What consonants are called Lenis and Fortis?

This section of the English Phonetics Academy designed to provide guidance and practice in English pronunciation through the use of phonetics. The exercises and drills included will aid in reducing accents and improving overall speech sound production. These lessons are particularly beneficial for non-native speakers looking to improve their English-speaking skills.

10. Devoicing of lenis stops /b, d, g/ and stop places of articulation

10.1 Lenis stops

There is of course a great deal of similarity between the GA lenis stops /b,d,g/ and their AN counterparts /b,d,(g)/. There are, however, also considerable differences in distribution and realization.

AN has no voiced obstruents in the coda, except as a result of assimilation, while GA /b,d,g/ occur in both onset and coda. Furthermore, AN /b,d/ and /g/ are often more (fully) voiced than GA /b,d,g/.

10.1.1 Initial and final devoicing

In words like bib, did, gig, the lenis stops tend to be almost completely devoiced.




The initial stops are subject to initial devoicing: the onset of vocal cord vibration occurs toward the end of the compression stage. As a result, initially devoiced stops are rather like unaspirated voiceless stops. In other words, devoiced /b,d,g/, represented as [b̥,d̥,g̥] in allophonic transcriptions, sound a lot like [p,t,k]. The syllable-final stops are subject to final devoicing.

The voice onset coincides with, or slightly precedes, the formation of the closure, as shown in the following figure:

Recall that the main difference between words like lab/lap, said/set, bag/back lies in the duration of the preceding voiced portion. It tends to be twice as long before a lenis obstruent as before a fortis obstruent: [læːb – læp; sɛːd – sɛt; bæːg – bæk].





The difference in the realization of the final stops themselves is much less striking. While the fortis stops tend to be glottalized and unreleased before a pause, the lenis stops are either unreleased in this context, or pronounced with a gentle release which is audible but quite weak.

Lenis stops are fully voiced only when they are followed and preceded by voiced sounds, as in udder, amber, older, rob a bank, ago, a big band in town.



In other contexts, they are devoiced. For example, the syllable-initial lenis stops in bus, day, go, birthday, fishbone, and disguise are all initially devoiced, while the syllable-final stops in lob, said, stag, lobster, dogfood and magpie are all finally devoiced.





Advice for learners:

The correct realization of finally devoiced stops tends to be a major problem for speakers of languages like German and Polish. In these languages the contrast between voiced and voiceless obstruents is neutralized in syllable-final positions, so that words like bod and bot are homophones: the vowels are equally long and the final consonants are both voiceless.

Remember that in English the main difference lies in the duration of the preceding vowel: it is quite long before a lenis obstruent, as in lab, bed, dog. The final consonants should be weakly articulated: try to whisper the final stop, making sure that the compression stage is relatively short and the release weak.

Alternatively, lengthen the compression stage and do not release the final stop. In more deliberate styles of speech, final /b,d,g/ may be fully voiced; when pronounced in isolation words like club, bid and hug may even have a voiced release, [kl̥ʌbᵊ, b̥ɪːdᵊ, hʌːgᵊ] (which is not unlike the pronunciation of final stops in French).

This type of voiced release may occur as a form of overcompensation in the pronunciation, who frequently fail to realize that the difference in vowel duration is the most important cue to the perception of final /p/ versus /b/ etc.

To acquire initially devoiced GA /b,d,g/ start from weakly pronounced AN /b,d,g/. In words like fishbone, policedog, stopgap, some speakers will tend to voice the obstruent preceding the lenis stop. Try to avoid this.

10.2 Incomplete plosion of stop clusters

In words like apt, coped, packed, rubbed and hugged the two stops overlap so that the release of the first takes place during the compression stage of the second and is inaudible.






In English, the second stop does tend to be released. Although GA /t/ may also be unreleased. When the two stops occur in different syllables, like English, has incomplete plosion of the first stop

10.3 Stops and place of articulation

The place of articulation of stops can be influenced by the phonological context, i.e. the adjacent sounds. This is explained in detail for the bilabial, alveolar, and velar stops respectively.

10.3.1 Bilabial stops: /p,b/

Under the influence of a following labio-dental sound, /p,b/ may be labio-dental rather than bilabial: the upper front teeth form a complete closure with the lower lip. Examples are /p,b/ in up front, obvious.

AN /p/ is unaspirated; AN /b/ is usually voiced. Here are some examples to practice the most important allophones of GA /p,b/.


pay, post, apex


superb, compound


apart, magpie


polite, Stockport



spill, spot, open


despise, stupid


inspire, apple


aspect, happy












rib, tube








10.3.2 Alveolar stops: /t,d/

GA /t,d/ are usually alveolar, while AN /t,d/ are typically denti-alveolar. While for GA /t,d/ the tip and blade of the tongue articulate with the area immediately behind the upper front teeth without touching them, the contact for /t,d/ is generally further forward: the tip touches the inside of the upper teeth and the blade touches a larger area of the alveolar ridge.

