English Sounds

There are 26 letters in the English Language; 21 consonants and 5 vowels. Together they amount 44 English Sounds or the English Phonemes.

English phonology is the system of speech sounds used in spoken English. Like many other languages, English has wide variation in pronunciation, both historically and from dialect to dialect. In general, however, the regional dialects of English share a largely similar phonological system.


In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of phone that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language.

A grapheme is the written representation (a letter or cluster of letters) of one sound. It is generally agreed that there are approximately 44 sounds in English, with some variation dependent on accent and articulation.

The 44 phonemes, or word sounds that make up the language are divided into 19 consonants, 7 digraphs, 5 ‘r-controlled’ sounds, 5 long vowels, 5 short vowels, 2 ‘oo’ sounds, 2 diphthongs.

English sounds. 44 phonemes


Phonics instruction involves teaching the relationship between sounds and the letters used to represent them.

A consonant sound is one in which the air flow is cut off, either partially or completely, when the sound is produced. In
contrast, a vowel sound is one in which the air flow is unobstructed when the sound is made. The vowel
sounds are the music, or movement, of our language.

Short vowels
  • see
  • men
  • cat
  • sit
  • America
  • but
  • book
  • word
  • part
  • too
  • sort
  • not

America (a) cat (e with accent) sit (i) not (o with accent) too (u)

men (eh) book (uuu) word (oh) sort (grandma vovo)

Related: English Through the Ages

Long vowels
  • day
  • boy
  • my
  • here
  • tour
  • wear
  • go
  • how
Consonant sounds
  • pig
  • five
  • milk
  • church
  • six
  • live
  • judge
  • zoo
  • read
  • bed
  • very
  • no
  • kilo
  • short
  • window
  • time
  • think
  • sing
  • go
  • casual
  • yes
  • do
  • the
  • hello

Tricky Graphemes

There are some letters that are used to write down sounds already represented by other
graphemes. For example we use the letter c to represent the /k/ sound (already represented by
the grapheme ‘k’) and the /s/ sound (already represented by the grapheme ‘s’).
c /k/ as in cat, cot, cup /s/ as in city, cycle, cents
x /k//s/ as in box, fox, fix /g//z/ as in example, exam /z/ as in xylophone
q(u)* /k//w/ as in queen /k/ as in bouquet, marquis, cheque