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- See IPA chart for English dialects for concise charts of the English phonemes.
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|Fricative||f v||θ ð||s z||ʃ ʒ||(x)3||h|
|Approximant||ɹ1, 2, 5||j||w4|
- Nasals and liquids may be syllabic in unstressed syllables, though these may be analyzed phonemically as /əC/.
- Postalveolar consonants are usually labialized (e.g., [ʃʷ]), as is word-initial or pre-tonic /r/, though this is rarely transcribed.
- The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is dialectal, occurring largely in Scottish English. In other dialects, words with these sounds are pronounced with /k/.
- The sequence /hw/, a voiceless labiovelar approximant [hw̥], is sometimes considered an additional phoneme. For most speakers, words that historically used to have these sounds are now pronounced with /w/; the phoneme /hw/ is retained, for example, in much of the American South and in Scotland.
- Depending on dialect, /r/ may be an alveolar [ɹ], postalveolar approximant, or labiodental approximant.
- Many dialects have two allophones of /l/—the "clear" L and the "dark" or velarized L. In some dialects, /l/ may be always clear or always dark.
|/ɹ/||run (also /r/, /ɻ/)||/j/||yes|
- The voiceless stops /p t k/ are aspirated at the beginnings of words (for example tomato) and at the beginnings of word-internal stressed syllables (for example potato). They are unaspirated after /s/ (stan, span, scan) and at the ends of syllables.
- For many people, /r/ is somewhat labialized in some environments, as in reed [ɹʷiːd] and tree [tɹʷiː]. In the latter case, the [t] may be slightly labialized as well.
- In many dialects, /h/ becomes [ç] before [j], as in human [ˈçjuːmən].
- Vowels are more equal in length, differing mainly in quality.
- The central vowel of nurse is rhotic /ɝ/ or a syllabic /ɹ̩/.
- Speakers make a phonemic distinction between rhotic /ɚ/ and non-rhotic /ə/.
- No distinction is made between /ɒ/ and /ɑː/, nor for many speakers between these vowels and /ɔː/.
ɪ]: roses (merged with [ə] in Australian English)
- [ə]: Rosa’s, runner
- [l̩]: bottle
- [n̩]: button
- [m̩]: rhythm
- Canadian English exhibits allophony of /aʊ/ and /aɪ/ called Canadian raising. This phenomenon is also realized (especially for /aɪ/) by many US speakers, notably in the Northeast, as well as in South Atlantic English and the Fens of eastern England. In some areas, especially the Northeast US, /aɪ/) actually shifts to /ʌɪ/.
- In Received Pronunciation, the vowels in lair and lure may be monophthongized to [ɛː] and [oː] respectively. Australian English speakers more readily monophthongize the former but it is listed here anyway.
- In rhotic dialects, words like pair, poor, and peer can be analyzed as diphthongs, although other descriptions analyze them as vowels with /r/ in the coda.
- A distinction is made between tense and lax vowels in pairs like beet/bit and bait/bet, although the exact phonetic implementation of the distinction varies from accent to accent. However, this distinction collapses before [ŋ].
- Wherever /r/ originally followed a tense vowel or diphthong (in Early Modern English) a schwa offglide was inserted, resulting in centering diphthongs like [iə] in beer [biəɹ], [uə] in poor [puəɹ], [aɪə] in fire [faɪəɹ], [aʊə] in sour [saʊəɹ], and so forth. This phenomenon is known as breaking. The subsequent history depends on whether the accent in question is rhotic or not: In non-rhotic accents like RP the postvocalic [ɹ] was dropped, leaving [biə, puə, faɪə, saʊə] and the like (now usually transcribed [bɪə, pʊə] and so forth). In rhotic accents like General American, on the other hand, the [əɹ] sequence was coalesced into a single sound, a non-syllabic [ɚ], giving [biɚ, puɚ, faɪɚ, saʊɚ] and the like (now usually transcribed [bɪɹ, pʊɹ, faɪɹ, saʊɹ] and so forth). As a result, originally monosyllabic words like those just mentioned came to rhyme with originally disyllabic words like seer, doer, higher, power.
- In many (but not all) accents of English, a similar breaking happens to tense vowels before /l/, resulting in pronunciations like [piəɫ] for peel, [puəɫ] for pool, [peəɫ] for pail, and [poəɫ] for pole.
