English phonology

Like many other languages, English has wide variation in pronunciation, both historically and from dialect to dialect. In general, however, the regional dialects of English share a largely similar (but not identical) phonological system.

Phonological analysis of English often concentrates on or uses, as a reference point, one or more of the prestige or standard accents, such as Received Pronunciation for England, General American for the United States, and General Australian for Australia. Nevertheless, many other dialects of English are spoken, which have developed independently from these standardized accents, particularly regional dialects. Information about these standardized accents functions only as a limited guide to all of English phonology, which one can later expand upon once one becomes more familiar with some of the many other dialects of English that are spoken.


A phoneme of a language or dialect is an abstraction of a speech sound or of a group of different sounds which are all perceived to have the same function by speakers of that particular language or dialect. For example, the English word "through" consists of three phonemes: the initial "th" sound, the "r" sound, and an "oo" vowel sound. Notice that the phonemes in this and many other English words do not always correspond directly to the letters used to spell them (English orthography is not as strongly phonemic as that of many other languages).

The number and distribution of phonemes in English vary from dialect to dialect, and also depend on the interpretation of the individual researcher. The number of consonant phonemes is generally put at 24 (or slightly more). The number of vowels is subject to greater variation; in the system presented on this page there are 20 vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation, 14–16 in General American and 20–21 in Australian English (CITE). The pronunciation keys used in dictionaries generally contain a slightly greater number of symbols than this, to take account of certain sounds used in foreign words and certain noticeable distinctions that may not be—strictly speaking—phonemic.


The following table shows the 24 consonant phonemes found in most dialects of English, in addition to /x/, whose distribution is more limited. Fortis consonants are always voiceless, aspirated in syllable onset (except in clusters with /s/), and usually also sometimes glottalized to some extent in syllable coda, while lenis consonants are always unaspirated and un-glottalized, and generally partially or fully voiced.

Labial Dental,
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m1 n1 ŋ
fortis p t t͡ʃ k
lenis b d d͡ʒ ɡ
Fricative sibilant fortis s ʃ
lenis z ʒ
non-sibilant fortis f θ (x)2 h
lenis v ð
Approximant l1 r5 j4 w3
  1. Most varieties of English have syllabic consonants in some words, principally [l̩, m̩, n̩], for example at the end of bottle, rhythm and button. In such cases, no phonetic vowel is pronounced between the last two consonants, and the last consonant forms a syllable on its own. Syllabic consonants are generally transcribed with a vertical line under the consonant letter, so that phonetic transcription of bottle would be [ˈbɒtl̩], [ˈbɑɾl̩], or [ˈbɔɾl̩] in RP, GA, and Australian respectively, and for button [ˈbʌʔn̩]. In theory, such consonants could be analysed as individual phonemes. However, this would add several extra consonant phonemes to the inventory for English,[1] and phonologists prefer to identify syllabic nasals and liquids phonemically as C/.[2][3] Thus button is phonemically /ˈbʌtən/ or /ˈbɐtən/ and bottle is phonemically /ˈbɒtəl/, /ˈbɑtəl/, or /ˈbɔtəl/.
  2. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is mainly used in Scottish and Hiberno-English; words with /x/ in Scottish accents tend to be pronounced with /k/ in other dialects. The velar fricative sometimes appears in recent loanwords such as chutzpah. Many speakers of White South African English realize /x/ as uvular [χ].[4]
  3. In some conservative accents in Scotland, Ireland, the southern United States, and New England, the digraph wh in words like which and whine represents a voiceless w sound [ʍ], a voiceless labiovelar fricative[5][6][7] or approximant,[8] which contrasts with the voiced w of witch and wine. In most dialects, this sound is lost, and is pronounced as a voiced w (the winewhine merger). Phonemically this sound is analysed as a consonant cluster /hw/, rather than as a separate phoneme */ʍ/. Thus which and whine are transcribed phonemically as /hwɪtʃ/ and /hwaɪn/. This does not mean that such speakers actually pronounce [h] followed by [w]: the phonemic transcription /hw/ is simply a convenient way of representing a single sound [ʍ] without analysing such dialects as having an extra phoneme.[9]
  4. Similarly, the sound at the beginning of huge in most accents is a voiceless palatal fricative [ç], but this is analysed phonemically as the consonant cluster /hj/ so that huge is transcribed /hjuːdʒ/. As with /hw/, this does not mean that speakers pronounce [h] followed by [j]; the phonemic transcription /hj/ is simply a convenient way of representing the single sound [ç].[9] The yod-dropping found in Norfolk dialect means that the traditional Norfolk pronunciation of huge is [hʊudʒ] and not [çuːdʒ].
  5. This phoneme is conventionally transcribed with the basic Latin letter r (the IPA symbol for the alveolar trill), even though its pronunciation is usually a postalveolar approximant [ɹ̠]. The trill does exist but is rare, being found in some dialects in Scotland, and sporadically in Received Pronunciation word-initially in highly emphatic speech.
  6. The postalveolar consonants /tʃ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ, r/ are also often slightly labialized: [tʃʷ dʒʷ ʃʷ ʒʷ ɹ̠ʷ].

Consonant examples

The following table shows typical examples of the occurrence of the above consonant phonemes in words.

Fortis Lenis
/p/ pit /b/ bit
/t/ tin /d/ din
/k/ cut /ɡ/ gut
// cheap // jeep
/f/ fat /v/ vat
/θ/ thigh /ð/ thy
/s/ sap /z/ zap
/ʃ/ dilution /ʒ/ delusion
/x/ loch
/h/ ham
/m/ map
/n/ thin
/ŋ/ thing
/j/ yes
/w/ we
/r/ run
/l/ left



In most dialects, the fortis stops and affricate /p, t, tʃ, k/ have various different allophones, and are distinguished from the lenis stops and affricate /b, d, dʒ, ɡ/ by several phonetic features.[13]


English has a particularly large number of vowel phonemes, and on top of that the vowels of English differ considerably between dialects. Because of this, corresponding vowels may be transcribed with various symbols depending on the dialect under consideration. When considering English as a whole, lexical sets are often used, each named by a word containing the vowel or vowels in question. For example, the LOT set consists of words which, like lot, have /ɒ/ in Received Pronunciation and /ɑ/ in General American. The "LOT vowel" then refers to the vowel that appears in those words in whichever dialect is being considered, or (at a greater level of abstraction) to a diaphoneme which transcends all dialects. A commonly used system of lexical sets, due to John C. Wells, is presented below; for each set, the corresponding phonemes are given for RP (first column) and General American (second column), using the notation that will be used on this page.

