44 Phonemes in English and Other Sound Blends

Regardless of your native language, to learn another language, you must be able to piece together the sounds that make up words. 

In English, there are 44 phonemes, or word sounds that make up the language. They’re divided into 19 consonants, 7 digraphs, 5 ‘r-controlled’ sounds, 5 long vowels, 5 short vowels, 2 ‘oo’ sounds, 2 diphthongs.

This guide will help you learn and understand those 44 sounds along with some other blended and special sounds used in English. If you’re ever unsure of how to pronounce phonemes in English, you can refer back to this guide and piece together any word or phrase confidently.

 

19 Consonant Phonemes

In this list, notice that the consonants x, q, and c do not have unique phonemes. This is because these letters are made by other sounds:

  • C-sounds that make a /k/ in crop, crack, creep and 
  • C-sounds that make an /s/ in central, cent, and cite.
  • Q-sounds are also in words that contain the letters ‘kw’ as in walkway, parkway, and awkward.
  • X-sounds are also in words with ‘cks’ as in backstop, rocks, and necks

 

/b/ – beg and bag

/d/ – doe and deal

/f/ – fall and fit

/g/ – goal and gill

/h/ – has and him

/j/ – job and jolt

/k/ – cap and kite

/l/ – lip and load

/m/ – map and moth

/n/ – net and nip

/p/ – pin and plot

/r/ – run and rope

/s/ – sat and small

/t/ – toe and tale

/v/ – vin and volt

/w/ – wait and wind

/y/ – yam and yet

/z/ – zip and zoo

 

7 Digraph Phonemes

Digraphs form when two consonants work together to create a completely different sound. The two consonants have different sounds on their own and are most often—but not always—seen at the start or end of a word.

/ch/ – watch and chime

/sh/ – shift and short

/ng/ – ring and sting

/th/ (voiced) – weather and thin

/th/ (unvoiced) – thing and thunder

/zh/ – genre and division

/wh/ (with breath) – what

 

5 R-Controlled, or Influenced, Phonemes

These phonemes are controlled or influenced by the letter r

/a(r)/ – car and far

/ā(r)/ – fair and chair

/i(r)/ – here and steer

/o(r)/ – core and door

/u(r)/ – fern and burn

 

5 Long Vowel Phonemes

/ā/ – day and eight

/ē/ – beet and sleep

/ī/ –  pie and sky

/ō/ – boat and row

/ū/ – hue and chew

 

5 Short Vowel Phonemes

/a/ –  bat and laugh

/e/ – medical and bread

/i/ – sit and lip

/o/ – hot and orange

/u/ – shut and cut

 

2 ‘oo’ vowel Phonemes

/oo/ – took and could

/ōō/ – moon and 

If you’re having trouble with ‘oo’ and other vowel sounds, we’ve got you covered!

 

2 Diphthongs

A diphthong is two vowels that work together to form another sound.

/ow/ – mouse and cow

/oy/ – coin and toy

 

Sound Blends

This list is a group of common sounds you’ll hear in English. They’re a group of consonant blends that create distinct sounds, and you’ll often see them at the beginning of a word. Most of the sounds are a blend of the consonant sounds described above, but when they work together, their sound is quick and smooth.

bl – blot and blunder

cl – clot and clam

fl – flow and flop

gl – glow and glamor

pl – plot and play

br – brat and broke

cr – cream and crop

dr – drop and drove

fr – frail and frozen

gr – grand and grow

pr – pronoun and prime

tr – trash and trust

sk – skip and sky

sl – slot and slow

sp – sponge and spell

st – still and stand

sw –  swat and sway

spr – spruce and spring

str – strip and stretch

Conclusion

Knowing the 44 English phonemes will help you pronounce words correctly and be understood by speakers around the world. But correct pronunciation won’t happen overnight or even by just memorizing the text and audio from this list. You’ll need practice!

Why not practice in an encouraging live environment like SpeakUp by Magoosh? With SpeakUp, you can master the 44 English phonemes and learn other idioms, phrases, and vocabulary. Plus, you get feedback from native English speakers who can work with you to master your pronunciation.

Jake Pool

Jake Pool

After working in the restaurant industry for over a decade, Jake left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. He now creates content that informs, inspires, and educates ESL students on a wide range of topics. Jake also records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension.
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