Voiced and Voiceless Consonants

What are Consonants? 

English has 24 consonant sounds, and 21 consonants. When it comes to the pronunciation of these consonants, we divide them into 2 categories: voiced and voiceless consonants.  Keep in mind, some consonant sounds are a combination of letters (e.g. ch or th). Happily, we write 16 of the 24 consonants sounds just using their own letters! Much easier to remember these ones, right?  

B /b/     F /f/       H /h/      R /r/

D /d/     V /v/     M /m/     W /w/

P /p/      S /s/      N /n/       G /g/

T /t/       Z /z/      L /l/        K /k/

(The remaining 8 consonant sounds are:    /θ/  /ð/  /ʃ/  /ʒ/  /ʈʃ/   /dʒ/  /j/  /ŋ/)

What are Voiced Consonants?

11 of these 16 sounds listed above are voiced.  This means that we use our vocal cords to create the sounds of:

  • B /b/ H /h/ R /r/
  • D /d/ V /v/ M /m/
  • N /n/ G /g/ W /w/
  • Z /z/ L /l/ K /k/

(The other voiced consonants are:  /ð/ /ʒ/ /dʒ/   /j/   /ŋ/)

How can you tell if you’re voicing a consonant?  If you place your hand on your throat when you make these sounds, you should feel your vocal cords move.

What are Voiceless Consonants?  

5 of the 16 consonants listed above do not use the vocal cords:

  • F /f/
  • K /k/
  • P /p/
  • T /t/
  • S /s/

(The remaining 8 consonants are:  /θ/ /ʃ/ /ʈʃ/ )

In these cases, when you place your hand on your throat, you won’t feel any vibrations when pronouncing these sounds

Voiced consonant: The /j/ Sound 

This is the first sound in: yes, year, yet, young, you, university, unit

It’s a middle sound in: beautiful, view

To produce the /j/ or “y” sound, raise the middle part of the tongue against the centre of your palate without touching it. Open your mouth to produce the “y” sound and the vowel that follows it.  

Tip: The /j/ It’s similar to a short /i/ or /ɪ/ quickly followed by a vowel, however your tongue will be closer to the roof of your mouth than when producing the /i/ or /ɪ/. 

Tip for Spanish speakers: This sound is often problematic for Spanish speakers, but it’s essentially the same sound that you hear at the beginning of hielo, hiato or iónico.

ESL students commonly confused this sound with /ʤ/ or omit it. 

Pronounce:

Yes, you’ll have a beautiful view this year. 

 

Voiced: The /ŋ/ Sound (ng

The “ng” sound is a voiced nasal consonant produced with the back of the tongue touching the soft palate; the air flows out of the nose. Don’t release your tongue when you pronounce the g.

In American English, you don’t drop the final g in the word ending -ing. However, you don’t want to over-pronounce it either. 

Many English learners confuse/ŋ/with /n/ and /nk/  

Need help?

Do you need a little more help with your pronunciation?  To learn more about English pronunciation, get needed feedback and practice in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional and experienced English teacher.  In fact, 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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