BATH ɑː æ
NURSE ɜː(r) ɜːr
START ɑː(r) ɑːr
NORTH ɔː(r) ɔːr
FORCE ɔːr, oʊr
NEAR ɪə(r) ɪr
SQUARE eə(r) ɛr
CURE ʊə(r) ʊr
LETTER ə(r) ər

For a table that shows the pronunciations of these vowels in a wider range of English dialects, see IPA chart for English dialects.

The following tables show the vowel phonemes of three standard varieties of English. The notation system used here for Received Pronunciation (RP) is fairly standard; the others less so. For different ways of transcribing General American, see § Transcription variants below. The feature descriptions given here (front, close, etc.) are abstracted somewhat; the actual pronunciations of these vowels are somewhat more accurately conveyed by the IPA symbols used (see Vowel for a chart indicating the meanings of these symbols; though note also the points listed below the following tables).

Received Pronunciation[25]
Front Central Back
long short long short long short
Close ɪ ʊ
Mid e1 ɜː ə ɔː
Open æ ʌ2 ɑː ɒ
Diphthongs     ɔɪ     əʊ
ɪə     ʊə
Triphthongs (eɪə   aɪə   ɔɪə   aʊə   əʊə)

General American
Front Central Back
long short long short long short
Close ɪ ʊ
Mid ɛ (ɜː) ə ɔː
Open æ (ʌ)2 ɑː
Diphthongs     ɔɪ    
(ɪə)   ()

Australian English
Front Central Back
long short long short long short
Close ɪ ʉː ʊ
Mid e ɜː ə ɔ
Open æː æ ɐː ɐ
Diphthongs æɪ   ɑe     æɔ   əʉ
ɪə   (ʉə)

  1. RP transcriptions use /e/ rather than /ɛ/ largely for convenience and historical tradition; it does not necessarily represent a different sound from the General American phoneme, although the RP vowel may be described as somewhat less open than the American one.[26]
  2. Although the notation /ʌ/ is used for the vowel of STRUT in RP and GenAm, the actual pronunciation is closer to a near-open central vowel [ɐ]. The symbol ʌ continues to be used for reasons of tradition (it was historically a back vowel) and because it is still back in other varieties.[27]

The differences between these tables can be explained as follows:

Other points to be noted are these:

Allophones of vowels

Listed here are some of the significant cases of allophony of vowels found within standard English dialects.

Unstressed syllables

For more information, see Stress and vowel reduction in English.

Unstressed syllables in English may contain almost any vowel, but there are certain sounds—characterized by central position and weakness—that are particularly often found as the nuclei of syllables of this type. These include:

Vowel reduction in unstressed syllables is a significant feature of English. Syllables of the types listed above often correspond to a syllable containing a different vowel ("full vowel") used in other forms of the same morpheme where that syllable is stressed. For example, the first o in photograph, being stressed, is pronounced with the GOAT vowel, but in photography, where it is unstressed, it is reduced to schwa. Also, certain common words (a, an, of, for, etc.) are pronounced with a schwa when they are unstressed, although they have different vowels when they are in a stressed position (see Weak and strong forms in English).

Some unstressed syllables, however, retain full (unreduced) vowels, i.e. vowels other than those listed above. Examples are the /æ/ in ambition and the /aɪ/ in finite. Some phonologists regard such syllables as not being fully unstressed (they may describe them as having tertiary stress); some dictionaries have marked such syllables as having secondary stress. However linguists such as Ladefoged[43] and Bolinger (1986) regard this as a difference purely of vowel quality and not of stress,[44] and thus argue that vowel reduction itself is phonemic in English. Examples of words where vowel reduction seems to be distinctive for some speakers[45] include chickaree vs. chicory (the latter has the reduced vowel of HAPPY, whereas the former has the FLEECE vowel without reduction), and Pharaoh vs. farrow (both have the GOAT vowel, but in the latter word it may reduce to [ɵ]).

Transcription variants

The choice of which symbols to use for phonemic transcriptions may reflect theoretical assumptions or claims on the part of the transcriber. English "tense" and "lax" vowels are distinguished by a synergy of features, such as height, length, and contour (monophthong vs. diphthong); different traditions in the linguistic literature emphasize different features. For example, if the primary feature is thought to be vowel height, then the non-reduced vowels of General American English may be represented according to the adjacent table. If, on the other hand, vowel length is considered to be the deciding factor, the symbols in the table to the below and center may be chosen (this convention has sometimes been used because the publisher did not have IPA fonts available, though that is seldom an issue any longer.) The rightmost table lists the corresponding lexical sets.

General American full vowels,
vowel height distinctive
i u
ɪ ʊ
e ɚ o
ɛ ʌ ɔ
æ ɑ
General American full vowels,
vowel length distinctive
i u
e ʌ o
Lexical sets representing
General American full vowels

If vowel transition is taken to be paramount, then the chart may look like one of these:

General American full vowels,
vowel contour distinctive
ij uw
i u
ər ow
e ə o
æ ɑ
General American full vowels,
vowel contour distinctive
ɪi̯ ʊu̯
ɪ ʊ
ɛɪ̯ ɝɹ ɔʊ̯
ɛ ʌ ɔ
æ ɑ

(The transcriber at left assumes that there is no phonemic distinction between semivowels and the high segments of diphthongs, so that /ej/ is equivalent to /eɪ̯/.)

