IPA Consonant Symbols

This is quick reference for the Consonants of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

(For a quick guide to IPA vowel symbols, go here. And for a more detailed tutorial of the International Phonetic Alphabet, go here.)

The IPA features 58 standard consonant symbols, only a fraction of which are used in any given language. For this reason, I will not describe every consonant here. Rather, this guide defines the phrases used on the top and left-hand side of the standard IPA consonant chart:

The top row of phrases on this chart refer to the Consonant positions: that is, what part of the mouth or throat is used to create the consonant. The phrases on the left side of the chart are the “manners of articulation” of those consonants: that is, the type of sound that is created.

Here are some definitions of the phrases used on this chart:

CONSONANT POSITIONS

Bilabial:  Made with the lips
English Example:  “b” in “bed”

Labiodental:  Made with the bottom lip and the top teeth
English Example:  “v” in “very”

Dental:  Made with the tip of the tongue and the top teeth
English Example:  “th” in “thing”

Alveolar:  Made with the tip of the tongue and the area just behind the top teeth
English Example:  “t” in “Tom”

Post-Alveolar:  Made with the tip of the tongue and the are just behind where the “alveolar” consonats are pronounced
English Example:  “sh” in “short”

Retroflex:  Made with the tip of the tongue curved backward behind the alveolar ridge.
English Examples:  “r” in some dialects of American English

Palatal:  Made with the tongue and the palate (see definition here)
English Examples:  “y” in “yes

Velar:  Made with the back of the tongue and the velum (the back of the mouth).
English Examples:  “c” in “cat

Uvular:  Made with the back of the tongue and the uvula.
English Examples:  No English examples.  This is how the French “r” is usually made.

Pharyngeal:  Made with the “root” (far back) of the tongue and the pharynx.
English Examples:  None.  Arabic is the most well know language with Pharyngeals.

Glottal:  Made with the glottis (see definition in the glossary).  In essence glottal consonants are made with the throat.
English Example:  “h” in “hat

Now let’s look at a rundown of the “manner of articulation” or “qualities” that consonants can have:

CONSONANT QUALITIES

Plosive:  Part of the vocal tract or mouth is closed, then air is released with a sharp burst
English Examples:  “p” in “pet,” “t” in “Tom”

Nasal:  Made with the back of the mouth closing up so that air passes through the nasal cavity
English Examples:  “n” in “nose,” “m” in “me”

Trill:  Made with part of the vocal tract or mouth fluttering rapidly.
English Examples:  None in standard English.  The “trilled r” in Spanish and Italian.

Tap or Flap:  Basically like it sounds.  The consonant is made with the tongue quickly “tapping” some part of the mouth.
English Examples:  The “t” in “better” in American English.  The “r” in Spanish “cara”

Fricative:  Made by closing some part of the mouth or vocal tract and pushing air through a small opening.
English Examples:  The “f” in “free,” the “s” in “silly”

Lateral Fricative:  Made with the tip of the tongue placed against the top teeth, and creating a fricative consonant using the sides of the mouth.  If you’re confused about this, don’t worry.  It’s used in very few languages.

Lateral Approximant:  Made with the tip of the tongue placed against the top teeth, and air coming out the small space between the sides of the tongue and the top of the mouth.
English Example:  “l” in “lake”

The best way to learn what sounds are which is to find the IPA symbol you don’t know on the chart, then cross reference the “manner of articulation” with the “consonant position.”

Hope this helped!

Copright (c) 2011 by Ben Trawick-Smith. All rights reserved

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12 Responses to IPA Consonant Symbols

  1. Carol Andra says:

    I have a question that I’m hoping you can answer for me. Now and then I hear the word ‘important’ pronounced as something like ‘impordant’. I feel sure this is a regional dialect pronunciation. Do you know which region from which this originates? Thank you.

  2. Bana Bissat says:

    Excellent methods of explanation! A million thanks.

  3. Ryan says:

    That is the alveolar tap or flap. English has been called a “lazy” language and often reduces more than one sound(phoneme) to a single one. Most notably, English tends to reduce all unstressed vowels to schwa. Many dialects reduce t’s or d’s between unstressed syllables to the flap, which is voiced and often sounds like a d.
    Hope that helps.

  4. Bruna says:

    you forgot the approximant manner of the articulation in the consonant phoneme chart, which is produced by bringing one articulator (the tongue or lips) close to another without actually touching it. For example “r” in “roll” or “w” in “why”.

  5. CHANDRAKANT PARASE says:

    Interesting…I have a Northeastern relative who pronounces my husband’s name as “Walder.” I thought that might be the same phenomenon.

  6. Burch says:

    If anyone is still maintaining this page, two typos in Post-Alveolar:

    …the areA…

    and

    …consonaNts are …

    and under Palatal, it seems like this ” (see definition here)” should be a hyperlink, but it isn’t.

    Finally, thanks! Very helpful.

  7. Cinda says:

    Hi, everything is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is
    sharing information, that’s really fine, keep up writing.

  8. Lisbeth Ames says:

    Thank you for this incredibly useful and entertaining blog. I’m attempting to write a character who employs a dialect other than my own, and your blog is my new resource. That said, I have a question that has long been bothering me: in what English dialect does the letter “R” end up sounding like a soft “V” or “W”? For instance, the word “wrong” is pronounced something like “vong.”

    From the list above, the closest thing I could find to describe it would be to call it a “labiodental” sound, but one where the teeth remain at the top inside ridge of the bottom lip, almost where they would be positioned during a silent state of relaxation. Try saying the words “wrong” and “right” with your mouth in that position and you get a very soft “v” sound like “vong” and “vight.”

    Thank you so much for helping me to solve this irksome riddle!

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