General American full vowels,
vowel height distinctive
i u ɪ ʊ e ɚ, ə o ɛ ɔ æ ɑ
General American full vowels,
vowel length distinctive
iː uː i u eː ɹ̩ː oː e ʌ o a aː
General American full vowels,
height & length distinctive
iː uː ɪ ʊ eː ɝː oː ɛ ʌ ɔ æ ɑː
- "Is it brunch tomorrow?"
- "No, it's dinner tomorrow."
- "I'm going tomorrow." /aɪm ˌɡoʊɪŋ təˈmɒroʊ/
- "I'm going tomorrow." /aɪm ˌɡoʊɪŋ təˈˈmɒroʊ/
- "It's dinner tomorrow." /ɪts ˈˈdɪnɚ təˌmɒroʊ/
- "Come in"! /ˈkʌm ɪn/
- "Oh, do come in!" /oʊ ˈˈduː kʌm ˌɪn/
|This section requires expansion.|
|All single consonant phonemes except /ŋ/|
|Plosive plus approximant other than /j/: /pl/, /bl/, /kl/, /ɡl/, |
/pr/, /br/, /tr/, /dr/, /kr/, /ɡr/,
/tw/, /dw/, /ɡw/, /kw/
|play, blood, clean, glove, prize, bring, tree, dream, crowd, green, twin, dwarf, guacamole, quick|
|Voiceless fricative plus approximant other than /j/: /fl/, /sl/, |
/fr/, /θr/, /ʃr/,
/sw/, /θw/, /hw/
|floor, sleep, friend, three, shrimp, swing, thwart, which|
|Consonant plus /j/: /pj/, /bj/, /tj/, /dj/, /kj/, /ɡj/, |
/mj/, /nj/, /fj/, /vj/, /θj/,
/sj/, /zj/, /hj/, /lj/
|pure, beautiful, tube, during, cute, argue, music, new, few, view, thew, suit, Zeus, huge, lurid|
|/s/ plus voiceless plosive: |
/sp/, /st/, /sk/
|speak, stop, skill|
|/s/ plus nasal: |
|/s/ plus voiceless fricative: |
|/s/ plus voiceless plosive plus approximant: /spl/, |
/spr/, /str/, /skr/,
/skw/, /smj/, /spj/, /stj/, /skj/
|split, spring, street, scream, square, smew, spew, student, skewer|
- In some American dialects (especially as spoken by children), /tr/ and /dr/ tend to affricate, so that tree resembles "chree", and dream resembles "jream". This is sometimes transcribed as [tʃr] and [dʒr] respectively, but the pronunciation varies and may, for example, be closer to [tʂ] and [dʐ] or with a fricative release similar in quality to the rhotic, ie. [tɹ̝̊ɹ̥], [dɹ̝ɹ], or [tʂɻ], [dʐɻ].
- Many clusters beginning with /ʃ/ and paralleling native clusters beginning with /s/ are found initially in German and Yiddish loanwords, such as /ʃl/, /ʃp/, /ʃt/, /ʃm/, /ʃn/, /ʃpr/ (in words such as schlep, spiel, shtick, schmuck, schnapps, Shprintzen's). /ʃw/ is found initially in the Hebrew loanword schwa. Before /r/ however, the native cluster is /ʃr/. The opposite cluster /sr/ is found in loanwords such as Sri Lanka, but this can be nativized by changing it to /ʃr/.
- /skl/ occurs in the Greek loanword sclerosis; there is also /sfr/ (sphragistics).