Many linguists combine more than one of these features in their transcriptions, suggesting they consider the phonemic differences to be more complex than a single feature.

General American full vowels,
height & length distinctive
ɪ ʊ
ɛ ʌ ɔ
æ ɑː
General American full vowels,
height & contour distinctive
ij uw
ɪ ʊ
ɜr ow
ɛ ʌ ɔ
æ ɑ

Lexical stress

Lexical stress is phonemic in English. For example, the noun increase and the verb increase are distinguished by the positioning of the stress on the first syllable in the former, and on the second syllable in the latter. (See initial-stress-derived noun.) Stressed syllables in English are louder than non-stressed syllables, as well as being longer and having a higher pitch.

In traditional approaches, in any English word consisting of more than one syllable, each syllable is ascribed one of three degrees of stress: primary, secondary or unstressed. Ordinarily, in each such word there will be exactly one syllable with primary stress, possibly one syllable having secondary stress, and the remainder are unstressed. For example, the word amazing has primary stress on the second syllable, while the first and third syllables are unstressed, whereas the word organization has primary stress on the fourth syllable, secondary stress on the first, and the second, third and fifth unstressed. This is often shown in pronunciation keys using the IPA symbols for primary and secondary stress (which are ˈ and ˌ respectively), placed before the syllables to which they apply. The two words just given may therefore be represented (in RP) as /əˈmeɪzɪŋ/ and /ˌɔːɡənaɪˈzeɪʃən/.

Some analysts identify an additional level of stress (tertiary stress). This is generally ascribed to syllables that are pronounced with less force than those with secondary stress, but nonetheless contain a "full" or "unreduced" vowel (vowels that are considered to be reduced are listed under Vowels in unstressed syllables § Notes above). Hence the third syllable of organization, if pronounced with /aɪ/ as shown above (rather than being reduced to /ɪ/ or /ə/), might be said to have tertiary stress. (The precise identification of secondary and tertiary stress differs between analyses; dictionaries do not generally show tertiary stress, although some have taken the approach of marking all syllables with unreduced vowels as having at least secondary stress.)

In some analyses, then, the concept of lexical stress may become conflated with that of vowel reduction. An approach which attempts to separate these two is provided by Peter Ladefoged, who states that it is possible to describe English with only one degree of stress, as long as unstressed syllables are phonemically distinguished for vowel reduction.[46] In this approach, the distinction between primary and secondary stress is regarded as a phonetic or prosodic detail rather than a phonemic feature – primary stress is seen as an example of the predictable "tonic" stress that falls on the final stressed syllable of a prosodic unit. For more details of this analysis, see Stress and vowel reduction in English.

For stress as a prosodic feature (emphasis of particular words within utterances), see § Prosodic stress below.


Phonotactics is the study of the sequences of phonemes that occur in languages and the sound structures that they form. In this study it is usual to represent consonants in general with the letter C and vowels with the letter V, so that a syllable such as 'be' is described as having CV structure. The IPA symbol used to show a division between syllables is the dot [.]. Syllabification is the process of dividing continuous speech into discrete syllables, a process in which the position of a syllable division is not always easy to decide upon.

Most languages of the world syllabify CVCV and CVCCV sequences as /CV.CV/ and /CVC.CV/ or /CV.CCV/, with consonants preferentially acting as the onset of a syllable containing the following vowel. According to one view, English is unusual in this regard, in that stressed syllables attract following consonants, so that ˈCVCV and ˈCVCCV syllabify as /ˈCVC.V/ and /ˈCVCC.V/, as long as the consonant cluster CC is a possible syllable coda; in addition, /r/ preferentially syllabifies with the preceding vowel even when both syllables are unstressed, so that CVrV occurs as /CVr.V/. This is the analysis used in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.[47] However, this view is not widely accepted, as explained in the following section.

Syllable structure

The syllable structure in English is (C)3V(C)5, with a near maximal example being strengths (/strɛŋkθs/, although it can be pronounced /strɛŋθs/).[48] From the phonetic point of view, the analysis of syllable structures is a complex task: because of widespread occurrences of articulatory overlap, English speakers rarely produce an audible release of individual consonants in consonant clusters.[49] This coarticulation can lead to articulatory gestures that seem very much like deletions or complete assimilations. For example, hundred pounds may sound like [hʌndɹɪb pʰaʊndz] and jumped back (in slow speech, [dʒʌmptbæk]) may sound like [dʒʌmpbæk], but X-ray[50] and electropalatographic [51][52][53] studies demonstrate that inaudible and possibly weakened contacts or lingual gestures may still be made. Thus the second /d/ in hundred pounds does not entirely assimilate to a labial place of articulation, rather the labial gesture co-occurs with the alveolar one; the "missing" [t] in jumped back may still be articulated, though not heard.

Division into syllables is a difficult area, and different theories have been proposed. A widely accepted approach is the maximal onsets principle:[54] this states that, subject to certain constraints, any consonants in between vowels should be assigned to the following syllable. Thus the word leaving should be divided /ˈliː.vɪŋ/ rather than */ˈliːv.ɪŋ/, and hasty is /ˈheɪ.sti/ rather than */ˈheɪs.ti/ or */ˈheɪst.i/. However, when such a division results in an onset cluster which is not allowed in English, the division must respect this. Thus if the word extra were divided */ˈe.kstrə/ the resulting onset of the second syllable would be /kstr/, a cluster which does not occur in English. The division /ˈek.strə/ is therefore preferred. If assigning a consonant or consonants to the following syllable would result in the preceding syllable ending in an unreduced short vowel, this is avoided. Thus the word comma should be divided /ˈkɒm.ə/ and not */ˈkɒ.mə/, even though the latter division gives the maximal onset to the following syllable, because English syllables do not end in /ɒ/.

