Stop Consonant (Phonetics)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Stop Consonant. Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

In phonetics, a stop consonant is the sound made by completely blocking the flow of air and then releasing it. Also known as a plosive.

Stop Consonants Explained

In English, the sounds [p], [t], and [k] are voiceless stops (also called plosives). The sounds [b], [d], and [g] are voiced stops.

Examples Of Stop Consonants

  • "We may describe the first sound in pit as a voiceless bilabial stop (transcribed as [p]) . . .. The consonant in abbey is also a bilabial stop, but differs from that in pit: it is voiced. This consonant (transcribed as [b]) is a voiced bilabial stop.
  • "The first sound in tin is a voiceless alveolar stop; it is transcribed as [t]. Its voiced counterpart is the consonant in ado. This sound, the voiced alveolar stop, is transcribed as [d].
  • "The first sound in cool is a voiceless velar stop; it is transcribed as [k]. Its voiced counterpart, the voiced velar stop, is transcribed as [g]; an example is the consonant in ago.
  • "We have now identified bilabial, alveolar and velar stops; stops may be made at many other places of articulation, but we will ignore those, as they are not relevant to the study of English. There is one further stop which we must mention, however, as it is very common in the speech of most speakers of English. This is the glottal stop . . .. It is made by forming a constriction of complete closure between the vocal folds. This is the sound made instead of [t] in many Scottish and Cockney pronunciations of, for example, the word butter. We will see that it is present in the speech of almost every speaker of English, no matter what the accent." (Philip Carr, English Phonetics and Phonology: An Introduction. Blackwell, 1999)

Anterior Stops

  • "The labial and alveolar stops, [p], [b], [t], [d], are also known as the anterior stops. Together, with the velar or back stops, they complete the American English set of phonemic stops. . . .
  • "The [p] and [b] occur at the front of the mouth and are grouped with the labials, sounds formed by the lips. The alveolar stops, [t] and [d], are made on the gum ridge behind the upper teeth. At the back of the mouth are [k] and [g]. These are the velar stops because the tongue makes a seal with the soft palate (or velum). . . .
  • "The variant forms for the stops, called allophones by phoneticians, are regularly tied to the phonetic contexts in which the sounds occur. For example, stops in initial position in words or at the start of stressed syllables are usually exploded, or heavily aspirated, whereas those at the ends of words may not even be released." (Harold T. Edwards, Applied Phonetics: The Sounds of American English, 3rd ed. Thomson, 2003)

Nasal Stops

  • "Stop ‚Äčarticulations without a velic closure and with nasal airflow are called nasal stops or, more simply, nasals. Nasals are sonorant sounds, because the airstream produced by the lungs can escape via the nasal cavity and there is no rise in air pressure inside the vocal tract." (Michael Ashby and John A. Maidment, Introducing Phonetic Science. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005)

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