- Other onsets
- All vowel sounds
- /m/, /n/ and /l/ in certain situations (see below under word-level rules)
- /r/ in rhotic varieties of English (eg General American) in certain situations (see below under word-level rules)
|The single consonant phonemes except /h/, /w/, /j/ and, in non-rhotic varieties, /r/|
|Lateral approximant + plosive or affricate: /lp/, /lb/, /lt/, /ld/, /ltʃ/, /ldʒ/, /lk/||help, bulb, belt, hold, belch, indulge, milk|
|In rhotic varieties, /r/ + plosive or affricate: /rp/, /rb/, /rt/, /rd/, /rtʃ/, /rdʒ/, /rk/, /rɡ/||harp, orb, fort, beard, arch, large, mark, morgue|
|Lateral approximant + fricative: /lf/, /lv/, /lθ/, /ls/, /lʃ/||golf, solve, wealth, else, Welsh|
|In rhotic varieties, /r/ + fricative: /rf/, /rv/, /rθ/, /rs/, /rʃ/||dwarf, carve, north, force, marsh|
|Lateral approximant + nasal: /lm/, /ln/||film, kiln|
|In rhotic varieties, /r/ + nasal or lateral: /rm/, /rn/, /rl/||arm, born, snarl|
|Nasal + homorganic plosive or affricate: /mp/, /nt/, /nd/, /ntʃ/, /ndʒ/, /ŋk/||jump, tent, end, lunch, lounge, pink|
|Nasal + fricative: /mf/, /mθ/ in non-rhotic varieties, /nθ/, /ns/, /nz/, /ŋθ/ in some varieties||triumph, warmth, month, prince, bronze, length|
|Voiceless fricative + voiceless plosive: /ft/, /sp/, /st/, /sk/||left, crisp, lost, ask|
|Two voiceless fricatives: /fθ/||fifth|
|Two voiceless plosives: /pt/, /kt/||opt, act|
|Plosive + voiceless fricative: /pθ/, /ps/, /tθ/, /ts/, /dθ/, /dz/, /ks/||depth, lapse, eighth, klutz, width, adze, box|
|Lateral approximant + two consonants: /lpt/, /lfθ/, /lts/, /lst/, /lkt/, /lks/||sculpt, twelfth, waltz, whilst, mulct, calx|
|In rhotic varieties, /r/ + two consonants: /rmθ/, /rpt/, /rps/, /rts/, /rst/, /rkt/||warmth, excerpt, corpse, quartz, horst, infarct|
|Nasal + homorganic plosive + plosive or fricative: /mpt/, /mps/, /ndθ/, /ŋkt/, /ŋks/, /ŋkθ/ in some varieties||prompt, glimpse, thousandth, distinct, jinx, length|
|Three obstruents: /ksθ/, /kst/||sixth, next|
- Both the onset and the coda are optional
- /j/ at the end of an onset cluster (/pj/, /bj/, /tj/, /dj/, /kj/, /fj/, /vj/, /θj/, /sj/, /zj/, /hj/, /mj/, /nj/, /lj/, /spj/, /stj/, /skj/) must be followed by /uː/ or /ʊə/
- Long vowels and diphthongs are not found before /ŋ/ except for the mimetic word boing!
- /ʊ/ is rare in syllable-initial position
- Stop + /w/ before /uː, ʊ, ʌ, aʊ/ (all presently or historically /u(ː)/) are excluded
- Sequences of /s/ + C1 + V̆ + C1, where C1 is a consonant other that /t/ and V̆ is a short vowel, are virtually nonexistent
- /ə/ does not occur in stressed syllables
- /ʒ/ does not occur in word-initial position in native English words although it can occur syllable-initial, e.g., luxurious /lʌɡˈʒʊəriəs/
- /θj/ occurs in word-initial position in a few obscure words: thew, thurible, etc.; it is more likely to appear syllable initial, e.g. /ɛnˈθjuːz/
- /m/, /n/, /l/ and, in rhotic varieties, /r/ can be the syllable nucleus (ie a syllabic consonant) in an unstressed syllable following another consonant, especially /t/, /d/, /s/ or /z/
- Certain short vowel sounds, called checked vowels, cannot occur without a coda in a single syllable word. In RP, the following short vowel sounds are checked: /ɛ/, /æ/, /ɒ/ and /ʌ/.
History of English pronunciation
- the high long vowels [iː] and [uː] in words like price and mouth became diphthongized, first to [əɪ] and [əʊ] (where they remain today in some environments in some accents such as Canadian English) and later to their modern values [aɪ] and [aʊ]. This is not unique to English, as this also happened in Dutch (first shift only) and German (both shifts).
- [eː] became [iː] (for example meet),
- [aː] became [eː] (later diphthongized to [eɪ], for example name),
- [oː] became [uː] (for example goose), and
- [ɔː] become [oː] (later diphthongized to [oʊ], for example bone).