Consonants & Vowels

Student's Page

This lesson is about learning to use your dictionary and its special symbols. They can help you say words more clearly.

The spelling of words in English does not always show how they are actually pronounced.For example, the consonant sound in the word shoe can be spelled in many ways.

* Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

shoe sugar nation racial mission

In addition, many letters have more than one possible pronunciation.For example, letter "a" is pronounced differently in each of these words.

cat many father late sofa

For this reason, dictionaries and pronunciation books use special symbols. This means each sound has only one symbol, no matter how it is spelled.For example,the consonant sound in the words 'shoe, sugar, nation, racial, mission' is represented with /ʃ/.

If you learn to read and use these symbols, you can improve your ability to pronounce words you want to say.

Warmup These words are often difficult to pronounce clearly. Try saying them. Then listen to them. Discuss how they are difficult. Say them again.

fifth playbutton usually playbutton
walk playbutton year playbutton
clothes playbutton work playbutton
question playbutton world playbutton
months playbutton women playbutton
twelfth playbutton would playbutton

  • English has only 5 vowel letters, BUT it has more than 15 vowel sounds. So each vowel letter is used for more than 1 sound.

  • This means that dictionaries need special symbols to represent vowel sounds so we don’t get confused by the spelling.

  • All dictionaries use special symbols, often called phonetic symbols, to give a clear way to show how words are pronounced.

  • The materials on this website does the same. Please click HERE to go to the vowel chart.
Exercise 1 Each dictionary uses different symbols to represent sounds. Fill in the first blank by writing another word which has the same vowel. Then, fill in the second blank by writing the word in phonetic symbols.

* Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

Word Your
Another word with
this vowel
In phonetic symbols
1. hat /æ/ cat /kæt/
2. head /ɛ/
3. day /e/
4. see /i/
5. hide ɪ/
6. sit /ɪ/
7. rude /u/
8. book /ʊ/
9. luck /ʌ/
10. bird r/
11. hope /o/
12. hop /ɑ-ɔ/*
13. talk /ɑ-ɔ/*
14. loud ʊ/
15. boy ɪ/

Note: In some areas of North America, these words are pronounced differently ([kɑt] for cot versus [kɔt] for caught). In other areas, they are pronounced the same (only [kɑt] in the Midwestern and Western U.S. and only [kɔt] in most of Canada). We will list all words with these sounds as /ɑ-ɔ/.You may use either sound as you wish.

Exercise 2 One of the three words has a different vowel sound than the others. Listen and click the 'odd word'. Then click the vowel symbol for each word.

Example: led /ɛ/ said /ɛ/

1. wait passed day
2. cost cold load
3. sum use tool
4. side width tight
5. feel head we
6. fall foul how
7. cast have cage
8. sky fill pint
9. push fool took
10. know talks told
11. loud fowl low

  • The symbols for many consonant sounds look the same as the letters usually used for spelling. For example, lip would be transcribed as /lɪp/ and the /l/ and /p/ symbols look just like the letters.

  • * Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

  • But a few consonants need special symbols since English spelling represents them by using two letters (like ch in chore /tʃ/ or th in the /ð/).

  • In addition, sometimes a letter can represent two sounds (like x in fix /ks/).

  • Some letters may represent no sound at all (like the “l” in talk), or a sound may exist without a letter (like the /y/ sound at the beginning of the word use).

  • For these reasons, we need special symbols for the pronunciation of consonant sounds. These symbols are called phonetic symbols

* Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

pop /p/ foe /f/ mom /m/
bib /b/ view /v/ nine /n/
tot /t/ so /s/ lull /l/
did /d/ zoo /z/ roar /r/
kick /k/ hi /h/ yeah /y/
gag /g/     we /w/

Click HERE to go to the consonant chart.

* Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

think /ɵ/ shoe /ʃ/ sing /ŋ/
the /ð/ chair /tʃ/ box /ks/
  vision /ʒ/ cat /k/
    jet /ʤ/ quick /kw/
        cell /s/

Click HERE to go to the consonant chart.

Click HERE to download the student's material.