ʤ/ : Jane, judge, June


Approximant sounds

Approximant includes constant sounds that are created by very less obstruction to the airflow. BBC English has four approximant sounds.

Examples of approximants sounds in words:

  • /l/ : light, love, pearl
  • /r/ : right, scary, lower
  • /w/ : wet, away, wool
  • /j/ : yet, you, yolk­­