The sounds of English and the International Phonetic Alphabet

This table contains all the sounds (phonemes) used in the English language. For each sound, it gives:

If you would like to print the table, use the pretty printable version.

vowels
IPA words listen  
^ cup, luck Amer  
a: arm, father Amer / Brit  
@ cat, black Amer  
e met, bed Amer 1
.. away, cinema Amer 2
e:(r) turn, learn Amer / Brit 2
i hit, sitting Amer  
i: see, heat Amer  
o hot, rock Amer / Brit 3
o: call, four Amer / Brit 4
u put, could Amer  
u: blue, food Amer  
ai five, eye Amer  
au now, out Amer  
ou go, home Amer 5
e..(r) where, air Amer / Brit 6
ei say, eight Amer  
i..(r) near, here Amer / Brit 6
oi boy, join Amer  
u..(r) pure, tourist Amer / Brit 6
consonants
IPA words listen
b bad, lab Amer
d did, lady Amer
f find, if Amer
g give, flag Amer
h how, hello Amer
j yes, yellow Amer
k cat, back Amer
l leg, little Amer
m man, lemon Amer
n no, ten Amer
N sing, finger Amer
p pet, map Amer
r red, try Amer
s sun, miss Amer
S she, crash Amer
t tea, getting Amer
tS check, church Amer
th think, both Amer
TH this, mother Amer
v voice, five Amer
w wet, window Amer
z zoo, lazy Amer
Z pleasure, vision Amer
dZ just, large Amer
1 In some (not many) dictionaries, the e phoneme is written as e (do not confuse with e:), which is actually more appropriate, because e in IPA does not correspond to the sound in met and bed.
2 In ..(r) and e:(r), the r is not pronounced in BrE, unless the sound comes before a vowel (as in answering, answer it). In AmE, the r is always pronounced, and the sounds are sometimes written as ..r and e:r.
3 In AmE, a: and o are one vowel, so calm and cot have the same vowel. In American-only transcription, hot is written as ha:t.
4 About 40% of Americans pronounce o: the same way as a:, so that caught and cot have the same vowel. See cot-caught merger.
5 ou has been traditionally written as ..u in British sources. Today, ou is probably more appropriate for both BrE or AmE.
6 In e..(r) i..(r) u..(r), the r is not pronounced in BrE, unless the sound comes before a vowel (as in dearest, dear Ann). In AmE, the r is always pronounced, and the sounds are often written as er ir ur.
special symbols
IPA what it means
' The apostrophe symbol (') is used to show word stress. Usually, it is placed before the stressed syllable in a word. For example, /'kontr@kt/ is pronounced like this, and /k..n'tr@kt/ like that. Word stress is explained in our article about phonetic transcription.
(r)

(r) is not a sound — it is a short way of saying that an r is pronounced only in American English. For example, if you write that the pronunciation of bar is /ba:(r)/, you mean that it is /ba:r/ in American English, and /ba:/ in British English.

However, in BrE, r will be heard if (r) is followed by a vowel. For example, far gone is pronounced /'fa: 'gon/ in BrE, but far out is pronounced /'fa: 'raut/.

i i ("medium i") means that you can pronounce i: or i or something in between — a sound that is short like i but sounds like i:. Examples: very /'veri/, create /kri'eit/, previous /'pri:vi..s/, ability /..'biliti/.
.l .l ("syllabic l") shows that the consonant l is pronounced as a separate syllable (it sounds like vowel). Examples: little /'lit.l/, uncle /'^Nk.l/.

Instead of the .l symbol, some dictionaries use l /'litl/ or ..l /'lit..l/.

.n .n ("syllabic n") shows that the consonant n is pronounced as a separate syllable (it sounds like a vowel). Examples: written /'rit.n/, listen /'lis.n/.

Instead of the .n symbol, some dictionaries use n or ..n.

Does this page list all the sounds that you can hear in British and American English?

No. This page contains symbols used in phonetic transcriptions in modern dictionaries for English learners. It does not list all the possible sounds in American or British English.

For example, this page does not list the "regular t" (heard in this pronunciation of letter) and the "flap t" (heard in this one) with separate symbols. It groups them under a single symbol: t. (In other words, it groups a number of similar sounds under a single phoneme, for simplicity. To understand how sounds are grouped into phonemes, read the article on phonemic transcription.)

So this page actually lists phonemes (groups of sounds), not individual sounds. Each symbol in the table can correspond to many different (but similar) sounds, depending on the word and the speaker's accent.

Take the phoneme p in the above table. It occurs in the phonemic transcriptions of pin /pin/ and spin /spin/. In pin, this phoneme is pronounced with aspiration (breathing). This "aspirated p" sound has its own special symbol in the IPA: p(h). In spin, the phoneme is pronounced "normally"; the "normal p" sound is represented by p in the IPA. So the p phoneme represents two sounds: p and p(h). (This can be confusing, because p can mean both the p phoneme and the p sound.)

The ASCII Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet is very popular, but there is a big problem with this alphabet: the IPA symbols are difficult to type on computers. Because of this, we've created the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet. It uses only symbols which you can type on your computer's keyboard.

Learning to pronounce the sounds

We offer software (PerfectPronunciation) which teaches learners to pronounce the most frequently used English words. It lets you listen to examples of English sounds, practice your pronunciation, and review your knowledge. PerfectPronunciation uses the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet.

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