In some cases, no solution is completely satisfactory: for example, in British English (RP) the word hurry could be divided /ˈhʌ.ri/ or /ˈhʌr.i/, but the former would result in an analysis with a syllable-final /ʌ/ (which is held to be non-occurring) while the latter would result in a syllable final /r/ (which is said not to occur in this accent). Some phonologists have suggested a compromise analysis where the consonant in the middle belongs to both syllables, and is described as ambisyllabic.[55][56] In this way, it is possible to suggest an analysis of hurry which comprises the syllables /hʌr/ and /ri/, the medial /r/ being ambisyllabic. Where the division coincides with a word boundary, or the boundary between elements of a compound word, it is not usual in the case of dictionaries to insist on the maximal onsets principle in a way that divides words in a counter-intuitive way; thus the word hardware would be divided /ˈhɑː.dweə/ by the M.O.P., but dictionaries prefer the division /ˈhɑːd.weə/.[57][58][59]

In the approach used by the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, Wells[47] claims that consonants syllabify with the preceding rather than following vowel when the preceding vowel is the nucleus of a more salient syllable, with stressed syllables being the most salient, reduced syllables the least, and full unstressed vowels ("secondary stress") intermediate. But there are lexical differences as well, frequently but not exclusively with compound words. For example, in dolphin and selfish, Wells argues that the stressed syllable ends in /lf/, but in shellfish, the /f/ belongs with the following syllable: /ˈdɒlf.ɪn/, /ˈself.ɪʃ/[ˈdɒɫfɨn], [ˈseɫfɨʃ], but /ˈʃel.fɪʃ/[ˈʃeɫˑfɪʃ], where the /l/ is a little longer and the /ɪ/ is not reduced. Similarly, in toe-strap Wells argues that the second /t/ is a full plosive, as usual in syllable onset, whereas in toast-rack the second /t/ is in many dialects reduced to the unreleased allophone it takes in syllable codas, or even elided: /ˈtoʊ.stræp/, /ˈtoʊst.ræk/[ˈtʰoˑʊstɹæp], [ˈtʰoʊs(t̚)ɹʷæk]; likewise nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/[ˈnʌɪtɹ̥ʷeɪt] with a voiceless /r/ (and for some people an affricated tr as in tree), vs night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/[ˈnʌɪt̚ɹʷeɪt] with a voiced /r/. Cues of syllable boundaries include aspiration of syllable onsets and (in the US) flapping of coda /t, d/ (a tease /ə.ˈtiːz/[əˈtʰiːz] vs. at ease /æt.ˈiːz/[æɾˈiːz]), epenthetic stops like [t] in syllable codas (fence /ˈfens/[ˈfents] but inside /ɪn.ˈsaɪd/[ɪnˈsaɪd]), and r-colored vowels when the /r/ is in the coda vs. labialization when it is in the onset (key-ring /ˈkiː.rɪŋ/[ˈkʰiːɹʷɪŋ] but fearing /ˈfiːr.ɪŋ/[ˈfɪəɹɪŋ]).


The following can occur as the onset:

All single consonant phonemes except /ŋ/  
Stop plus approximant other than /ɪ/:

/pl/, /bl/, /kl/, /ɡl/, /pr/, /br/, /tr/,[1] /dr/,[1] /kr/, /ɡr/, /tw/, /dw/, /ɡw/, /kw/, /pw/

play, blood, clean, glove, prize, bring, tree,[1] dream,[1] crowd, green, twin, dwarf, language, quick, puissance
Voiceless fricative or /v/ plus approximant other than /ɪ/:[2]

/fl/, /sl/, /θl/,[3] /fr/, /θr/, /ʃr/, /hw/,[4] /sw/, /θw/, /vw/

floor, sleep, thlipsis,[3] friend, three, shrimp, what,[4] swing, thwart, reservoir
Consonant plus /ɪ/ (before /uː/ or its modified/reduced forms[5]):

/pj/, /bj/, /tj/,[5] /dj/,[5] /kj/, /aɪ/, /mj/, /nj/,[5] /fj/, /vj/, /θj/,[5] /sj/,[5] /zj/,[5] /hj/, /lj/[5]

pure, beautiful, tube,[5] during,[5] cute, argue, music, new,[5] few, view, thew,[5] suit,[5] Zeus,[5] huge, lurid[5]
/s/ plus voiceless stop:[6]

/sp/, /st/, /sk/

speak, stop, skill
/s/ plus nasal other than /ŋ/:[6]

/sm/, /sn/

smile, snow
/s/ plus voiceless fricative:[3]

/sf/, /sθ/

sphere, sthenic
/s/ plus voiceless stop plus approximant:[6]

/spl/, /skl/,[3] /spr/, /str/, /skr/, /skw/, /smj/, /spj/, /stj/,[5] /skj/

split, sclera, spring, street, scream, square, smew, spew, student,[5] skewer
/s/ plus voiceless fricative plus approximant:[3]




