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Consonants

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Consonants

In English, consonants can be distinguished by whether they are 'sounds' or 'letters'. Sometimes they overlap.

The meaning of 'consonant'

A consonant is a speech sound made by either completely or partially obstructing breath. This is done by creating contact between two articulators.

Articulators are vocal organs such as the tongue, lips, teeth, hard and soft palate. These are what we use to create and manipulate speech sounds.

List of consonants letters and examples

Here are the 24 consonant sounds, with examples:

  1. / p / as in pen, attempt, and top.

  2. / b / as in brain, abstract, and cab.

  3. / t / as in tell, realistic, and armpit.

  4. / d / as in dad, under, and bed.

  5. / tʃ / as in church, kitchen, and speech.

  6. / dʒ / as in Jordan, angel, and change.

  7. / k / as in kite, technical, and rock.

  8. / g / as in girl, finger, and gang.

  9. / f / as in photo, coffee, and laugh.

  10. / v / as in van, convince and of.

  11. / θ / as in think, athlete and month.

  12. / ð / as in this, brother and clothe.

  13. / s / as in sit, basic, and dance.

  14. / z / as in zebra, crazy / cousin, and watches.

  15. / ʃ / as in ship, pressure / nation / ocean, and wish.

  16. / ʒ / as in genre, casual / leisure / vision, and beige.

  17. / m / as in mother, common, and home.

  18. / n / as in need, dinner, and fun.

  19. / ŋ / used for the -ing form or sing.

  20. / h / as in hat, who and behave.

  21. / l / as in lion, help, and travel.

  22. / r / as in right, wrong, and car (standard American English pronunciation) .

  23. / w / as in wait / one, swim and quit.

  24. / j / as in yellow, cute, few and lay.

You may notice that certain consonants can be combined. For example:

ch is usually pronounced / tʃ /, which combines / t / and / ʃ / so chat = / tʃæt /.

Here's some trivia for you: in “Pacific Ocean” every c is pronounced differently: Pacific Ocean = [pəˈsɪfɪk ˈəʊʃən]. The reason this happens could be historical.

Consonants, examples of consonants, StudySmarterVowel and consonant sounds are produced differently. - freepik.com

How are consonant sounds made?

Consonants have three characteristics:

  1. Voicing
  2. Place of articulation
  3. Manner of articulation

Let's have a look at them all in more detail.

Voicing

Voicing refers to the activity of the vocal cords. The organs related to voicing are:

  • The vocal cords.

  • The glottis.

  • The larynx.

There are two types of voicing:

  • Voiceless - When the vocal folds are wide apart and not vibrating, consonants are voiceless. For example, the consonant sounds of / p /, / t / and / s /.
  • Voiced - When the vocal folds are close together and vibrating, consonants are voiced. For example, the consonant sounds of / b /, / d / and / z /.

You can feel when your vocal cords are producing 'voiced' consonants by putting your hand on your larynx (throat). Try it.

Can you feel the vibration?

Now try a voiceless consonant. Feel the difference?

Place of articulation

The place of articulation is where the airstream is obstructed to form consonant sounds. There are two types of articulators:

  1. The active articulators are the parts that you can move, like your tongue or your lips.

  2. The passive articulators are the immovable parts of your vocal tract that can be brought together, like the teeth or the palate.

These are the 8 'places of articulation' (with letters corresponding to the image below:

  • Bilabial sounds are produced when the upper and lower lips are fully in contact. The bilabial consonant sounds are / p, b, m /. (H)
  • Labiodentals are produced when the obstruction of the airstream is made by the top teeth touching the lower lip. The labiodental consonant sounds are / f / and / v /. (G)
  • Dental sounds are produced when the tip of the tongue is just behind the top teeth (on rare occasions it may protrude between the teeth, but not commonly). The dental consonant sounds are / θ / and / ð /. (F)
  • Alveolar sounds are produced by the tip of the tongue touching or approaching the alveolar ridge. The alveolar consonant sounds are / t, d, l, r, n, s, z /. (E)
  • Post-alveolar sounds are produced with the blade of the tongue approaching the hard palate. The post-alveolar consonant sounds are / ʃ / and / ʒ /. (D)
  • Palatal sounds are made a bit further back from an post-alveolar. The consonant sound / j / is in this category. (C)
  • Velar sounds are produced with the back of the tongue against the soft palate. The velar consonant sounds are / k, g, ŋ /. (B)
  • Glottals are made in the vocal folds. The glottal consonants are / h / and / ʔ /. (A)

Consonants, places of articulation diagram, StudySmarterThe eight places of articulation range from the lips to the glottis. - Wikimedia Commons.

Remember: practise all the time. Help yourself by putting your finger or your hand on the throat, close your eyes and focus on the movement of the tongue. In this way, you will understand more which places of articulation you are using.

Use the same technique for the manner of articulation to understand how it works when you pronounce a word.

