British English Consonant Chart
This chart represents all of the consonant sounds in a contemporary Standard Southern British English Accent. It may look different from others you have seen in the past.
If you have any questions/confusions, I suggest you look at the FAQs below the chart.
- Listen to the Consonants by clicking on the symbols. You have a choice of listening to it as [consonant] + /ə/, or /ɑː/ + [consonant] + /ɑː/.
- Listen to Example Words by clicking on the arrow.
If you are using a mobile phone, then turn the phone on its side to view the whole chart more easily.
Frequently Asked Questions
Vowel symbols used are from the Oxford Dictionary.
About the Chart:
Plosives -> the air is stopped and then suddenly released.
Fricatives -> the air escapes through a narrow passage, which creates a hissing sound.
Affricates -> they begin as plosives and end as fricatives.
Nasals -> the air escapes through the nose.
Approximants -> the air escapes through a less narrow passage than fricatives.
More information on voiced/voiceless can be found below in the question: “What’s the difference between voiced/voiceless and lenis/fortis?”
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 non-native speakers 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/
Many of the following answers require the reader to have a basic/good understanding of phonetics and phonology.
Discussion of Particular Symbols:
Pronounce the following words – make the /h/ really long – and listen to yourself:
he, hair, ha, whore, who /hiː hԑː hɑː hɔː huː/
You should notice that the /h/ sounds different (maybe slightly brighter or darker – or higher/lower pitched) on each word.
The reason I’ve put this sound on the chart is because some non-native speakers will make /j/ fully voiced in the environments listed above.
Here’s a minimal pair showing the difference between [j] and [ç]: Euston /ˈjuːstən/ and Houston 1 /ˈhjuːstən/ (or [ˈçuːstən]).
You can listen to the difference between a voiced /j/ in the word you /juː/ and a devoiced /j/ or [ç] in the word Hugh /hjuː/ (or [çuː]) on the chart. You can also listen to the words: pew /pjuː/ (or [pçuː]), queue /kjuː/ (or [kçuː]), and tube /tjuːb/ (or [tçuːb]). For the latter word you may want to read the question below: “I hear people pronouncing due as Jew, tube as choob…”
I know that my underlining in the chart for the words Hugh, pew, queue, tube isn’t ideal: the sound we’re focusing on appears between the first and second letters (probably the second and third letters in the word queue). I did my best.
1 This is referring to the place in Texas. The Scottish name is /ˈhuːstən/ and the New York street name is /ˈhaʊstən/.
The word Dark refers to velarisation (i.e. a raising of the back of the tongue). The level of “darkness” (or velarisation) will vary from accent to accent.
In Standard American, Australian, and Scottish accents the /l/ sounds are generally “darker”. Some may argue that the distribution is the same (a “lighter” L before vowels and /j/, otherwise Dark), others will say that the /l/ is always Dark. In the Republic of Ireland and South Wales Light L usually appears in all positions.
It is not essential for non-natives to learn the difference between Light and Dark L, because native speakers will usually understand you regardless of which L you use. However, if you want to sound more like a native Standard Southern British English speaker, then it’s important to make the distinction.
Please ignore anyone who says that you can make the Dark L by putting the tongue behind the gum ridge, pressing the tongue really hard against the gum ridge, or curling the tongue back.
The sound is formed with the vocal folds closing for a short period of time. The acoustic effect is that the previous sound is stopped abruptly, or that the following sound is started suddenly, or both.
In the following recording, you can hear the word butter pronounced in two ways: first /bʌtə/, and then [bʌʔə]. In the second pronunciation, the /t/ is replaced with a glottal stop.
Replacing an intervocalic (=between two vowels) /t/ with a glottal stop (like in the second example above) is not associated with a formal register (=style of speaking) in the Standard Southern British English accent, but you may hear it in casual speech.
So when do we usually use a glottal stop in English? In the following situations:
- To emphasise a word that begins with a vowel: I know [ʔ]Andrew’s here but where is [ʔ]Emily.
- Listen to the glottal stop + the /ə/ vowel by clicking the symbol on the chart.
- To break up two adjacent vowels in different syllables, e.g. way [ʔ]over and under[ʔ]estimate.
- Listen to the sound between two /ɑː/ vowels by clicking the symbol on the chart.
- It’s added before /p, t, k, ʧ/ in syllable-final position where a sonorant (= vowel, nasal consonant, or /l/) precedes and a consonant or pause follows. This is called glottal reinforcement.
- Listen to chocolate [ʧɒʔk̚lət] and stop [stɒʔp̚ ] on the chart.
