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Phonemes and Graphemes: What Are They?

Phonemes and Graphemes: What Are They?
Phonemes are distinctive speech sounds; that is, they make a difference to the meanings of words. For example, the difference between /b/ and /p/ makes the difference in meaning between bad and pad. Graphemes are the printed representations of phonemes. Graphemes are the symbols we use to read and write a language. For example, the letter x frequently spells /ks/, which is a sequence of two phonemes, /k/ and /s/. An example is the word box.

Consonant versus vowel phonemes

In English, phonemes fall into two main categories: consonants and vowels. These terms may well be familiar to you as categories of letters, but the very familiarity of these labels for letters may cause confusion when thinking about phonemes. For one thing, there are many more phonemes in spoken English (44) than letters in the English version of the Roman alphabet (26). For another, some graphemes are used to represent both consonant and vowel phonemes – the most familiar example being the letter y.

The difference between consonant and vowel phonemes is that consonants require some obstruction of the airflow between lungs and lips, whereas vowels do not. Vowel phonemes can consist of one or two sounds. Those that consist of one sound are pure vowels, and those that consist of two sounds are diphthongs. When you pronounce a pure vowel, your jaw, lips, etc., remain relatively stationary; when you pronounce a diphthong, they move.

Of the 44 phonemes, 24 are consonant phonemes, and 20 are vowel phonemes.

Graphemes, digraphs, trigraphs

Some graphemes can carry the sound of various phonemes and vice versa. For instance, the phoneme /ear/ has four different graphemes: ‘ear’, ‘eer’, ‘ier’ and ‘ere’.

Graphemes in English can be made up of one to four letters. A digraph is a two-letter grapheme, such as ‘ch’, ‘sh’, ‘oa’ (two letters making one sound). An example of a three-letter grapheme or trigraph and where it might appear in English:




‘Ough’ is an example of a 4-letter grapheme that can be represented by multiple phonemes:




Phonemes and their corresponding graphemes

IPA Symbol: The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system of letters and symbols that are used to represent the individual sounds of a language.

PhonemeIPA SymbolGraphemesExamplesVoiced?
1bb, bbbus, rabbitYes
2dd, dd, edbad, daddy, filledYes
3ff, ff, ph, gh, lf, ftfat, puff, photo, cough, calf, oftenNo
4gg, gg, gh, gu, guegum, egg, ghost, guess, plagueYes
5hh, whhat, whoNo
6j, ge, g, dj, dge, di, ggjam, page, gym, adjust judge, soldier, exaggerateYes
7kk, c, ch, cc, lk, q, q(u), qu, que, ck, x kid, cat, chord, account, walk, Qatar, queen, mosquito, antique, back, box (2 phonemes) No
8ll, lllap, dollYes
9mm, mm, mb, mn, lmmat, mammal, climb, column, calmYes
10nn, nn, kn, gn, pn, mnnest, sunny, knee, gnat, pneumonia, mnemonicYes
11pp, ppput, puppetNo
12rr, rr, wr, rhrat, parrot, write, rhinoYes
13ss, ss, c, sc, sw, st, ps, se, cesat, mess, city, scene, answer, castle, psychology, horse, riceNo
14tt, tt, th, edtap, button, Thomas, helpedNo
15vv, f, ph, vevet, of, Stephen, giveYes
16ww, wh, u, owit, when, quick, choirYes
17zz, zz, s, ss, x, ze, sezip, buzz, has, scissors, xylophone, size, roseYes
18ʒs, si, zmeasure, vision, seizureYes
19ch, tch, tu, techop, catch, picture, righteousNo
20ʃsh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, tishop, ocean, sure, special, pension, machine, conscience, nationNo
23ŋng, n, nguesing, think, tongueYes
24jy, i, jyou, onion, hallelujahYes
PhonemeIPA SymbolGraphemesExamples
25æa, ai, aucat, plaid, laugh
26a, ai, eigh, aigh, ay, er, et, ei, au, a_e, ea, eybay, maid, weigh, straight, pay, foyer, filet, eight, gauge, mate, break, they
27ɛe, ea, u, ie, ai, a, eo, ei, aeend, bread, bury, friend, said, many, leopard, heifer, aesthetic
28i:e, ee, ea, y, ey, oe, ie, i, ei, eo, aybe, bee, meat, lady, key, phoenix, grief, ski, deceive, people, quay
29ɪi, e, o, u, ui, y, ieit, england, women, busy, guild, gym, sieve
30i, y, igh, ie, uy, ye, ai, is, eigh, i_espider, sky, night, pie, guy, stye, aisle, island, height, kite
31ɒa, ho, au, aw, oughswan, honest, maul, slaw, fought
32o, oa, o_e, oe, ow, ough, eau, oo, ewopen, moat, bone, toe, sow, dough, beau, brooch, sew
33ʊo, oo, u,ouwolf, look, bush, would
34ʌu, o, oo, oulug, monkey, blood, double
35u:o, oo, ew, ue, u_e, oe, ough, ui, oew, ouwho, loon, dew, blue, flute, shoe, through, fruit, manoeuvre, group
36ɔɪoi, oy, uoyjoin, boy, buoy
37ow, ou, oughcow, out, plough
38əa, er, i, ar, our, urabout, ladder, pencil, dollar, honour, augur
39eəʳair, are, ear, ere, eir, ayerchair, dare, pear, where, their, prayer
41ɜ:ʳir, er, ur, ear, or, our, yrbird, term, burn, pearl, word, journey, myrtle
42ɔ:aw, a, or, oor, ore, oar, our, augh, ar, ough, aupaw, ball, fork, poor, fore, board, four, taught, war, bought, sauce
43ɪəʳear, eer, ere, ierear, steer, here, tier
44ʊəʳure, ourcure, tourist

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Source: https://www.dyslexia-reading-well.com/44-phonemes-in-english.html