  1. For certain speakers, /tr/ and /dr/ tend to affricate, so that tree resembles "chree", and dream resembles "jream".[60][61][62] This is sometimes transcribed as [tʃr] and [dʒr] respectively, but the pronunciation varies and may, for example, be closer to [tʂ] and [dʐ][63] or with a fricative release similar in quality to the rhotic, i.e. [tɹ̝̊ɹ̥], [dɹ̝ɹ], or [tʂɻ], [dʐɻ].
  2. Some northern and insular Scottish dialects, particularly in the Shetlands, preserve onsets such as /ɡn/ (as in gnaw), /kn/ (as in knock), and /wr/ or /vr/ (as in write).[64]
  3. Words beginning in unusual consonant clusters that originated in Latinized Greek loanwords tend to drop the first phoneme, as in */bd/, */fθ/, */ɡn/, */hr/, */kn/, */ks/, */kt/, */kθ/, */mn/, */pn/, */ps/, */pt/, */tm/, and */θm/, which have become /d/ (bdellium), /θ/ (phthisis), /n/ (gnome), /r/ (rhythm), /n/ (cnidoblast), /z/ (xylophone), /t/ (ctenophore), /θ/ (chthonic), /n/ (mnemonic), /n/ (pneumonia), /s/ (psychology), /t/ (pterodactyl), /m/ (tmesis), and /m/ (asthma). However, the onsets /sf/, /sfr/, /skl/, /sθ/, and /θl/ have remained intact.
  4. The onset /hw/ is simplified to /w/ in the majority of dialects (wine–whine merger).
  5. Clusters ending /j/ typically occur before /uː/ and before the CURE vowel (General American /ʊr/, RP /ʊə/); they may also come before the reduced form /ʊ/ (as in argument) or even /ər/ (in the American pronunciation of figure). There is an ongoing sound change (yod-dropping) by which /ɪ/ as the final consonant in a cluster is being lost. In RP, words with /sj/ and /lj/ can usually be pronounced with or without this sound, e.g. [suːt] or [sjuːt]. For some speakers of English, including some British speakers, the sound change is more advanced and so, for example, General American does not contain the onsets /tj/, /dj/, /nj/, /θj/, /sj/, /stj/, /zj/, or /lj/. Words that would otherwise begin in these onsets drop the /ɪ/: e.g. tube (/tuːb/), during (/ˈdʊrɪŋ/), new (/nuː/), Thule (/ˈθuːliː/), suit (/suːt/), student (/ˈstuːdənt/), Zeus (/zuːs/), lurid (/ˈlʊrɪd/). In some dialects, such Welsh English, /ɪ/ may occur in more combinations; for example in /tʃj/ (chew), /dʒj/ (Jew), /ʃj/ (sure), and /slj/ (slew).
  6. Many clusters beginning with /ʃ/ and paralleling native clusters beginning with /s/ are found initially in German and Yiddish loanwords, such as /ʃl/, /ʃp/, /ʃt/, /ʃm/, /ʃn/, /ʃpr/, /ʃtr/ (in words such as schlep, spiel, shtick, schmuck, schnapps, Shprintzen's, strudel). /ʃw/ is found initially in the Hebrew loanword schwa. Before /r/ however, the native cluster is /ʃr/. The opposite cluster /sr/ is found in loanwords such as Sri Lanka, but this can be nativized by changing it to /ʃr/.
Other onsets

Certain English onsets appear only in contractions: e.g. /zbl/ ('sblood), and /zw/ or /dzw/ ('swounds or 'dswounds). Some, such as /pʃ/ (pshaw), /fw/ (fwoosh), or /vr/ (vroom), can occur in interjections. An archaic voiceless fricative plus nasal exists, /fn/ (fnese), as does an archaic /snj/ (snew).

Several additional onsets occur in loan words (with varying degrees of anglicization) such as /bw/ (bwana), /mw/ (moiré), /nw/ (noire), /tsw/ (zwitterion), /zw/ (zwieback), /dv/ (Dvorak), /kv/ (kvetch), /ʃv/ (schvartze), /tv/ (Tver), /tsv/ (Zwickau), /kdʒ/ (Kjell), /kʃ/ (Kshatriya), /tl/ (Tlaloc), /vl/ (Vladimir), /zl/ (zloty), /tsk/ (Tskhinvali), /hm/ (Hmong), and /km/ (Khmer).

Some clusters of this type can be converted to regular English phonotactics by simplifying the cluster: e.g. /(d)z/ (dziggetai), /(h)r/ (Hrolf), /kr(w)/ (croissant), /(ŋ)w/ (Nguyen), /(p)f/ (pfennig), /(f)θ/ (phthalic), /(t)s/ (tsunami), /(ǃ)k/ (!kung), and /k(ǁ)/ (Xhosa).

Others can be replaced by native clusters differing only in voice: /zb ~ sp/ (sbirro), and /zɡr ~ skr/ (sgraffito).


The following can occur as the nucleus:


Most (in theory, all) of the following except those that end with /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ or /dʒ/ can be extended with /s/ or /z/ representing the morpheme -s/-z. Similarly, most (in theory, all) of the following except those that end with /t/ or /d/ can be extended with /t/ or /d/ representing the morpheme -t/-d.

Wells (1990) argues that a variety of syllable codas are possible in English, even /ntr, ndr/ in words like entry /ˈɛntr.ɪ/ and sundry /ˈsʌndr.ɪ/, with /tr, dr/ being treated as affricates along the lines of /tʃ, dʒ/. He argues that the traditional assumption that pre-vocalic consonants form a syllable with the following vowel is due to the influence of languages like French and Latin, where syllable structure is CVC.CVC regardless of stress placement. Disregarding such contentious cases, which do not occur at the ends of words, the following sequences can occur as the coda:

The single consonant phonemes except /h/, /w/, /ɪ/ and, in non-rhotic varieties, /r/  
Lateral approximant plus stop or affricate: /lp/, /lb/, /lt/, /ld/, /ltʃ/, /ldʒ/, /lk/ help, bulb, belt, hold, belch, indulge, milk
In rhotic varieties, /r/ plus stop or affricate: /rp/, /rb/, /rt/, /rd/, /rtʃ/, /rdʒ/, /rk/, /rɡ/ harp, orb, fort, beard, arch, large, mark, morgue
Lateral approximant + fricative: /lf/, /lv/, /lθ/, /ls/, /lʃ/ golf, solve, wealth, else, Welsh
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + fricative: /rf/, /rv/, /rθ/, /rs/, /rz/, /rʃ/ dwarf, carve, north, force, Mars, marsh
Lateral approximant + nasal: /lm/, /ln/ film, kiln
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + nasal or lateral: /rm/, /rn/, /rl/ arm, born, snarl
Nasal + homorganic stop or affricate: /mp/, /nt/, /nd/, /ntʃ/, /ndʒ/, /ŋk/ jump, tent, end, lunch, lounge, pink
Nasal + fricative: /mf/, /mθ/, /nθ/, /ns/, /nz/, /ŋθ/ in some varieties triumph, warmth, month, prince, bronze, length
Voiceless fricative plus voiceless stop: /ft/, /sp/, /st/, /sk/ left, crisp, lost, ask
Two voiceless fricatives: /fθ/ fifth
Two voiceless stops: /pt/, /kt/ opt, act
Stop plus voiceless fricative: /pθ/, /ps/, /tθ/, /ts/, /dθ/, /ks/ depth, lapse, eighth, klutz, width, box
Lateral approximant + two consonants: /lpt/, /lps/, /lfθ/, /lts/, /lst/, /lkt/, /lks/ sculpt, alps, twelfth, waltz, whilst, mulct, calx
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + two consonants: /rmθ/, /rpt/, /rps/, /rts/, /rst/, /rkt/ warmth, excerpt, corpse, quartz, horst, infarct
Nasal + homorganic stop + stop or fricative: /mpt/, /mps/, /ndθ/, /ŋkt/, /ŋks/, /ŋkθ/ in some varieties prompt, glimpse, thousandth, distinct, jinx, length
Three obstruents: /ksθ/, /kst/ sixth, next

