Phonics on the Web > Letter Sounds

Letter Sounds

Consonant Sounds

Consonants are the letters which stop or limit the flow of air from the throat in speech. These are the sounds, or phonemes, of single consonants:

  • /b/ sound as in bonfire, black, bathtub, and balcony
  • /d/ sound as in dry, draw, design, and duet
  • /f/ sound as in fossil, fail, frame, and fingerprint
  • /g/ sound as in greeting, grill, goose, and grapefruit
  • /h/ sound as in hail, hieroglyphics, hostage, and hit
  • /j/ sound as in magician, syringe, jeep, and message
  • /k/ sound as in key, knock, kangaroo, and kayak
  • /l/ sound as in lizard, learn, lamp, and library
  • /m/ sound as in mug, money, maze, and mechanical
  • /n/ sound as in night, newspaper, nightmare, and noodle
  • /p/ sound as in panda, pie, pen, and potato
  • /r/ sound as in rose, restaurant, run, and reporter
  • /s/ sound as in safe, sunset, sand, and seat
  • /t/ sound as in tile, thermometer, tongue, and toy
  • /v/ sound as in violin, volcano, vaccination, and vote
  • /w/ sound as in waterfall, wagon, windmill, and watch
  • /y/ sound as in yoke, yawn, yacht, and yoga
  • /z/ sound as in zebra, zoo, and zipper

Sometimes the vowel u takes upon itself the consonant sound of w, as in quick or suave. This is usually the case when q is followed by u, as in quiet and quaint.

Vowel Sounds

A vowel is a sound made by the relatively free movement of air through the mouth, usually forming the main sound of a syllable. The vowels are a, e, i, o, and u.

Each vowel has two sounds: a long sound and a short sound. The long sound is the same as its name. Every vowel also makes a third sound: the schwa. This is the sound of a vowel that is unstressed in an unstressed syllable. There are also some more advanced vowel sounds besides the long, short, and schwa. For instance, the a in father is different than the a in cat.

When a single vowel letter is in the middle of a word (or syllable), it usually says its short sound (e.g., got, bed.) But there are many exceptions to this rule, such as irregular vowels. When a single vowel letter is in the end of a word (or syllable), it usually says its long sound (or its name), as in go and be. When two vowels go hand in hand in the same word (or syllable), the first vowel is usually long, and the second vowel is usually silent. e.g., bake makes the ay sound (long a) and the e is silent; goal makes the oh sound (long o) and the a is silent. But there are many exceptions to this rule, such as irregular vowels.

The following is a list of vowel sounds, shown along with their diacritical marks:

  • Long a (ā) sound as in ape, snail, ache, explain, and reindeer
  • Long e (ē) sound as in eat, agony, needle, pianist, and electricity
  • Long i (ī) sound as in eye, cry, tightrope, tile, and violin
  • Long o (ō) sound as in oh, domino, ghost, pillow, and stethoscope
  • Long u (ū) sound as in you, salute, toothbrush, goose, boot, and costume
  • Short a (ă) sound as in at, taxi, anniversary, laboratory, and tackle
  • Short e (ĕ) sound as in elm, elevator, jellyfish, pentagon, and dentist
  • Short i (ĭ) sound as in it, gift, inflate, spinach, and cereal
  • Short o (ŏ) sound as in hop, camouflage, garage, chop, father, paw, and binoculars
  • Short u (ŭ) sound as in up, cut and subtract
  • Schwa (ə) sound as in about, item, gallop, and circus

The letter y sometimes substitutes for i and is a vowel when it does so. Likewise, the vowel w sometimes substitutes for u and is considered a vowel when it does so. However, y sometimes appears as the only vowel in a syllable, such as in gym and why, whereas w never appears as a vowel all by itself. When w acts as a vowel, it always follows a (as in paw), e (as in new), or o (as in grow).

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