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/ R /r/ J /dʒ/
- D /d/ V /v/ M /m/
- N /n/ G /g/ W /w/
- Z /z/ L /l/
(The other voiced consonants are: /ð/ /ʒ/ /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.
Check out this video for more tips on how to determine if a consonant is voiced – and learn why it even matters!
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/ ; the /h/ sound is called a “voiceless glottal fricative,” which means that you make the sound with the motion of your vocal cords but it is not voiced.)
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.
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/
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