- The ̚ diacritic (= a small symbol added to another) tells us that the [k] and [p] sounds are unreleased.
- Listen to chocolate [ʧɒʔk̚lət] and stop [stɒʔp̚ ] on the chart.
- For /ʧ/, a glottal stop can appear even when there is a vowel after it.
- Listen to teaching [tiːʔʧɪŋ] on the chart.
- Some speakers may completely replace syllable-final /t/ with a glottal stop.
- Listen to football [fʊʔbɔːl] on the chart.
We don’t have to use a glottal stop in the above situations, but I believe it’s increasingly common to do so.
Now listen to examples of the words listed above with and then without glottal stops:
It’s not essential for non-natives to learn the glottal stop – but it’s useful to be aware of it because it’s used so frequently in native speech.
Some non-natives will overuse the glottal stop and reinforce/replace voiced plosives, which does not happen in the Standard Southern British English accent1. Usually this happens when a syllable-final voiced obstruent (= plosive, fricative, and affricate consonants) is fully devoiced and replaced with [ʔ]. For example bad [bad] -> [bat] -> [baʔ].
Is the glottal stop a phoneme in English? No, it’s usually considered allophonic (= one possible realisation of a phoneme). If we took the words: boo /buː/ and boot /buːt/ we could realise the /t/ as [ʔ] and so we’d have a minimal pair [buː]-[buːʔ] . However, [ʔ] can only replace /t/ in certain environments: it couldn’t replace the /t/ in two, for instance. It has a limited distribution (=only appears in certain environments) and so best thought of as an allophone. Of course, /ŋ/ also has a limited distribution, but let’s not get into that…
In some languages, the glottal stop is treated as phonemic. Here is a minimal pair from the Hawaiian language: kau “to place” – ka‘ u “mine”. The left apostrophe symbol ‘ is used to represent a glottal stop. This is why you sometimes see Hawaii written as Hawai‘i [haˈwaiʔi].
Listen to kau followed by ka‘ u. These native speaker recordings are from Forvo.com.
You can hear David Cameron use a glottal stop below in the question: “Sometimes I hear /t/ being pronounced more like a /d/ or a /r/ sound….”.
1I haven’t heard many instances of a voiced plosive being replaced with a glottal stop in a native variety of English. I’ve heard is the word didn’t by a speaker from the Republic of Ireland as [dɪʔnt]. I also remember hearing had to as [haʔtuː] by a native speaker, but I cannot remember where they were from. I’d be interested to know of other examples.
Symbols are tools. We can use them as we want. If we were comparing English and Spanish sound systems, then we would probably use the /ɹ/ symbol for English <r> in order to emphasise the difference between it and Spanish <r>. It’s not necessary to be that specific in this chart.
Discussion of Different Accents:
|Example Word||Formal Standard British||Contemporary Standard British||American|
Turning /dj/ and /tj/ into /ʤ/ and /ʧ/ is called yod-coalescence (yod = /j/). Deleting the /j/ is called yod-dropping.
Often very common words like produce and Tuesday will be pronounced with yod-coalescence (/ʤ/ and /ʧ/) whereas uncommon or formal words such as duke and Tudor will be kept as /dj/ and /tj/.
Listen to the three pronunciations of due: /djuː/ – /ʤuː/ – /duː/
Listen to the three pronunciations of tube: /tjuːb/ – /ʧuːb/ – /tuːb/
For /nj/ there are two options:
|Example Word||Standard British||Standard American|
The American pronunciation is becoming more and more common in the UK.
Listen to the two pronunciations of new: /njuː/ – /nuː/
Another related pronunciation change is with the /stj/ cluster as in stew.
|Example Word||Standard British||Non-Standard British||American|
Listen to the three pronunciations of stew: /stjuː/ – /ʃʧuː/ – /stuː/
I would recommend the Standard British pronunciation to non-native speakers.
You may be interested in listening to the pronunciation of street as /ʃʧriːt/. Take a look at the question below: “Is there a difference between /tr/ and /ʧr/ or /dr/ and /ʤr/?”
Here are some examples word-internally: butter, writer, party, battle
Now examples across word boundaries: get it, a lot of, wait a minute
Here is Barack Obama saying when you get invited. You’ll hear at normal speed and then slowed down. Listen to the /t/ sounds.
This different /t/ sound is a voiced tap and the process is referred to as T-Tapping and T-Voicing.
*The voiced tap may be transcribed as [ɾ] – which is how we would transcribe the <r> sound in Spanish caro [kaɾo]. However some linguists argue that it is not exactly the same sound. For this reason many prefer to transcribe it as [t̬].