Note: For some speakers, a fricative before /θ/ is elided so that these never appear phonetically: /fɪfθ/ becomes [fɪθ], /sɪksθ/ becomes [sɪkθ], /twɛlfθ/ becomes [twɛɫθ].

Syllable-level rules

Word-level rules


The prosodic features of English – stress, rhythm, and intonation – can be described as follows.

Prosodic stress

Prosodic stress is extra stress given to words or syllables when they appear in certain positions in an utterance, or when they receive special emphasis.

According to Ladefoged's analysis (as referred to under Lexical stress § Notes above), English normally has prosodic stress on the final stressed syllable in an intonation unit. This is said to be the origin of the distinction traditionally made at the lexical level between primary and secondary stress: when a word like admiration (traditionally transcribed as something like /ˌædmɨˈreɪʃən/) is spoken in isolation, or at the end of a sentence, the syllable ra (the final stressed syllable) is pronounced with greater force than the syllable ad, although when the word is not pronounced with this final intonation there may be no difference between the levels of stress of these two syllables.

Prosodic stress can shift for various pragmatic functions, such as focus or contrast. For instance, in the dialogue Is it brunch tomorrow? No, it's dinner tomorrow, the extra stress shifts from the last stressed syllable of the sentence, tomorrow, to the last stressed syllable of the emphasized word, dinner.

Grammatical function words are usually prosodically unstressed, although they can acquire stress when emphasized (as in Did you find the cat? Well, I found a cat). Many English function words have distinct strong and weak pronunciations; for example, the word a in the last example is pronounced /ej/, while the more common unstressed a is pronounced /ə/. See Weak and strong forms in English.


English is claimed to be a stress-timed language. That is, stressed syllables tend to appear with a more or less regular rhythm, while non-stressed syllables are shortened to accommodate this. For example, in the sentence One make of car is better than another, the syllables one, make, car, bett- and -noth- will be stressed and relatively long, while the other syllables will be considerably shorter. The theory of stress-timing predicts that each of the three unstressed syllables in between bett- and -noth- will be shorter than the syllable of between make and car, because three syllables must fit into the same amount of time as that available for of. However, it should not be assumed that all varieties of English are stress-timed in this way. The English spoken in the West Indies,[67] in Africa[68] and in India[69] are probably better characterized as syllable-timed, though the lack of an agreed scientific test for categorizing an accent or language as stress-timed or syllable-timed may lead one to doubt the value of such a characterization.[70]


Phonological contrasts in intonation can be said to be found in three different and independent domains. In the work of Halliday[71] the following names are proposed:

These terms ("the Three Ts") have been used in more recent work,[72][73] though they have been criticized for being difficult to remember.[74] American systems such as ToBI also identify contrasts involving boundaries between intonation phrases (Halliday's tonality), placement of pitch accent (tonicity), and choice of tone or tones associated with the pitch accent (tone).

Example of phonological contrast involving placement of intonation unit boundaries (boundary marked by |):

a) Those who ran quickly | escaped. (the only people who escaped were those who ran quickly)
b) Those who ran | quickly escaped. (the people who ran escaped quickly)

Example of phonological contrast involving placement of tonic syllable (marked by capital letters):

a) I have plans to LEAVE. (= I am planning to leave)
b) I have PLANS to leave. (= I have some drawings to leave)

Example of phonological contrast (British English) involving choice of tone (\ = falling tone, \/ = fall-rise tone)

a) She didn't break the record because of the \ WIND. (= she did not break the record, because the wind held her up)
b) She didn't break the record because of the \/ WIND. (= she did break the record, but not because of the wind)

It has been frequently claimed that there is a contrast involving tone between wh-questions and yes/no questions, the former being said to have falling tone (e.g. "Where did you \PUT it?") and the latter a rising tone (e.g. "Are you going /OUT?"), though studies of spontaneous speech have shown frequent exceptions to this rule.[75] "Tag questions" asking for information are said to carry rising tones (e.g. "They are coming on Tuesday, /AREN'T they?") while those asking for confirmation have falling tone (e.g. "Your name's John, \ISN'T it.").

History of English pronunciation

The pronunciation system of English has undergone many changes throughout the history of the language, from the phonological system of Old English, to that of Middle English, through to that of the present day. Variation between dialects has always been significant. Former pronunciations of many words are reflected in their spellings, as English orthography has generally not kept pace with phonological changes since the Middle English period.

The English consonant system has been relatively stable over time, although a number of significant changes have occurred. Examples include the loss (in most dialects) of the [ç] and [x] sounds still reflected by the gh in words like night and taught, and the splitting of voiced and voiceless allophones of fricatives into separate phonemes (such as the two different phonemes represented by th). There have also been many changes in consonant clusters, mostly reductions, for instance those that produced the usual modern pronunciations of such letter combinations as wr-, kn- and wh-.

