Sounds of English

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Vowels

Vowels are always voiced (which means the vocal cords vibrate when the sound is made).

vaʊ əlz ər ɔːl wəz vɔɪst

Long "pure" vowels

/ɑ:/

  • R, star, car, far
  • father, bother US, bottle US, knowledge US
  • clerk UK, bath UK, laughter UK, draught UK

/i:/

  • B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z US
  • he, she, me, we
  • sea, tea, seem, feet, (-)teen, key
  • apostrophe, Socrates, catastrophe / strə fi/ ; suffix-final "y" (as in stormy, safety, slowly) is also pronounced with a shorter /i/

/u:/

  • 2, Q, U, W, you
  • choose, use
  • new, flew, grew, knew, true, blue
  • to strong form, through

/ɔː/

  • 4, 40
  • door, floor, shore, store (US /ɔːr/ )
  • daughter, caught, thought, fought
  • law, saw, lawyer /ˈlɔː jər/
  • fluorine, chlorine
  • sort, sword (US /ɔːr/ )

/ɜː/

  • first, third, 30, 30th
  • shirt, clerk, certification, learn
  • Some people sometimes pronounce words like sure & pure with this sound rather than ʃʊr, pjʊr, (myself included).

Short vowels

/ɒ/

  • primarily UK. various US accents substitute a low back vowel, usually /ɑ:/, but sometimes ɔ:. Short ʌ in high frequency functional words like what and of.
  • what UK 1
  • bottle ˈbɒ tl, throttle ˈθrɒ tl
  • shot, spot, lots, of UK 1, pots, across
  • knowledge ˈnɒl ɪdʒ

US 1 = ʌ in what and of, ɑ: in the other examples.

/ʌ/

  • 1, 100
  • sun, but, mud, uncle
  • son, won, brother, other, another, above
  • flood, blood
  • tough, rough, enough /ɪ nʌf/

/ʊ/

  • Look!, a good cookbook
  • put, push, pull
  • woman / mən/

/ɪ/

  • 6, 15, 16, 50, 60, him, this, finish, minute (n.)
  • been, again
  • below, behind, between, beneath, bemoan, belabor, besmirch, etc.
  • women / mɪn/, electric /ɪ lek trɪk/, elegance /el ɪ ɡəns/, enough /ɪ nʌf/
  • -age 1, -e(d)ge /ɪdʒ/ (village, marriage, storage, baggage, luggage, mortgage /mɔː ɡɪdʒ/, college, knowledge)

1 Exceptions include more recent borrowings from French, e.g. garage /ɡə rɑːʒ/ US /ɡær ɪdʒ/ UK, fuselage /fjuː sə lɑːʒ/, triage, montage, etc.

/e/

The precise realisation of this form varies. In South Africa the sound is closer to /e/, while in the US it is closer to /ɛ/ (le son souligné en e.g. fête, bête, lait, aime, pouvaient). Since the distinction is not considered phonemic, the standard transcription is /e/ though the sound is closer to /ɛ/ than it is to /e/ (qui est, strictu sensu, le son de fée, pourrai, pouvez, aimer).

  • 7, 10, 12, F, L, M, N, S, X, zed
  • health, wedding, nephew, elementary /ˌel ɪ men tri/
  • says, said

/ə/

  • The most common vowel sound in English (also the most central vowel) (quite lax) uh... (French "euh" is very similar, but with rounded lips)
  • around, about, above, across, ago, asleep, etc.
  • perpetual, residual, science, electric, elegant, woman, sermon
  • to weak form, them weak form, that weak form, a, the weak form
  • -ous (famous, gelatinous, disastrous)
  • -er (safer, cheaper, etc.)
  • -able, -ible (understandable, comfortable 1, legible, incredible)
  • -ate (in ADJ and N): chocolate (n.) /tʃɑː klət/, corporate (adj.), conglomerate (adj.), associate (n.), etc.
  • Some transcribe the sound of the suffix -ion as /ən/, though most dictionaries simply use "syllabic" /n/. More terminology wars... :) e.g. nation, ration, consideration, fashion /fæʃ n/, etc.

1 Most commonly the first schwa is dropped entirely. kʌmf təbl / kʌmf ə təbl, cf. "comfy" :)

/æ/

  • bad, faster, fastest, that 1
  • laughter US + parts of UK, draught US + parts of UK (fr. <i>courant d'air</i>)
  • forbade: (hapax?)
  • </ul>
    

    1 As a demonstrative pronoun / determiner that is pronounced /ðæt/, as a relative pronoun, that is usually pronounced /ðət/, though it may be dropped entirely.

    Diphthongs

    //

    • A, H, J, K, 8
    • they, grey
    • take, plane, fate
    • main, rain, paid, said /səd/
    • day, way, say, says /səz/
    • weigh, neighbour, freight
    • vein
    • aviation, (un)able, Asia (/ ʒə/)

    /ɑɪ/

    • I, Y, 5, 9
    • rice, mice
    • guide, quite quiet /kwɑɪt kwɑɪ ət/, choir /kwɑɪ ər/
    • kind, mind, behind
    • light, sight, sigh, height
    • align, benign, sign

    /əʊ / /

    • O, 0, (zero)
    • close, clothes /kləʊðz/, chose, chosen
    • though, although, thorough /θɜː roʊ/ US /θʌ/ UK, borough /bɜː roʊ/ US // UK
    • own, grow, known, flown
    • soap, foam

    /ɑʊ/

    • 1000
    • out, about, around, announce, pounce
    • how, now, power, tower, town

    /ɔɪ/

    • noisy, oil
    • toys, boys
    • poignant /ˈpɔɪnyənt/

    //

    • Mostly UK. North American English (NAME) is usually /er/
    • there, where
    • hair, pair
    • share, care
    • heir

    /ʊə/

    • Mostly UK. North American English (NAME) is usually /ʊr/
    • poor 1, tour (guide)
    • sure 1, (al)lure

    1 both "poor" and "sure" can be pronounced with ɔː i.e. ʃɔː, pɔː

    /ɪə/

    • Mostly UK. North American English (NAME) is usually /ɪr/
    • dear, near
    • here
    • beer, peer, tier

    Consonants

    Most consonants are paired: at each position one can make two sounds (one voiced, one unvoiced). For example:

    Voiced Unvoiced
    θ think ð that, brother
    b big p pig
    v even Stephen f enough phonetics
    d stewed t cooked
    z reads s writes
    ʒ pleasure ʃ sure
    badge, joke batch, choke
    g agree k cake, second(s), chemistry
    • Nasal consonants — m, n, ŋ — liquids —r, l — and glides — w, j (why, yellow) — are all voiced.
    • Syllabic n and l are roughly equivalent to /ən/, /əl/. (fashion, bottle)
    A "flap" /ɾ/ or // is often used for intervocalic "t" after a stressed syllable outside of England (Australia, NZ, US, ...). The sound is made in the same place as the /d/ but with a quicker flap of the tongue (hence the name). It is voiced.
    • battle ˈbæt̮l, butter bʌt̮ər, bottle ˈbɑt̮l, subtle ˈsʌt̮l, better ˈbɛt̮ər...