Linguistics Reference


A basic speech sound in which the breath is at least partly obstructed and which can be combined with a vowel to form a syllable. Consonants can be classified by voice, place, and manner of articulation.

Consonant Cluster


A consonant cluster, also known as a consonant sequence, is a group of consonants which have no intervening vowel. In English, for example, the groups /spl/ and /ts/ are consonant clusters in the word “splits.”

Consonant clusters can occur either in the beginning (onset), middle (medial position) or end (coda) of a syllable. For example:

  • Initial consonant clusters are at the beginning of the syllable. Words like “break”, “gloves”, and “twelve” all begin with consonant clusters.
  • Medial consonant clusters occur within a syllable. An example would be the “nks” in “thanks.”
  • Final consonant clusters are at the end of the syllable, as in “masks” or “texts”.

Different languages have different rules about what consonant clusters are allowable. For instance, the English word “strengths” ends in a three-consonant cluster /ŋθs/, which is allowable in English phonotactics but might not be in other languages. Some languages do not allow consonant clusters at all.


A speech sound that is produced by comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction, and that is a unit of the sound system of a language that forms the nucleus of a syllable. Vowels can be classified by the position of the tongue and lips, the roundness of the lips, and the length of the articulation.


A pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation.


A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, such as (oi) in “boil” or “toy”.


A complex vowel sound that begins with one vowel sound and moves to another vowel sound and then to another, all within the same syllable. An example in English is the vowel sound in “entire” (/aɪər/).



A sound in speech that has some qualities of a consonant and some qualities of a vowel. In English, the /w/ and /j/ sounds (as in “we” and “yes”, respectively) are semivowels.


A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word. For example, there are two syllables in “water” and three in “inferno”.


This is the smallest meaningful unit of language. Morphemes cannot be divided further into smaller parts that still carry meaning. For example, in English, the word “unhappiness” contains three morphemes: “un-“, “happy”, and “-ness”.

Free Morpheme

These are morphemes that can stand alone as words. For example, in the word “unhappiness”, “happy” is a free morpheme.

Bound Morpheme

These are morphemes that cannot stand alone as words and must be attached to another form. In the word “unhappiness”, “un-” and “-ness” are bound morphemes.

Consonant Types



These are complex consonants that begin like a stop (plosive) but release as a fricative. Examples in English are “ch” and “j”.


These are consonants that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Examples in English are “w”, “r”, “l”, and “y”.



These are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. Examples include “f”, “v”, “th”, “s”, “z”, “sh”, “zh”, “h”.


Liquids are a class of consonants consisting of lateral consonants like /l/ together with rhotics like /r/.



These are consonants in which airflow proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but it is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth. The most common lateral consonant in English is /l/.


These are consonants that are also considered liquids, but have a different manner of articulation from laterals. The primary rhotic consonant in English is /r/.



This is a type of consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract and then suddenly releasing it. The sound is thus characterized by a noticeable burst of breath. Examples in English include the sounds represented by the letters “p”, “b”, “t”, “d”, “k”, and “g”.



This is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples in English are “n”, “m”, and “ng”.

Place of Articulaton


Consonants articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is located behind the teeth. Examples in English are /t/, /d/, /n/, /l/, /s/, /z/.


Consonants articulated with the tongue near or against the back of the alveolar ridge. The English “sh” /ʃ/ sound, as in “ship”, is a post-alveolar sound.


Consonants articulated with both lips. Examples in English include /p/, /b/, and /m/.


Consonants articulated with the tongue against the upper teeth. In English, the “th” sounds (as in “thin” and “this”) are usually dental.


Consonants articulated with the glottis. The most common glottal sound in English is the voiceless glottal fricative /h/ as in “hat”. Another glottal sound in English is the glottal stop, which is found in the middle of “uh-oh” or in Cockney pronunciation of “butter” as “bu’er”.


Consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate (the middle part of the roof of the mouth). An example in English is the /j/ sound as in “yes”.


Consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against the velum (the soft part of the roof of the mouth). Examples in English are /k/, /g/, and /ŋ/ (as in “sing”).

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