Manner of articulation

The manner of articulation refers to how the airstream is obstructed to produce consonant sounds. There are six different 'manners of articulation':

  • Stops are produced by blocking the airstream completely and then releasing it in a burst. The stop consonant sounds are / p, b, t, k, g /.
  • Fricative sounds are produced by a partial obstruction of the airstream. The airstream coming out is turbulent, and this turbulence causes friction. That's why they are called fricatives. The fricative consonant sounds are / f, v, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, θ, ð, h /.
  • Affricates start with the symbol of a stop sound and end with a fricative sound. In this case, the release of the air is done progressively, producing friction. The affricate consonant sounds are / tʃ, ts, dʒ, ds /.
  • Nasals are sounds produced when the air is redirected up through the nasal cavity. The nasal consonant sounds are / m, n, ŋ /.
  • Liquid sounds are made when the airstream passes through the mouth in a fluid manner. The liquid consonants are / l / and / r /.
  • Approximants are sounds made without any kind of friction or contact. The approximant consonants are / w / and / j /.

Differences between vowels and consonants

Consonants are speech sounds produced by the obstruction or constriction of the airflow in the vocal tract, involving either the lips, the glottis, or the tongue.

Vowels are speech sounds made when the mouth is open and the air is expelled freely through the vocal tract without being blocked in the mouth or larynx.

Let's summarise:

  • A consonant sound is produced with a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract.
  • A vowel is produced with a complete opening of the vocal tract.
  • Consonants are described according to voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation.
  • Vowels are described according to height, frontness or backness, and roundness.
  • There are 24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds in English.

Examples of vowels and consonants

Now play a game to understand how to pronounce a vowel and how to pronounce a consonant:

  • Make the vowel sound / u /. While you are making the sound, move your lips and your jaw. Even though there is a movement of the articulators, you can sustain the same sound. Do the same exercise with some other vowel sounds.
  • Now try to make the consonant sound / b / without moving your mouth, lips, or tongue. It is impossible to do because to pronounce a consonant, you have to move the articulators.

Consonants - key takeaways

  • A consonant is a speech sound made with a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract.
  • Consonant sounds are described according to three criteria: voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation.
  • There are eight places of articulation: bilabial, labiodental, interdental, alveolar, post-alveolar, palatal, velar, and glottal.
  • There are six manners of articulation: stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, liquids, and approximants.

Frequently Asked Questions about Consonants

A consonant is a speech sound, articulated with a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract.

The sounds 'p' and 'l' in 'play'.

Consonants are speech sounds produced by the obstruction of the airflow in the vocal tract. Vowels are speech sounds made when the mouth is open and the air is expelled freely through the vocal tract.

There are several types of consonant sound and you can define them based on voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation. 

The following letters of the alphabet are consonant sounds:

b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

Final Consonants Quiz

Question

How many consonant sounds are there in the word doctor?

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Answer

3.

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How many consonant sounds are there in the word utopia?


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Answer

 3.


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Question

Which phoneme is considered both a vowel sound and a consonant sound?


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Answer


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How many consonants are there in the alphabet?


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Answer

 21.


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How many consonant sounds are there?



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Answer

24.


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What type of consonant is the phoneme /k/?


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Answer

Voiceless velar plosive.

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What type of consonant is the phoneme /v/?


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Answer

Voiced labiodental fricative. 


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What type of consonant is the phoneme /ŋ/?


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Answer

Voiced velar nasal.


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What type of consonant is the phoneme /ð/?


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Answer

Voiced dental fricative.

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Question

Which phoneme represents the consonants “th” in the word health?


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Answer

/θ/.


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The articulators can be passive or active based on their movement. TRUE OR FALSE.


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Answer

TRUE.

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A voiceless sound is produced when the vocal folds vibrate. TRUE OR FALSE.


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Answer

FALSE: A voiceless sound is produced when the vocal folds don’t vibrate.

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Question

The sounds /l/ and /r/ are nasal sounds. TRUE OR FALSE


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Answer

FALSE: Both /l/ and /r/ are liquids.


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The manner of articulation refers to how a consonant is produced. TRUE OR FALSE.


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Answer

TRUE.

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Alveolar sounds are made in the vocal folds. TRUE OR FALSE.


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Answer

FALSE: The alveolar sounds are produced by the tip of the tongue touching or approaching the alveolar ridge. 


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Question

What is a consonant?

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Answer

A speech sound created by obstructing the airflow.

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Question

What are articulators?

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Answer

Vocal organs that are used to create different consonant sounds. These include: lips, teeth, tongue, hard palate and soft palate.

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Question

What are the three characteristics of consonant sounds?

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Answer

  • Voicing
  • Manner of articulation
  • Place of articulation

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Question

Which of these is not a place of articulation?

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Answer

approximant

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Question

How many different manners of articulation are there?

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Answer

6

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60%

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