All the words on the chart have been carefully selected so that they form minimal pairs.
thin and fin are an example of a minimal pair. The words sound the same apart from one sound – the consonant at the start. Notice the IPA transcriptions: /θɪn/ – /fɪn/. By listening to minimal pairs, you can hear the difference between consonants more easily.
You can find some interesting consonant minimal pairs below. I’ve chosen these contrasts because these are ones English learners often have problems with. Remember you can click the words on the chart to listen to them.
These minimal pairs work for the Standard Southern British English accent – they may not work for other varieties of English. The symbols used are from the Oxford Dictionary (if you’re confused about the vowel symbols, I suggest you look at the vowel chart).
If you find it challenging to make a difference between some of these consonants, you will benefit from signing up to my online course.
/p/ – /b/: pat /pat/ – bat /bat/, played /pleɪd/ – blade /bleɪd/, pride /prʌɪd/ – bride /brʌɪd/
/p/ – /f/: pat /pat/ – fat /fat/
/f/ – /v/: fat /fat/ – vat /vat/
/b/ – /v/: bat /bat/ – vat /vat/
/t/ – /d/: tie /tʌɪ/ – die /dʌɪ/, try /trʌɪ/ – dry /drʌɪ/
/t/ – /ʧ/: tie /tʌɪ/ – chai /ʧʌɪ/
/d/ – /ʤ/: door /dɔː/ – jaw /ʤɔː/
/k/ – /g/: card /kɑːd/ – guard /gɑːd/, class /klɑːs/ – glass /glɑːs/, crow /krəʊ/ – grow /krəʊ/
/θ/ – /ð/: thigh /θʌɪ/ – thy /ðʌɪ/
/θ/ – /t/: thigh /θʌɪ/ – tie /tʌɪ/
/ð/ – /d/: thy /ðʌɪ/ – die /dʌɪ/, breathing /briːðɪŋ/ – breeding /briːdɪŋ/
/θ/ – /s/: thin /θɪn/ – sin /sɪn/
/ð/ – /z/: breathing /briːðɪŋ/ – breezing /briːzɪŋ/
/θ/ – /f/: thin /θɪn/ – fin /fɪn/
/ð/ – /v/: that /ðat/ – vat /vat/, further /fəːðə/ – fervour /fəːvə/
Note: the sound difference between /θ/ + /f/ and /ð/ + /v/ is very slight. Most will differentiate between the two from context or by looking at the lip movement (lower lip moves for /f/ and /v/, but not for /θ/ and /ð/).
/s/ – /z/: sue /suː/ – zoo /zuː/
/s/ – /ʃ/: sue /suː/ – shoe /ʃuː/, sigh /sʌɪ/ – shy /ʃʌɪ/
/s/ – /ʧ/: sue /suː/ – chew /ʧuː/, sigh /sʌɪ/ – chai /ʧʌɪ/
/ʃ/ – /ʒ/: shush /ʃʊʃ/ – zhuzh /ʒʊʒ/ (the latter is one possible spelling and pronunciation of this word)
/ʃ/ – /ʧ/: shoe /ʃuː/ – chew /ʧuː/
/ʧ/ – /ʤ/: chew /ʧuː/ – Jew /ʤuː/, chore /ʧɔː/ – jaw /ʤɔː/
/z/ – /ʒ/: ruse /ruːz/ – rouge /ruːʒ/
/z/ – /ʤ/: zoo /zuː/ – Jew /ʤuː/
/ʒ/ – /ʤ/: leisure /ˈlԑʒə/ – ledger /ˈlԑʤə/ (the former word is pronounced /liːʒɚ/ in a General American accent)
/n/ – /ŋ/: sin /sɪn/ – sing /sɪŋ/, sinner /sɪnə/ – singer /sɪŋə/
/n/ – /m/: sim /sɪm/ – sin /sɪn/, simmer /sɪmə/ – sinner /sɪnə/
/n/ – /l/: night /nʌɪt/ – light /lʌɪt/
/r/ – /l/: right /rʌɪt/ – light /lʌɪt/, pray /preɪ/ – play /pleɪ/, crime /krʌɪm/ – climb /klʌɪm/
/r/ – /n/: right /rʌɪt/ – night /nʌɪt/
/r/ – /v/: rest /rԑst/ – vest /vԑst/
/r/ – /w/: rest /rԑst/ – west /wԑst/
/r/ – /z/: rest /rԑst/ – zest /zԑst/
/r/ – /ʒ/: rest /rԑst/ – geste /ʒԑst/
The latter word is actually from the compound noun beau geste (FYI it means “a noble and generous act”). I know it’s French, but it’s in the Oxford English Dictionary and I haven’t managed to find a better minimal pair with a more common word.
/j/ – /ʤ/: you /juː/ – Jew /ʤuː/
/w/ – /v/: west /wԑst/ – vest /vԑst/, wine /wʌɪn/ – vine /vʌɪn/, whine /wʌɪn/ – vine /vʌɪn/
/w/ – /g/: would /wʊd/ – good /gʊd/
/h/ – /k/: hard /hɑːd/ – card /kɑːd/
/h/ – /f/: who’d /huːd/ – food /fuːd/
The following contrasts are from the /j/ symbol listed under Other Sounds/Symbols. You may want to read further about this sound below in the question: “Tell me about the [ç] symbol.”
/hj/ – /h/: Hugh /hjuː/ – who /huː/
/hj/ – /j/: Hugh /hjuː/ – you /juː/