English Language


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Exploring English Consonants: Understanding Sounds vs. Letters

When speaking English, consonants are created by constricting or partially obstructing the flow of breath through two vocal organs, such as the tongue, lips, teeth, hard palate, or soft palate. Let's take a look at the 24 consonant sounds and their corresponding examples:

  • /b/ as in "bat"
  • /d/ as in "dog"
  • /f/ as in "fun"
  • /g/ as in "go"
  • /h/ as in "hat"
  • /j/ as in "jump"
  • /k/ as in "key"
  • /l/ as in "love"
  • /m/ as in "man"
  • /n/ as in "never"
  • /p/ as in "pen"
  • /r/ as in "run"
  • /s/ as in "sun"
  • /t/ as in "top"
  • /v/ as in "van"
  • /w/ as in "win"
  • /z/ as in "zoo"
  • /ʃ/ as in "shoe"
  • /ʒ/ as in "treasure"
  • /tʃ/ as in "watch"
  • /dʒ/ as in "jump"
  • /θ/ as in "think"
  • /ð/ as in "that"
  • /ŋ/ as in "king"

It's also important to note that some consonants can be combined, such as /tʃ/ in the word "chat", which is a combination of /t/ and /ʃ/. Interestingly, the "c" in "Pacific Ocean" is pronounced differently each time, with the word being pronounced as [pəˈsɪfɪk ˈəʊʃən]. This could be due to historical reasons.

While consonants and vowels are both crucial in creating words, they are produced quite differently. Consonants possess three distinct qualities: voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation. Let's delve deeper into each of these characteristics.


Voicing refers to the activity of the vocal cords and is divided into two categories:

  • Voiceless - when the vocal folds are wide apart and not vibrating, resulting in consonant sounds like /p/, /t/, and /s/.
  • Voiced - when the vocal folds are close together and vibrating, resulting in consonant sounds like /b/, /d/, and /z/.

You can feel this difference by placing your hand on your throat while making these sounds.

Place of Articulation

The place of articulation is where the airflow is obstructed by the vocal organs to create consonant sounds. There are two types of articulators:

  • Active articulators - movable parts like the tongue and lips
  • Passive articulators - immovable parts like the teeth and palate

There are eight places of articulation, listed from the lips to the glottis:

  • Bilabial - involving both lips (e.g. /b/)
  • Labiodental - involving the lower lip and upper teeth (e.g. /f/)
  • Interdental - involving the tongue between the teeth (e.g. /θ/)
  • Alveolar - involving the tongue against the alveolar ridge (e.g. /t/)
  • Post-alveolar - involving the tongue near the back of the alveolar ridge (e.g. /ʃ/)
  • Palatal - involving the tongue against the hard palate (e.g. /j/)
  • Velar - involving the back of the tongue and the velum (e.g. /k/)
  • Glottal - involving the vocal cords (e.g. /h/)

For a better understanding, try placing a finger or hand on your throat while closing your eyes and focusing on the movement of your tongue.

Manner of Articulation

The manner of articulation describes how the airflow is obstructed to create consonant sounds. There are six categories:

  • Stop - completely obstructing the airflow (e.g. /p/)
  • Fricative - partially obstructing the airflow (e.g. /s/)
  • Affricate - a combination of stop and fricative (e.g. /tʃ/)
  • Nasal - allowing the airflow to pass through the nose (e.g. /n/)
  • Approximant - narrowing the airflow without complete closure (e.g. /j/)
  • Lateral - the closure of the airflow is on one side (e.g. /l/)

Distinguishing Vowels and Consonants

Though vowels and consonants may seem similar, they have distinct differences. Vowels are created by fully opening the vocal tract, while consonants involve some form of obstruction or constriction in the vocal tract using the lips, glottis, or tongue.


To summarize, consonants are formed with either a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract, while vowels are created with a complete opening of the vocal tract. Consonants are described by voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation, while vowels are described by height, frontness or backness, and roundness. The English language consists of 24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds.

Understanding the Distinction Between Vowels and Consonants

To gain a better understanding of the difference between vowels and consonants in the English language, here's a simple exercise to try: while moving your lips and jaw, make the vowel sound /u/. Now, without any movement of your articulators, try to produce the consonant sound /b/. You'll notice that consonants require some form of obstruction to be created, unlike vowels.

Practice to Master the Concept of Consonants

Consistent practice is essential to comprehend these linguistic concepts. One effective way to do this is by placing a finger or hand on your throat and focusing on the movements of your tongue while experimenting with different sounds. These tips will help improve your understanding of English consonants.

The Six Different Ways to Produce Consonant Sounds

Consonants play a critical role in speech and can be created in six distinct ways: stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, liquids, and approximants.

An Explanation of Consonants

In simple terms, a consonant is a speech sound that involves either completely or partially closing the vocal tract. This differs from vowels, which require the mouth to remain open during sound production.

Practical Examples of Consonant Sounds

Some commonly used examples of consonant sounds include the letters 'p' and 'l' in the word 'play'.

Discerning Characteristics of Vowels and Consonants

Vowels and consonants possess unique characteristics. As mentioned earlier, consonants obstruct the airflow while vowels allow for its free movement through the vocal tract.

The Different Types of Consonant Sounds

Based on the voice, place of articulation, and manner of articulation, consonant sounds can be classified into categories such as stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, liquids, and approximants.

The Alphabet's Consonant Letters

The English alphabet contains several letters that represent consonant sounds. These include b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z.

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