The MANY Sounds of English

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The English alphabet has 26 letters.  But did you know that there are actually 45 American English sounds?

This is one of the things that makes English so challenging – the spelling and the sound aren’t always the same!

Let’s look at how to make learning the sounds of words a little easier.  There are 2 basic kinds of sounds:  vowels and consonants


English has 5 vowel letters:

a         e         i         o         u

and one letter that is sometimes a vowel,  y

(In the word ‘why’ the letter ‘y’ is a vowel)

However, there are MANY more vowel sounds.  Think about the sound of the letter ‘A’ in these words:

apple                           about                           any                           ate

Did you notice there are actually 4 different sounds here?

apple’ has the sound /æ/

‘about’ has the sound /ə/

‘any’ has the sound /ɛ/

‘ate’ has the sound /ey/


English has 21 consonant letters, but – you guessed it! – there are MANY more consonant sounds.

For example, the letter ‘T’ has a sound, and the letter ‘H’ has another sound:

/t/ in ‘tea’

/h/ in ‘here’

But if we put them together, we can get two more sounds:

the voiceless sound /θ/ like ‘think’

the voiced sound /ð/ like ‘there’

It is important to notice the real sounds of words – don’t always trust the spelling!  You need to learn the phonetic alphabet in your dictionary.  Here is a sample entry:

dictionary /dIk’ʃə-nÉ™-riy/ noun ( pl. -aries) a book that lists the words of a language…

The important part to look at is the one most people don’t understand: the phonetic spelling:  /dIk’ʃə-nÉ™-riy/

This week, follow me on Facebook to learn more about using the phonetic alphabet and your dictionary.  Click on the “Like” button and you will get a daily lesson on your wall!

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