Humanities › English Do You Know Everything About Consonant Sounds and Letters in English? This Overview Will Help You From Getting Tongue-Tied Share Flipboard Email Print Mats Silvan / EyeEm / Getty Images English English Grammar An Introduction to Punctuation Writing By Richard Nordquist Richard Nordquist English and Rhetoric Professor Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester B.A., English, State University of New York Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on July 26, 2019 A consonant is a speech sound that's not a vowel. The sound of a consonant is produced by a partial or complete obstruction of the airstream by a constriction of the speech organs. In writing, a consonant is any letter of the alphabet except A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. There are 24 consonant sounds in English, some voiced (made by a vibration of the vocal cords) and some voiceless (no vibration). Consonants Versus Vowels When spoken vowels have no obstruction in the mouth, as opposed to consonants, which do. In his book "Letter Perfect," the author David Sacks described the difference between speaking consonants and vowels this way: "Whereas vowels are pronounced from the vocal cords with minimal shaping of expelled breath, consonant sounds are created through obstruction or channeling of the breath by the lips, teeth, tongue, throat, or nasal passage.... Some consonants, like B, involve the vocal cords; others don't. Some, like R or W, flow the breath in a way that steers them relatively close to being vowels." When consonants and vowels are put together, they form syllables, which are the basic units of pronunciation. Syllables, in turn, are the foundation of words in English grammar. Phonetically, however, consonants are much more variable. Consonant Blends and Digraphs When two or more consonant sounds are pronounced in succession without an intervening vowel (as in the words "dream" and "bursts"), the group is called a consonant blend or consonant cluster. In a consonant blend, the sound of each individual letter can be heard. By contrast, in a consonant digraph, two successive letters represent a single sound. Common digraphs include G and H, which together mimic the sound of F (as in the word "enough"), and the letters P and H, which also sound like an F (as in "phone"). Silent Consonants In a number of cases in English, consonant letters can be silent, such as the letter B following M (as in the word "dumb"), the letter K before N ("know"), and the letters B and P before T ("debt" and "receipt"). When a double consonant appears in a word, usually only one of the two consonants is sounded (as in "ball" or "summer"). Stop Consonants Consonants can also serve as a means of bracketing a vowel, stopping their sound. These are called stop consonants because the air in the vocal tract is completely stopped at some point, usually by the tongue, lips, or teeth. Then to make the consonant sound, the air is suddenly released. The letters B, D, and G are the most frequently used stops, though P, T, and K also can serve the same function. Words that contain stop consonants include "bib" and "kit." Stop consonants are also called plosives, as their sounds are small "explosions" of air in the mouth. Consonance Broadly, consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds; more specifically, consonance is the repetition of the consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words. Consonance is frequently used in poetry, song lyrics, and prose when the writer wants to create a sense of rhythm. One well-known example of this literary device is the tongue twister, "She sells seashells by the seashore." Using 'A' and 'An' In general, words that begin with vowels should be introduced by the indefinite article "an," while words that start with consonants are set off with an "a" instead. However, when the consonants at the beginning of the word produce a vowel sound, you would use the article "an" instead (an honor, a house). Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Nordquist, Richard. "Do You Know Everything About Consonant Sounds and Letters in English?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/consonant-sounds-and-letters-1689914. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Do You Know Everything About Consonant Sounds and Letters in English? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/consonant-sounds-and-letters-1689914 Nordquist, Richard. "Do You Know Everything About Consonant Sounds and Letters in English?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/consonant-sounds-and-letters-1689914 (accessed May 22, 2022). copy citation Watch Now: Should You Use A, An or And?