How to Pronounce Stops and Continuants

In another post, we talk about how consonants can be categorized as “voiced” or “voiceless.” There is another important categorization we need to introduce: consonants can either be stops or continuants. In this article, we’ll discuss their differences and explain how to pronounce stops and continuants. 

First, a “stop” (also called a plosive) is a consonant that is pronounced in a way that the airflow is stopped.  A “continuant” is pronounced with a prolonged airflow. 

For example, think about the /s/ sound.  This sound is continuant because we can continue that sssssssss sound for as long as we have the breath to do so. But if we say a word like “sip,” we cannot continue the final consonant, /p/ because we stop the airflow by closing our lips. 

 

English stops include

  • [p] [b] [t] [d] [k] [g]  
  • [ʔ] voiceless glottal (ex. found in the middle of uh-oh)

English continuants include 

  1. Vowels 
  2. Sounds called fricatives:

     3. Sounds called liquids 

     4. Nasal sounds 

     5. Sounds called glides

 

Holding Final Stops

In general, American native English speakers do not release the final stops – the lips stay closed. The result is a “half” sound. If the lips were released, there would be a slight puff of air released to complete the sound.

Shall we try another one? 

Let’s take the sound /g/. When you say the word bag, don’t release the /g/. Keep your tongue up in the back of your mouth when you are done saying the word.

Final Stops Followed by Consonants

Native speakers always hold the final stop when the next word in a sentence starts with a consonant.

When the final stop comes at the end of a sentence, however, the final sound can either be held or released; you’ll hear both pronunciations. 

Word Pairs for Practice

Make sure you hold the final consonant of the first word of the pair.

  1. stop talking             5. chop this
  2. keep dreaming       6. job market
  3. did not                     7. big boy
  4. would go                 8. cup crack

 

Need help?

Stops and continuants, and their combinations, can be tricky, so don’t worry if you don’t get them right away!  Would you like a little more coaching on your pronunciation with a professional ESL teacher?  To learn more about English pronunciation and practice it in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional experienced English teacher.  The first week is free for you to try it out! 

Sabine Hobbel

Sabine Hobbel

Sabine Hobbel has been helping people improve their English since 2004; the knowledge she gained from completing her Master's degrees in Psychology and in English helps her every day. She has lived in 4 different English-speaking countries and she currently lives in the Italian Alps.
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