Some speakers in North America will also turn /d/ into a tap, which means that words like latter-ladder, atom-Adam, Saturday-sadder day, set it-said it, writer-rider, and putting-pudding will sound the same. Some speakers may differentiate these pairs with the vowels instead of the consonants: writer [rʌɪɾɚ] – rider [raˑɪɾɚ].
What happens in British English?
Let’s look at the options for British English /t/: [t], [t̬], and [ʔ] (or [ʔt]).
The following audio is first at normal speed and then slowed down.
Listen to David Cameron pronounce better with a usual [t]:
In British he uses a voiced tapped [t̬]:
In Britain he uses a glottal stop [ʔ]:
I would say that [t] and [ʔ] are more common. A few tapped /t/s would not sound out of place in a Standard Southern British English accent – and there are some words that are regularly tapped (butter, better, a lot of). However, consistent tapping (like in American or Australian English) does not fit the Standard Southern British English accent at the moment. Perhaps in a few years’ time it will be commonplace.
Barack Obama sound recording taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-33265062
David Cameron sound recordings taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hex78gJebOo
The final realisation could be /n/ or a nasalised tap [ɾ̃].
I once interpreted an American lady’s pronunciation of dentistry as “Dennis Tree”. I asked her afterwards whether she would ever make winner and winter homophones (=words that sound the same) and she categorically denied that she ever would. She maintained that she spoke with a Standard American accent and she attributed winter=winner pronunciations to regional accents of the USA.
This is one reason why I think this /nt/ consonant reduction process is more widespread than people realise. Another reason is that I regularly hear it on American TV.
Here’s Barack Obama saying by interrupting me like this. The audio is first at normal speed and then slowed down. Listen to the /nt/:
British speakers don’t usually do this. However there are a few words where it is becoming increasingly common to do so, such as: twenty /twԑni/, plenty /plԑni/, went out /wԑn aʊt/, wanted /wɒnɪd/. Like T-Tapping/T-Voicing, it will probably become more common in time.
Sound recording from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-33265062
Nowadays, in the Standard Southern British English accent, they are the same: /wʌɪn – wʌɪn/. They are also the same for most North American speakers.
In many Scottish and Irish accents the distinction is maintained. This means that words spelled with <wh> like where, what, whisper, wheel etc. are pronounced with [ʍ] (the voiceless labial-velar fricative) rather than [w] (the voiced labial-velar approximant).
If you watch the American television series House of Cards, you will hear the protagonist Frank Underwood make the <w>-<wh> distinction in his South Carolina accent.
In the following audio you can hear me (in the Standard Southern British English accent) pronounce the words with the distinction: wine [wʌɪn] – whine [ʍʌɪn].
I would recommend that you do not make a distinction if you are aiming for the Standard Southern British English accent. This means that the following words will sound the same: wine/whine, weather/whether, Wales/whales, wear/where, witch/which.
On the chart you can compare:
pat [phat] – spat [spat]
tie [thʌɪ]- sty [stʌɪ]
card [khɑːd]- scarred [skɑːd]
Dictionaries will not include the h in their transcriptions.
Listen to the difference between rhyme [rʌɪm] and crime [kr̥ʌɪm] taken from the Oxford Dictionary:
Now listen to the difference between light [lʌɪt] and plight [pl̥ʌɪt] taken from the Oxford Dictionary:
On the chart you can listen to the voiced /r/ in right and a partially devoiced [r̥] in pray and crime. You can also listen to the voiced /l/ in light and a partially devoiced [l̥] in play and climb.
For more information you may want to read the question: “Not all the words with /p/ have the same sound…” above.
Discussion of Other Consonant Stuff:
If you click the FLEECE words, you will see beat and bead. The first word has a shorter vowel because it is before the voiceless (or fortis) consonant /t/, the second has a longer vowel because it is before the voiced (or lenis) consonant /d/. Essentially the vowel is clipped (=made shorter) before a fortis consonant. You might transcribe these words narrowly (=more detailed) as [biˑt] and [biːd] (where ˑ indicates a shorter vowel and ː indicates a longer vowel).
The effects of pre-fortis clipping are most perceptible in the long vowels and diphthongs. Have a listen to the 2nd (shorter vowel) and 3rd (longer vowel) words listed in the following vowels on the chart: FLEECE, GOOSE, CHOICE, GOAT, NORTH, FACE, START, MOUTH, and PRICE. Although traditionally described as a short vowel, the TRAP vowel /a/ quite clearly has a big difference in vowel length before voiceless/voiced consonants – listen to bat/bad. The short vowels do have a slight difference in length, but not as much as the other vowels.
