The 44 Phonemes in English

Despite there being just 26 letters in the English language there are 44 unique sounds, also known as phonemes. The 44 sounds help distinguish one word or meaning from another. Various letters and letter combinations known as graphemes are used to represent the sounds.

The 44 English sounds fall into three categories: consonants, vowels and digraphs, the latter being  two letter blends. Below is a list of the 44 phonemes along with their common spelling and some examples. Note that there is no such thing as a definitive list of phonemes because of accents, dialects and the evolution of language itself. Therefore you may discover lists with more or less than these 44 sounds.    

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Sound #SoundGraphemesExamples
1/b/b, bbbug, bubble
2/d/d, dd, eddad, add, milled
3/f/f, ff, ph, gh, lf, ftfat, cliff, phone, enough, half, often
4/g/g, gg, gh,gu,guegun, egg, ghost, guest, prologue
5/h/h, whhop, who
6/j/j, ge, g, dge, di, ggjam, wage, giraffe, edge, soldier, exaggerate
7/k/k, c, ch, cc, lk, qu ,q(u), ck, xkit, cat, chris, accent, folk, bouquet, queen, rack, box
8/l/l, lllive, well
9/m/m, mm, mb, mn, lmman, summer, comb, column, palm
10/n/n, nn,kn, gn, pnnet, funny, know, gnat, pneumonic
11/p/p, pppin, dippy
12/r/r, rr, wr, rhrun, carrot, wrench, rhyme
13/s/s, ss, c, sc, ps, st, ce, sesit, less, circle, scene, psycho, listen, pace, course
14/t/t, tt, th, edtip, matter, thomas, ripped
15/v/v, f, ph, vevine, of, stephen, five
16/w/w, wh, u, owit, why, quick, choir
17/y/y, i, jyes, onion, hallelujah
18/z/z, zz, s, ss, x, ze, sezed, buzz, his, scissors, xylophone, craze



19/a/a, ai, aucat, plaid, laugh
20/ā/a, ai, eigh, aigh, ay, er, et, ei, au, a_e, ea, eybay, maid, weigh, straight, pay, foyer, filet, eight, gauge, mate, break, they
21/e/e, ea, u, ie, ai, a, eo, ei, ae, ayend, bread, bury, friend, said, many, leopard, heifer, aesthetic, say
22/ē/e, ee, ea, y, ey, oe, ie, i, ei, eo, aybe, bee, meat, lady, key, phoenix, grief, ski, deceive, people, quay
23/i/i, e, o, u, ui, y, ieit, england, women, busy, guild, gym, sieve
24/ī/i, y, igh, ie, uy, ye, ai, is, eigh, i_espider, sky, night, pie, guy, stye, aisle, island, height, kite
25/o/o, a, ho, au, aw, oughoctopus, swan, honest, maul, slaw, fought
26/ō/o, oa, o_e, oe, ow, ough, eau, oo, ewopen, moat, bone, toe, sow, dough, beau, brooch, sew
27/oo/o, oo, u,ouwolf, look, bush, would
28/u/u, o, oo, oulug, monkey, blood, double
29/ū/o, oo, ew, ue, u_e, oe, ough, ui, oew, ouwho, loon, dew, blue, flute, shoe, through, fruit, manoeuvre, group
30/y//ü/u, you, ew, iew, yu, ul, eue, eau, ieu, euunit, you, knew, view, yule, mule, queue, beauty, adieu, feud
31/oi/oi, oy, uoyjoin, boy, buoy
32/ow/ow, ou, oughnow, shout, bough
33/ə/ (schwa)a, er, i, ar, our, or, e, ur, re, eurabout, ladder, pencil, dollar, honour, doctor, ticket, augur, centre, chauffeur

R Controlled Vowels

34/ã/air, are, ear, ere, eir, ayerchair, dare, pear, where, their, prayer
35/ä/a, ar, au, er, earmath, jar, laugh, sergeant, heart
36/û/ir, er, ur, ear, or, our, yrbird, term, burn, pearl, word, journey, myrtle
37/ô/aw, a, or, oor, ore, oar, our, augh, ar, ough, aupaw, ball, fork, poor, fore, board, four, taught, war, bought, sauce
38/ēə/ear, eer, ere, ierear, steer, here, tier
39/üə/ure, ourcure, tourist


40/zh/s, si, ztreasure, division, azure
41/ch/ch, tch, tu, ti, te, qichip, watch, future, action, righteous, qigong
42/sh/sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, tisham, ocean, sure, special, pension, machine, conscience, station
43/th/th(voiced), th(unvoiced)thongs, leather
44/ng/ng, n, nguering, pink, tongue

Teaching phonemic awareness

Knowing that phonemic awareness is a critical skill and being able to effectively teach it are two different things. One helpful resource is Essential Strategies for Teaching Phonemic Awareness from the book 50 Reading Strategies for K-8 Learners from Sage Publications. 

Final sounds on phonemes

The difficulty dyslexics have in distinguishing phonemes is most clearly revealed in their poor spelling. While any phoneme can be a challenge, some are more problematic than others. The vowels and digraphs generally present more difficulty than the consonants, although any sound can present difficulty depending on the particular word and phrase in which it resides.   

Good luck and good reading!

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