What are Consonant Sounds

What are Consonant Sounds

All the letters of the alphabet can be divided into two basic categories: vowels and consonants. A vowel is a speech sound produced by a relatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with the vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction. Consonant sounds are the opposite of the vowel sounds. It is a speech sound in which the breath is at least partly obstructed.

All the letters apart from the five vowels a,e, i, o and u are known as consonants. A consonant letter in the alphabet usually represents a consonant sound; however, some consonants like c,g,s can represent more than one consonant sound. For example, note the difference in pronunciation between [c] in cat /kat/ and [c] in cease  /siːs/.

There are 21 consonant letters in the English language and 24 consonant sounds in most English accents. A consonant has to be linked to a vowel to make a syllable. (A syllable is a unit of pronunciation, and all words are made of at least one syllable.)

Types of Consonant Sounds

Consonant sounds are produced by blocking the air when it moves through the mouth. There are different types of consonant sounds. Consonants can be grouped into two major groups: voiced and unvoiced consonants.

Voiced Consonants:

Voiced consonants make sound using the vibration of the vocal folds in the larynx. The easiest way to identify a voiced consonant is to place your finger on your throat. If you feel a vibration, then the consonant is voiced. [b], [d], [l],[r] are some examples of voiced consonants.

Unvoiced Consonants:

There is no vibration in unvoiced consonants. They make sound using the movement of air through parts of your mouth. [p], [t], [k] and,[s] are some examples of unvoiced consonants.

Plosive: The consonant is produced by stopping the flow of air at some point and suddenly releasing it. [p], [t], [k] are voiceless plosives whereas [b], [d], [ɡ] are voiced plosives.

Fricative: A consonant that is made when you squeeze air through a small hole or gap in your mouth. [s], [z], [ʃ],[f] and [ʒ] are examples of fricatives.

Nasal: A consonant that is produced through the nose with the mouth closed. [n] and [m] are examples of nasal consonants in English.

Approximant: A consonant produced by narrowing but not blocking the vocal tract, as by bringing two parts of the mouth closer.(Ex: tongue and the roof of the mouth)

Given below is IPA chart of consonants. It contains all divisions of consonant sounds.What are consonant sounds

Consonant Sounds – Summary

  • A consonant sound is a basic speech sound that is produced by obstructing the breath in the vocal tract.
  • There are 21 consonant letters in the English language and 24 consonant sounds.
  • A consonant has to be linked to a vowel to make a syllable.
  • Voice and unvoiced consonants are the major two types of consonants.
  • In addition, consonants can be further divided into plosives, fricatives, nasals, etc. depending on their pronunciation.

Image Courtesy:

“IPA chart 2005 consonants”. (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

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