You’ll need to go to the vowel chart and listen to the words in the HIDDEN box. You’ll hear two pronunciations of each word. In the first, you’ll hear a /ə/ vowel between the /t/ or /d/ and the /n/ or /l/. In the second pronunciation, there won’t be a vowel and the consonant has become syllabic.
hidden [hɪdən] and [hɪdn̩]
total [təʊtəl] and [təʊtl̩]
garden [gɑːdən] and [gɑːdn̩]
The [n̩] or [l̩] shows that the consonant is syllabic. Either the first or second pronunciation is acceptable in Standard Southern British English.
Dictionaries often indicate that a consonant can be syllabic by putting (ə) or ə before the consonant.
Nasal plosion: this can happen when /t/ or /d/ is followed by /n/. The air is released from the /t/ or /d/ consonant straight into the nose rather than through the mouth. No vowel sound is heard in the transition.
Lateral plosion: this can happen when /t/ or /d/ is followed by /l/. Tthe air is released from the /t/ or /d/ consonant over the sides of the tongue towards your cheeks. No vowel sound is heard in the transition.
For both lateral and nasal plosion, the tongue tip/blade remains on the gum ridge – it doesn’t move away.
You’ll need to go to the vowel chart and listen to the words in the HIDDEN box. You’ll hear two pronunciations of each word. In the first, you’ll hear a /ə/ vowel between the /t/ or /d/ and the /n/ or /l/. In the second pronunciation of hidden and garden you’ll hear nasal plosion, and in the second pronunciation of total you’ll hear lateral plosion.
hidden [hɪdən] and [hɪdⁿn̩]
total [təʊtəl] and [təʊtˡl̩]
garden [gɑːdən] and [gɑːdⁿn̩]
The superscript [ⁿ] and [ˡ] indicate nasal and lateral release respectively. The [n̩] or [l̩] shows that the consonant is syllabic.
Either the first or second pronunciation is acceptable in Standard Southern British English.
If you’re experimenting with both pronunciations at home, check you are making a distinction between: [təʊtəl], [təʊtˡl̩], and [təʊt̚ʔl̩]. The last one has a glottal stop (for more information see the question above: “Excuse me, what on earth is the ʔ symbol?”)
Listen to this recording of tree. The first pronunciation is /tr/ and the second is /ʧr/. I don’t think there is much difference between them.
Now listen to dream. The first pronunciation is /dr/ and the second is /ʤr/.
As there are no words with /ʧr/ or /ʤr/ in English, then saying /ʧr/ instead of /tr/ and /ʤr/ instead of /dr/ won’t make much difference. However the /r/ must be articulated to keep distinctions between minimal pairs such as cheese /ʧiːz/ vs trees /triːz/ or /ʧriːz/, and jaw /ʤɔː/ vs draw /drɔː/ or /ʤrɔː/.
Some speakers will turn the consonant cluster /str/ into /ʃʧr/. Listen to this recording of street. The first pronunciation is /striːt/ and the second is /ʃʧriːt/.
In initial or final position they may be partially or almost fully devoiced. We can represent devoicing in narrow (=very detailed) transcription with the ̥ diacritic (=small symbol added to another). Examples include: dead [d̥ɛd̥], valve [v̥alv̥], judge [ʤ̥ʌʤ̥].
Even if a voiced consonant is devoiced, it will still be lenis rather than fortis. This is why we are using [d̥] rather than [t] in the transcription for dead above. For more information see question below: “What’s the difference between voiced/voiceless and lenis/fortis?”
Other points to consider:
Initial voiceless plosives in a stressed syllable have aspiration. For more information see question above:”Not all the words with /p/ have the same sound!”
Final voiceless plosives/fricatives/affricates are mainly distinguished from their voiced equivalents by the preceding vowel length. This is called pre-fortis clipping. For more information see question above: “I want to listen to examples of pre-fortis clipping…”
Notes on Terminology:
In English, many of the typically “voiced” consonants are often not fully voiced1. For this reason it is useful to have another distinction: fortis and lenis.
Fortis (/fɔːtɪs/) consonants are made with a greater muscular effort and a stronger breath force. Lenis (/liːnɪs/) consonants are made with a weaker muscular effort and breath force. Voiceless consonants are fortis, whereas consonants that have the potential to be voiced are lenis.
In Latin, the word fortis means “strong” and lenis means “weak”.
1 For more information, see the question above: “Initial and final voiced plosives/fricatives/affricates sound pretty voiceless to me.”