Glossary: consonant

Explanation

A sound which is produced when the speaker closes off or obstructs the flow of air through the vocal tract, usually using lips, tongue or teeth.

  • /p/ [flow of air stopped by the lips, then released]
  • /t/ [flow of air stopped by the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, then released]
  • /f/ [flow of air obstructed by the bottom lip touching the top teeth]
  • /s/ [flow of air obstructed by the tip of the tongue touching the gum line]

Most of the letters of the alphabet represent consonants. Only the letters a, e, i, o, u and y can represent vowel sounds.

The term 'consonant' is used either for a sound made by bringing the vocal organs together or close to each other, or for a letter used to write a consonant sound: for example, the sound at the start and end of the word mat is a consonant sound, written with the consonant letter m.

Letters and sounds

We often tend to think about English in terms of the written language, because of its importance in our society and in our education system. However, spoken language is really much more basic to us as human beings:

Spelling: Double consonants

If a root word ends in a consonant, adding a suffix will sometimes require that you double the base word’s final consonant. How do you know when to double the consonant?

Consider the following examples, where doubled consonants are underlined.

  • shipment
  • shipped
  • muddy
  • fitful
  • fittest
  • waiting
  • greenest

Now take a look at some larger words, whose base forms have more than one syllable.

Spelling: Spelling and word structure

Many common spelling errors occur with double consonants or vowel combinations, as in the following words:

Spelling: Suffixes

Suffixes cause many of our common spelling mistakes. One challenge is simply to know which is correct: for example, legible or legable? In fact, −ible and −able serve the same function, and sound the same. As a matter of history, -ible entered English from Latin, while −able entered English from French, but there’s no easy rule for knowing when to use which suffix. Each word with each suffix just requires practice.

Spelling: Suffixes and 'e'

If an original word ends in a final e, as in manage,adding a suffix will sometimes require that you drop the final e in the root word.

  • Drop the final e: managing
  • Keep the final e: management

How do you know when to drop the final e?

First, consider the following examples, which either drop or keep the final e.

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