By the end of studying  the notes on Lesson Thirteen,  you will be able to:

  1. categorize  English  sounds into vowels and consonants.
  2. distinguish  between  the   processes  involved   in  producing  vowel  sounds  and those involved  in producing  consonant sounds.
  3. match the English  monophthongs  with their respective numbers.

The two classes of English sounds

There are  two  main categories  of English sounds.  These are  vowel sounds (vowels) and  consonant sounds  (consonants).  The discussion that follows gives an overview of the  vowel sounds  and  the  consonant  sounds.  The  purpose  is to  introduce the special (phonetic)  symbols that represent the English  vowel and consonant sounds to you.

Overview of the English vowel sounds

An  English  vowel is  a  speech  sound  whose production normally involves free flow of air  through  the  mouth.  In other words,  in the production of English vowel sounds,  air flows  freely  through  the  mouth  unimpeded.  Another  important thing  that  you  need  to know  about  English  vowel  sounds  is  that  they  are  all voiced.  You  will learn  about voiced and voiceless sounds in another lesson.

Based  on their sound  quality, the English vowels have been put into three categories as shown below:

  1. monophthongs  (pure vowels)
  2. diphthongs
  3. triphthongs

To  make it easy for you to  recognize and  learn to use all these vowels  correctly,  the vowels have been assigned  numbers as  their names.  So,  in English, we have Vowel 1, Vowel 2, Vowel 3, and so on. The first 12 vowels are known as monophthongs. Vowels 13 to 21 constitute  the diphthongs,  while  Vowels 22 to 24 comprise the triphthongs.

The  symbols  representing  the  English  monophthongs  have  been  listed  below.  Words that have these vowels in them have been listed  alongside  each vowel. Remember that it is customary to put the symbols representing  the sounds in slash marks / / .

as in
Vowel2/i/as insit
Vowel3/e/as inbed
Vowel4/æ/as infat
Vowel5/a:/as incar
Vowel6/ɔ/as inhot
Vowel7/ɔ:/as inport
Vowel8/u/as infoot
Vowel9/u:/as inpool
Vowel10/ᴧ/as inlove
Vowel11/ə:/as infur
Vowel12/ə/as inteacher,

Always  remember that it is a rule to  put the symbols representing the sounds in slash marks  /    /.  The  twelve monophthongs  illustrated  above  combine  in  different  ways  to form  other  vowel  qualities  called  diphthongs  and triphthongs.  You  will  learn  to  use diphthongs  and triphthongs  in another lesson.

Overview of consonant sounds

A consonant is a speech sound whose production involves some kind of blockade . This means  that  the  air  passage  is either closed  completely for a while  at the beginning of production  or  is  partially  closed   throughout  the  production  of  the  consonant.  For example,  the  consonant  /  p  / is produced  by completely closing the air passage,  then compressing the air, and suddenly opening the passage for the air to come out. You will learn the way English  consonants are produced in Lesson 48.

Some of the English consonants are voiced whilst others are voiceless. In a later lesson, you will learn how voiced  and  voiceless consonant sounds are produced.  The symbols representing  the  English  consonant  sounds  have  been  listed below.  Words  that  have these consonant in them have been listed corresponding to each consonant. Observe the first six consonants.

as in
/b/as inbed
as in as inten day
/k/ /g/as in as incat got

Notice the next nine consonants.

/ f /
as in
/ v /as invat
/ θ /
/ ᵭ /
as in as inthink this
/ s /
/ z /
as in
as in
/ ʃ /as inshall
/ ʒ / / h /as in as inoccasion hot

Look at the next three?

Symbol Words
/ m / / n / / ŋ /as in as inas inman notsing

Observe the following  two consonants.

Symbol Words
/ tʃ /as inchurch
/ dʒ /as injudge

Look at the rest of the consonants?

Symbol Words
/ l / / r /as in as inleft room
/ w / / j /as in as inwash yes

As  indicated  earlier  in  this  session,  this  lesson  is  to  ensure  that  you  can  distinguish between vowel and  consonant sounds. So, do not worry at all if, at this point, you are unable to produce most of these sounds. The next few lessons will treat these sounds in detail and  will be  devoted  to  helping  you  to  learn to  produce the  English vowel and consonant sounds correctly.


  1. the two main categories  of sounds in English are vowel sounds and consonant sounds
  2. the production of English vowel sounds involves a free flow of air through the mouth.
  3. the   production   of   the   English   consonant   sounds   involves   some   kind   of obstruction.



John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Peer Reviewers

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D. 

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil. 

William  Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.