In producing an alveolar stop, try to make a conscious effort to place the tip of the tongue. When aspirated, GA /t/ is frequently released slowly so that weak friction is produced, so try to pronounce a weak [s] as you release the /t/: [tˢ].

The actual place of articulation of GA /t,d/ as well as the other alveolars /n,l/ may vary a lot under the influence of neighboring sounds. Before /r/, GA /t,d/ are post-alveolar, as in Try Dry! They are dental before, and sometimes after, a dental consonant, as in eighth, width, bathtub. Here are some examples to practice the main allophones of GA /t,d/.

[tʰ] tea, tool, latex, return, eighteen, intend, syntax, veto


[t] still, stop, restore, instep, after, actor


[ɾ] putting, pudding, metal, medal, hit Ann, setup, hurtle, hurdle


[t̪], [d̪] eighth, width, at three, you’d think


[t̠], [d̠] try, dry, entry, undress


[t͜ʔ], [ʔ] sit, out, button, sits, hint, can’t, commitment


[d̥] red, laid, headphones, birthday, watchdog


10.3.3 Velar stops: /k,g/

Adjacent front vowels cause varying degrees of fronting depending on the frontness of the vowel. GA /k,g/-fronting is stronger before or after /iː/ than /ɛ/ and absent with open or back vowels like /ɑː/ or /oʊ/.

If we do not have marginal /g/, concentrate on pronouncing a weakly articulated voiced stop in voicing contexts, as in again, no good, and a weakly articulated, slightly devoiced stop after voicelessness, as in go, great.

Before voicelessness, as in rug, again make a gentle contact, with a weak but audible release. Here are some examples to practice some of the main /k,g/ allophones:

[kʰ] kiss, car, viscount, encode, concourse, account, encore, kazoo, napkin


[k] skin, school, reckon, discuss, bucket, unscathed, knuckle, escort, anchor


[k͜ʔ] stick, sock, six, rockband, blackmail


[g̥] big, hug, disguise, lifeguard, magpie


10.3.4 The glottal stop: [ʔ]

In GA, the glottal stop is used in three situations. First, it occurs as the realization of GA /t/ in the coda, as in sit [sɪʔ], right [raɪʔ], went [wɛ᷈ʔ], and when /t/ precedes syllabic /n/ as in sentence [sɛ᷈ʔn̩s]. This, as you know, is t-glottaling or glottal stopping.



The second use of the glottal stop is that in the realization of GA /p,k/, and to a lesser extent /t/, in the coda, as in lip(s), lick(s) and wit(s). Here the glottal stop reinforces the oral closure for /p,k/ or /t/, and is therefore only a part of the realization of the phoneme rather than its sole realization. The auditory effect of glottalization (or glottal reinforcement) in [p͜ʔ, t͜ʔ, k͜ʔ] is similar to that of a single glottal stop, but the final portion of the preceding voiced sound is affected by the distinct closing movement of each of the oral stops.




The third use of the glottal stop is that in the clear beginning of vowels. This happens when liaison is suspended in order to create an emphatic effect. In such speech styles, word-initial vowels will be preceded by a glottal stop, as in ouch [ʔaʊt͡ʃ], (not just) any! [ʔɛni].


A general liaison rule like GA, word-initial vowels are often preceded by a glottal stop, even in non-emphatic styles.

In GA, clear beginnings are on the whole less common in non-emphatic styles, but by no means unusual. A sentence like She’s (ʔ) always (ʔ) ordering (ʔ) others around may be pronounced with or without clear beginnings and sound quite natural either way. This is because liaison is not applied by all speakers all of the time.

GA occupies a position midway between Standard French and British English

One way to avoid this is to pronounce the final consonant of each word in an utterance as if it were the first consonant of the next word if that word starts with a vowel, i.e. to say /ʃi ˈzɔːlweɪ ˈzɔrdərɪ ˈŋʌðər zəˈraʊnd/, making sure that there are no pauses where there are spaces in the transcription.

She’s always ordering others around

Since liaison tends to occur more frequently in GA, its effect may sometimes be somewhat unusual for listeners. An ambisyllabic /s/ in this evening, this aftemoon may strike the listener as ifmthe speaker says /ðɪ ˈsiːvnɪŋ, ðɪ ˈsæftərnuːn/.

this evening

this afternoon

This may be due to the fact that is an ambisyllabic /s/ or /f/ arising from liaison will frequently be voiced in intervocalic positions, as in pas op /pɑz ɔp/, mensaap /ˈmɛnzaˑp/, so that any prevocalic /s/ or /f/ tends to be interpreted as syllable-initial rather than ambisyllabic.