English Pronunciation Terminology Made Easy!

Marianne Jordan
Marianne Jordan

Here is a list of some of the English pronunciation terminology you will see during your study and teaching of English pronunciation.  The terms are in alphabetical order:

accent (noun)  

1  A distinctive way to pronounce a language influenced by the first language, country, region or social class   2 A mark on a letter or word to show pitch, stress or vowel quality.

affricate (noun.) 

A consonant sound that begins with an obstruction of the airflow.  A sound of friction immediately follows it.  Example: the sound of the letters ‘ch’ in the word ‘child’.

airflow/airstream (noun)  

The flow or passage of air out of your mouth as you say a sound.  

allophone  (noun) 

Any of the various sounds of a phoneme in a language. These sounds do not contribute to the distinctions of meaning.  Example: the English sound /p/ has an aspirated sound in the word pin. This is because the sound /p/ is at the beginning of the word.  Aspirated means to take a breath before you say the sound.  The sound /p/ in the word spin is not aspirated (as it follows another sound).  The aspirated /p/ sound and the non-aspirated /p/ sound are allophones of the sound /p/.

alveolar (noun)

A sound made by pressing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your top teeth.  The sounds /t/ and /d/ are examples of alveolars.

alveolar ridge (noun)

The hard bump area behind your top front teeth.

approximant (noun)

A consonant sound made by partly blocking the airflow.  Your tongue does not touch anything.  The airflow can flow almost completely freely.  The sounds /r/ /l/ and /w/ are approximants.

articulation (noun)

How you clearly pronounce words or speech sounds. 

articulators, active (noun)

The parts of our mouth and body that move to help to make our speech sounds (lips, tongue, jaw, etc.).

articulators, passive (noun)

The parts of our mouth and body that move to help to make our speech sounds (teeth, lungs, voice box, alveolar ridge, hard palate etc.)

aspirated (adj)

The description of a sound that is made by a small explosion of air when you make a sound such as /p/ and /f/.

aspiration (noun)

A small explosion of air when you make a sound such as /p/ and /f/.

auditory (adjective)

The process of hearing/related to the sense of hearing.

bilabial (adj)

A consonant sound you make with your both lips closed or nearly closed.  The sounds /m/  /p/ and /b/ are bilabial.

consonant (noun)

A speech sound that you make by obstructing, or partially obstructing the air coming out of your throat.  The obstruction can be partial as for the sound /h/.  It can be a full obstruction as for the sounds /d/ and /t/ before you release the air to complete the sound.

cluster (noun)  

A cluster is two or more different consonant sounds together in a word.  You pronounce each consonant.  stop, bread, close, strong, spring.  
(A “digraph’ is when you pronounce two different consonants as one sound.  think,  child,  dish,  sack.)
(When two consonants or vowels are the same you pronounce them as one sound.  add, app, still, meet.) 

curl (verb)  

When you curl your tongue, you make the end of it curved instead of flat.

dental (noun)  

A consonant sound that you make by touching your upper teeth with your tongue.  The sounds the /θ/ and /ð/, for the letters th, are dentals.

dialect (noun)

A dialect is a unique way of using and pronouncing words of a language by a certain group of people. 

diphthong (noun)

Two vowel sounds together in a single syllable pronounced as one sound.  air, toy, round.

flatten (verb)  

This is when your tongue is completely flat and not curled.  The shape of your tongue changes a sound.

fortis   (adj)  

The force of air and muscle tension used to make an unvoiced consonant.   The opposite of ‘lenis’ (voiced consonant).

fricative (noun)

A consonant sound made by forcing air from your throat through a small space. This causes friction through the space. The sounds /f/ and /v/ are fricatives.

glottal stop (noun)

The sound made in your throat by closing your vocal cords for a second.   You can hear and feel it in the middle of the expression where the hyphen (-) is,  “Uh-oh!”.

gum (noun)

The part of your mouth surrounding and holding your teeth.

hard palate (noun)

This is the hard part of the roof of your mouth. It is in the middle of the roof of your mouth.

intonation (noun)

The rise and fall of your voice when you are speaking.  This is the ‘music’ or ‘rhythm’ of speech.

labiodental (noun)  

This is a sound that you make with your lower lip and your upper teeth.  The sounds /v/ and /f/ are labiodentals.

larynx (noun)

