English consonants

English consonants Learn about consonants in English. Their classification and formation.

English consonants are categorized as to:

  • articulation place and active organ
  • occlusion type
  • noise formation
  • noise-forming occlusions number
  • vocal cords work
  • pronunciation force.

Labial Consonants

Depending on what mobile and fixed speech organs articulate a speech sound, consonants may be labial, lingual and glottal.

Labial consonants:

bilabial articulated with both lips – [w], [m], [p], [b]

labiodental articulated with the lower lip and upper teeth – [f], [v].

Lingual Consonants

Forelingual consonants:

interdental (predorsal dental) – [θ], [ð]
(the tongue’s front surface forms a partial occlusion with the upper teeth);

apical alveolar – [t], [d], [n], [l], [s], [z], [∫], [ʒ], [t∫], [dʒ]
(the front edge rises to the alveolar ridge);

cacuminal post-alveolar – [r]
(the front edge is raised and a little bent to the alveolar back slope).

In mediolingual consonants an occlusion is formed by raising the middle part to the hard palate. Such is articulating the only English dorsal palatal [j] sound.

Backlingual consonants are articulated by raising the back part to the soft palate – [k], [g], [ŋ]. These are dorsal velar sounds.

Glottal Consonant

The only English glottal [h] sound forms in the glottis. Exhaled air goes via the narrowed glottis with a slight friction noise, the vocal cords don’t vibrate, speech organs in super-glottal cavities shape to pronounce a vowel after the glottal consonant.

Occlusive/Constrictive Consonants


By noise-forming occlusion type, consonants may be occlusive articulated with a full occlusion in the mouth cavity and constrictive articulated with a partial occlusion in the mouth cavity.

Occlusive consonants – [p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [g], [m], [n], [ŋ], [t∫], [dʒ].

Constrictive consonants – [f], [v], [θ], [ð], [s], [z], [∫], [ʒ], [h], [w], [l], [r], [j].

Non-Sonorous Consonants

Both occlusive and constrictive consonants may be non-sonorous and sonants.

Occlusive non-sonorous consonants divide into plosives and affricates. In pronouncing plosive consonants the full occlusion opens, air leaves the mouth cavity producing plosive noise – [p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [g]. Affricates are sounds with an occlusive start closely blending with a fricative indent. Speech organ opening to form a full occlusion happens smoothly with sounds articulated by 1 effort – [t∫], [dʒ].

Fricative Consonants

In articulating constrictive non-sonorous (fricative) consonants, air blows from the narrow glottis creating friction noise. The glottis can shape flat as in [f], [v] or rounded as in [s], [z]. Fricative consonants – [f], [v], [θ], [ð], [s], [z], [∫], [ʒ], [h].

Nasal Consonants

Occlusive sonants are nasal. In the mouth cavity a full occlusion forms, the soft palate lowers and air leaves the nasal cavity. Nasal sonants – [m], [n], [ŋ].

Oral Sonants

Constrictive sonants are oral. They may be medial (the tongue’s sides rise and touch side teeth, air blows along its central part) – [w], [r], [j] and lateral (the front edge rises to the alveoli and touches them, the sides lower, air leaves via side passages – [l].

Unicentral/Bicentral Consonants

Most English consonants are unicentral as having 1 formation place, i.e. a noise-forming focus. However in some cases the main noise-forming occlusion is added with another occlusion giving the sound an extra shade. Such consonants are bicentral. A secondary/extra occlusion can form by raising the tongue’s middle part to the hard palate. Here the sound takes on a soft shade. It’s a second middle focus as in [∫], [ʒ], [t∫], [dʒ] and the so called «light» [l] sound version. If the secondary occlusion forms by raising the back part to the soft palate, it creates an acoustic effect of velarization with the sound acquiring a hard shade. It’s a second back focus as in [w], [r] and the so called «dark» [ł] sound version.

Voiced/Voiceless Consonants

By presence/absence of vocal cords vibration, consonants may be voiced accompanied with vocal cords vibrations and voiceless pronounced with passive non-vibrating vocal cords. The first are voiced non-sonorous and sonants, the second voiceless non-sonorous consonants.

Fortis/Lenis Consonants

English voiceless consonants are pronounced energetically and named fortis. Voiced consonants are accompanied with weak muscular tension and named lenis.