The development of vowels has been much more complex. One of the most notable series of changes is that known as the Great Vowel Shift, which began around the late 14th century. Here the [iː] and [uː] in words like price and mouth became diphthongized, and other long vowels became higher: [eː] became [iː] (as in meet), [aː] became [eː] and later [eɪ] (as in name), [oː] became [uː] (as in goose), and [ɔː] became [oː] and later [oʊ] (in RP now [əʊ]; as in bone). These shifts are responsible for the modern pronunciations of many written vowel combinations, including those involving a silent final e.

Many other changes in vowels have taken place over the centuries (see the separate articles on the low back, high back and high front vowels, short A, and diphthongs). These various changes mean that many words that formerly rhymed (and may be expected to rhyme based on their spelling) no longer do.[76] For example, in Shakespeare's time, following the Great Vowel Shift, food, good and blood all had the vowel [uː], but in modern pronunciation good has been shortened to [ʊ], while blood has been shortened and lowered to [ʌ] in most accents. In other cases, words that were formerly distinct have come to be pronounced the same – examples of such mergers include meet–meat, pane–pain and toe–tow.

See also


  1. Roach 2009, pp. 100–1.
  2. Kreidler 2004, p. 84.
  3. Wells 1982, p. 55.
  4. Bowerman 2004, p. 939.
  5. Gimson 2008, p. 230.
  6. McMahon 2002, p. 31.
  7. Giegerich 1992, p. 36.
  8. Ladefoged 2006, p. 68.
  9. 1 2 Roach 2009, p. 43.
  10. Wells 1982, p. 490.
  11. Wells 1982, p. 550.
  12. Ladefoged 2001, p. 55.
  13. Celce-Murcia, Brinton & Goodwin 1996, pp. 62–67.
  14. Roach 2009, pp. 26–28.
  15. 1 2 Wells 1982, p. 388.
  16. Gimson 2008, pp. 179–180.
  17. Wells 1982, p. 323.
  18. 1 2 Celce-Murcia, Brinton & Goodwin 1996, p. 64.
  19. Gimson 2014, pp. 173–182.
  20. Gimson 2014, pp. 170 and 173–182.
  21. Gimson 2014, p. 190.
  22. Trudgill & Hannah 2002, p. 18
  23. Trudgill & Hannah 2002, p. 25
  24. Mojsin, Lisa (2009), Mastering the American Accent, Barron’s Education Series, Inc., p. 36. “The t after n is often silent in American pronunciation. Instead of saying internet Americans will frequently say 'innernet.' This is fairly standard speech and is not considered overly casual or sloppy speech.”
  25. Roach 2004, p. "2" 42.
  26. Wells 1982, p. 128.
  27. Roca & Johnson 1999, p. 135.
  28. Wells 1982, p. 121.
  29. Gimson 2014, pp. 126 and 133.
  30. Cox, Felicity; Palethorpe, Sallyanne ("2" 007). "Illustrations of the IPA: Australian English". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. "3"7 ("3"). pp. "3"41–350. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. Wells 1982, p. 129.
  32. Roach 2004, p. "2" 40.
  33. Wells 1982, pp. 140, 147, 299.
  34. Gimson 2008, p. 132.
  35. Celce-Murcia, Brinton & Goodwin 1996, p. 66.
  36. Wells 1982, p. 149.
  37. Bolinger (1986), pp. "3"47-360.
  38. Lewis, J. Windsor. "HappYland Reconnoitred". Retrieved "2" 012. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  39. Kreidler 2004, pp. 82–3.
  40. McCully 2009, pp. 123–4.
  41. Roach 2009, pp. 66–8.
  42. Wells 2014, p. 53.
  43. Peter Ladefoged (1975 etc.) A course in phonetics
  44. Bolinger (1986), p. "3"51.
  45. Bolinger (1986), p. "3"48.
  46. Ladefoged (1975 etc.) A course in phonetics §5.4; (1980) Preliminaries to linguistic phonetics p. 83
  47. 1 2 Wells 1990, pp. 76–86.
  48. Five-consonant codas are rare, but one occurs in angsts /æŋksts/. See list of the longest English words with one syllable for further long syllables in English.
  49. Zsiga 2003, p. 404.
  50. Browman & Goldstein 1990.
  51. Barry 1991.
  52. Barry 1992.
  53. Nolan 1992.
  54. Selkirk 1982.
  55. Giegerich 1992, p. 172.
  56. Harris 1994, p. 198.
  57. Gimson 2008, pp. 258–9.
  58. Giegerich 1992, pp. 167–70.
  59. Kreidler 2004, pp. 76–8.
  60. Wells 1990, p. ?.
  61. Read 1986, p. ?.
  62. Bradley, Travis (2006), "Prescription Jugs", Phonoloblog, retrieved 2008-06-13
  63. Bakovic, Eric (2006), "The jug trade", Phonoloblog, retrieved 2008-06-13
  64. See Blake et al., The Cambridge History of the English Language, 1992, p.67; R. McColl Millar, Northern and Insular Scots, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, pp.63-64.
  65. The OED does not list any native words that begin with /ʊ/, apart from mimetic oof!, ugh! oops! ook(y)
  66. 1 2 Clements & Keyser 1983, p. ?.
  67. Collins and Mees 2013, p. 138.
  68. Wells 1982, p. 644.
  69. Wells 1982, pp. 630–1.
  70. Roach 1982, pp. 73–9.
  71. Halliday 1967, pp. 18–24.
  72. Tench 1996.
  73. Wells 2006.
  74. Roach 2009, p. 144.
  75. Brown 1990, pp. 122–3.
  76. Cercignani 1975, pp. 513–8.