This is the hollow muscular organ in your throat that holds your vocal cords.  It is also called your voice box.

lenis  (adj)  

A voiced consonant pronounced with little air and muscle tension.  The opposite of ‘fortis’ (unvoiced consonant).

linking (verb)

Blending sounds/Joining words when you speak.  “Do you have a pen?”… becomes  “Doya hava pen?”  Native speakers do this naturally without thinking.  

minimal pairs (adjective/nouns)  

Two words that have the same pronunciation except for one sound.    bet/vet,  cow/now, cat/cap

nasal consonants (adjective/nouns)  

Consonants that you say by pushing air through your nose.   The sounds /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/ are nasal consonants.

palate (noun)

The roof of your mouth.  There are two parts to your palate- the soft palate (at the back) and the hard palate (in the middle).

phon  (noun) 

A unit of loudness of sounds.

phonematic  (adj.)  

Relating to phonemes. Phonemes are language sounds.  Phonematic is when you add intonation or stress to a phoneme.

phoneme  (noun.) 

A distinct unit of sound in any language.   (Compare with allophone.)

phonemic  (adj.)  

An awareness of individual sounds which involves hearing, identifying and pronouncing them.

phonetic  (adj.) 

Relating to speech sounds.  Each sound has its own unique symbol.

phonetically  (adv)  

The way you say a word.  If you spell a word phonetically, you say each sound rather than each letter.

phoneticise  (verb)  

To write speech sounds using phonetic symbols.

phonetics   (pl noun) 

The study of the sounds that people make when they speak.

phonic  (adj) 

Of or relating to speech sounds.

phonically  (adv)

Related to the sound of a word rather than the spelling of a word.

phonics  (plural noun.)   

A method of teaching people to read by matching the sounds of the language to its alphabet.

phono  (adj) 

Relating to sound.

phonological (adj.)  

The study of the distribution and patterning of speech sounds in a language and its features.  It also includes the rules of how sounds interact with each other.

phonologically (adv)  

The study of sounds patter and their meanings within and across languages.

phonologolist (noun) 

A person who studies phonology.

phonology  (noun.)  

The study of how languages organize sounds.  

pitch  (noun)  

The quality of sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it.  The degree of highness or lowness of a tone.

pronounce  (verb)

To make the sound of a word or part of a word in the correct or particular way.

pronunciation (noun)

How a word is pronounced.

pulmonic (adjective)  

Relating to the lungs.

soft palate (adjective/noun)

This is the soft part of the roof of your mouth.  It is at the back of the roof of your mouth.

stress (noun)

The force or energy given to one or two syllables of a word which has more than two syllables.

syllable (noun)

The part of a word that contains a vowel sound. It is a single beat of a word.  The word ‘dog’ has one vowel sound.  The word ‘dog’ is one syllable.  The word ‘mother’ has two vowel sounds.  The word ‘mother’ has two syllables.  
Note:  you are listening for vowel sounds, not counting the number of vowel letters.  The word ‘cousin’ has three vowel letters but only two vowel sounds.  The letters ‘ou’ = one vowel sound. The letter ‘i’ = one vowel sound.

tone (noun)

The pitch, quality and strength of a vocal sound.  Tone can also show the emotion of a person (sad, happy, angry).

unvoiced (adj)  

A sound made by air not voice.  Also known as ‘fortis’.

velar (adj)

A consonant sound that you make with the back of your tongue near your soft palate.  Your soft palate is in the roof of your mouth at the back.  The sound /ŋ/ is a velar sound.

vocal tract (noun)

The part of your body that makes sound.  It starts in your throat (voice box) and exits your mouth or nose.

voiced (adj)  

A sound you make using your voice box.  Also known as ‘lenis’.

voice box (noun)

This is the hollow muscular organ in your throat that holds your vocal cords.  It is also called your larynx.

word stress (noun/verb)  

Emphasizing a word in a sentence to give it more meaning.  

“Can you lend me a pen?”  = I want a pen, not a pencil.
“Can you lend me a pen?”  = I will return the pen.  I will not keep it.

This completes our list of some of the English pronunciation terminology you will see during your study and teaching of English pronunciation in Pronunciation Club. Sign up below!

About Marianne Jordan

Marianne is currently the pronunciation consultant, teacher, teacher trainer and content writer for Pronunciation Club. She has also written several pronunciation books and been a consultant for schools and publishers.

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