The 44 Sounds in the English Language

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When supporting children in learning the sounds of the English language, remember to choose words that demonstrate all 44 word-sounds or phonemes. English contains 19 vowel sounds—5 short vowels, 6 long vowels, 3 diphthongs, 2 'oo' sounds, and 3 r-controlled vowel sounds—and 25 consonant sounds.

The following lists provide sample words to use when teaching the sounds of the English language. You may choose to find more words to fill out word families or align with sight vocabulary lists such as a Dolch Word List. Your learners will benefit most from terms that are familiar to them or make sense in their life.

The 5 Short Vowel Sounds

The five short vowel sounds in English are a, e, i, o, and u.

  • short a: and, as, and after
  • short e: pen, hen, and lend
  • short i: it and in
  • short o: top and hop
  • short u: under and cup

Remember that these sounds are not necessarily indicative of spelling. Note that the above words all contain the vowel whose sound they make but this is not always the case. A word might sound as if it contains a certain vowel that is not there. Examples of words whose short vowel sounds do not correspond with their spelling are busy and does.

The 6 Long Vowel Sounds

The six long vowel sounds in English are a, e, i, o, u, and oo.

  • long a: make and take
  • long e: beet and feet
  • long i: tie and lie
  • long o: coat and toe
  • long u (pronounced "yoo"): music and cute
  • long oo: goo and droop

Examples of words whose long vowel sounds do not correspond with their spelling are they, try, fruit, and few.

The R-Controlled Vowel Sounds

An r-controlled vowel is a vowel whose sound is influenced by the r that comes before it. The three r-controlled vowel sounds are ar, er, and or.

  • ar: bark and dark
  • er: her, bird, and fur
  • or: fork, pork, and stork

It is important that students pay close attention to the er sound in words because it can be created by an r-controlled e, i, or u. These vowels are all transformed into the same sound when an r is attached to the end of them. More examples of this include better, first, and turn.

The 18 Consonant Sounds

The letters c, q, and x are not denoted by unique phonemes because they are found in other sounds. The c sound is covered by k sounds in words like crust, crunch, and create and by s sounds in words like cereal, city, and cent (the c is found in the spelling of these words only but does not have its own phoneme). The q sound is found in kw words like backward and Kwanza. The x sound is found in ks words like kicks.

  • b: bed and bad
  • k: cat and kick
  • d: dog and dip
  • f: fat and fig
  • g: got and girl
  • h: has and him
  • j: job and joke
  • l: lid and love
  • m: mop and math
  • n: not and nice
  • p: pan and play
  • r: ran and rake
  • s: sit and smile
  • t: to and take
  • v: van and vine
  • w: water and went
  • y: yellow and yawn
  • z: zipper and zap

The Blends

Blends are formed when two or three letters combine to create a distinct consonant-sound, often at the beginning of a word. In a blend, the sounds from each original letter are still heard, they are just blended quickly and smoothly together. The following are common examples of blends.

  • bl: blue and blow
  • cl: clap and close
  • fl: fly and flip
  • gl: glue and glove
  • pl: play and please
  • br: brown and break
  • cr: cry and crust
  • dr: dry and drag
  • fr: fry and freeze
  • gr: great and ground
  • pr: prize and prank
  • tr: tree and try
  • sk: skate and sky
  • sl: slip and slap
  • sp: spot and speed
  • st: street and stop
  • sw: sweet and sweater
  • spr: spray and spring
  • str: stripe and strap

The 7 Digraph Sounds

A digraph is formed when two consonants come together to create an entirely new sound that is distinctly different from the sounds of the letters independently. These can be found anywhere in a word but most often the beginning or end. Some examples of common digraphs are listed below.

  • ch: chin and ouch
  • sh: ship and push
  • th: thing
  • th: this
  • wh: when
  • ng: ring
  • nk: rink

Point out to your students that there are two sounds that th can make and be sure to provide plenty of examples.

Diphthongs and Other Special Sounds

A diphthong is essentially a digraph with vowels—it is formed when two vowels come together to create a new sound in a single syllable as the sound of the first vowel glides into the second. These are usually found in the middle of a word. See the list below for examples.

  • oi: oil and toy
  • ow: owl and ouch
  • ey: rain

Other special sounds include:

  • short oo: took and pull
  • aw: raw and haul
  • zh: vision