Bacsfalvi, P. (2010). "Attaining the lingual components of /r/ with ultrasound for three adolescents with cochlear implants". Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. 3 (34): 206–217. 
Ball, M.; Lowry, O.; McInnis, L. (2006). "Distributional and stylistic variation in /r/-misarticulations: A case study". Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 2–3 (20). 
Barry, M (1991), "Temporal Modelling of Gestures in Articulatory Assimilation", Proceedings of the 12th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Aix-en-Provence 
Bolinger, Dwight (1986), Intonation and Its Parts: Melody in Spoken English, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-1241-7 
Barry, M (1992), "Palatalisation, Assimilation and Gestural Weakening in Connected Speech", Speech Communication, pp. vol.11, 393–400 
Bowerman, Sean (2004), "White South African English: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive, A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 931–942, ISBN 3-11-017532-0 
Browman, Catherine P.; Goldstein, Louis (1990), "Tiers in Articulatory Phonology, with Some Implications for Casual Speech", in Kingston, John C.; Beckman, Mary E., Papers in Laboratory Phonology I: Between the Grammar and Physics of Speech, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 341–376 
Brown, G. (1990), Listening to Spoken English, Longman 
Campbell, F., Gick, B., Wilson, I., Vatikiotis-Bateson, E. (2010), “Spatial and Temporal Properties of Gestures in North American English /r/”. Child's Language and Speech, 53 (1): 49–69
Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., Goodwin, J. (1996), Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Cambridge University Press
Cercignani, Fausto (1975), "English Rhymes and Pronunciation in the Mid-Seventeenth Century", English Studies, 56 (6): 513–518, doi:10.1080/00138387508597728 
Cercignani, Fausto (1981), Shakespeare's Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation, Oxford: Clarendon Press 
Chomsky, Noam; Halle, Morris (1968), The Sound Pattern of English, New York: Harper & Row 
Clements, G.N.; Keyser, S. (1983), CV Phonology: A Generative Theory of the Syllable, Cambridge, MA: MIT press 
Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (2013) [First published 2003], Practical Phonetics and Phonology: A Resource Book for Students (3rd ed.), Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-50650-2 
Crystal, David (1969), Prosodic Systems and Intonation in English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
Dalcher Villafaña, C., Knight, R.A., Jones, M.J., (2008), “Cue Switching in the Perception of Approximants: Evidence from Two English Dialects”. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 14 (2): 63–64
Espy-Wilson, C. (2004), “Articulatory Strategies, speech Acoustics and Variability”. From Sound to Sense June 11 – June 13 at MIT: 62–63
Fudge, Erik C. (1984), English Word-stress, London: Allen and Unwin 
Giegerich, H. (1992), English Phonology: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
Gimson, A.C. (1962), An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, London: Edward Arnold 
Gimson, A.C. (2008), Cruttenden, Alan, ed., Pronunciation of English, Hodder 
  • Gimson, A.C. (2014), Cruttenden, Alan, ed., Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.), Routledge, ISBN 9781444183092 
Hagiwara, R., Fosnot, S. M., & Alessi, D. M. (2002). “Acoustic phonetics in a clinical setting: A case study of /r/-distortion therapy with surgical intervention”. Clinical linguistics & phonetics, 16 (6): 425–441.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1967), Intonation and Grammar in British English, Mouton 
Halliday, M.A.K. (1970), A Course in Spoken English: Intonation, London: Oxford University Press 
Harris, John (1994), English Sound Structure, Oxford: Blackwell 
Hoff, Erika, (2009), Language Development. Scarborough, Ontario. Cengage Learning, 2005.
Howard, S. (2007), “The interplay between articulation and prosody in children with impaired speech: Observations from electropalatographic and perceptual analysis”. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9 (1): 20–35.
Kingdon, Roger (1958), The Groundwork of English Intonation, London: Longman 
Kreidler, Charles (2004), The Pronunciation of English, Blackwell 
Ladefoged, Peter (2001), A Course in Phonetics (4th (5th ed. 2006) ed.), Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, ISBN 0-15-507319-2 
Ladefoged, Peter (2001b), Vowels and Consonants, Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-21411-9 
Locke, John L., (1983), Phonological Acquisition and Change. New York, United States. Academic Press, 1983. Print.
McCully, C. (2009), The Sound Structure of English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
McMahon, A. (2002), An Introduction to English Phonology, Edinburgh 
Nolan, Francis (1992), "The Descriptive Role of Segments: Evidence from Assimilation.", in Docherty, Gerard J.; Ladd, D. Robert, Papers in Laboratory Phonology II: Gesture, Segment, Prosody, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 261–280 
O'Connor, J. D.; Arnold, Gordon Frederick (1961), Intonation of Colloquial English, London: Longman 
Pike, Kenneth Lee (1945), The Intonation of American English, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 
Read, Charles (1986), Children's Creative Spelling, Routledge, ISBN 0-7100-9802-2 
Roach, Peter (1982), "On the distinction between 'stress-timed' and 'syllable-timed' languages", in Crystal, David, Linguistic Controversies, Arnold 
Roach, Peter (2009), English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course, 4th Ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-78613-4 
Roach, Peter (2004), "British English: Received Pronunciation", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (2): 239–245, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001768 
Roca, Iggy; Johnson, Wyn (1999), A Course in Phonology, Blackwell Publishing 
Selkirk, E. (1982), "The Syllable", in van der Hulst, H.; Smith, N., The Structure of Phonological Representations, Dordrecht: Foris 
Sharf, D.J., Benson, P.J. (1982), “Identification of synthesized/r-w/continua for adult and child speakers”. Donald J. Acoustical Society of America, 71 (4):1008–1015.
Tench, P. (1996), The Intonation Systems of English, Cassell 
Trager, George L.; Smith, Henry Lee (1951), An Outline of English Structure, Norman, OK: Battenburg Press 
Trudgill, Peter; Hannah, Jean (2002), International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English (4th ed.), London: Arnold 
Wells, John C. (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge University Press 
Wells, John C. (1990), "Syllabification and allophony", in Ramsaran, Susan, Studies in the Pronunciation of English: A Commemorative Volume in Honour of A. C. Gimson, London: Routledge, pp. 76–86 
Wells, John C. (2006), English Intonation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
Wells, John C. (2014), Sounds Interesting, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
Wise, Claude Merton (1957), Applied Phonetics, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Zsiga, Elizabeth (2003), "Articulatory Timing in a Second Language: Evidence from Russian and English", Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 25: 399–432, doi:10.1017/s0272263103000160 

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to English pronunciation.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/4/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.