Glossary of Phonetics Terms

Accommodation (or adaptation)

the modification in the articulation of a vowel under the influence of an adjacent sound, or, vice versa, the modification in the articulation of a consonant under the influence of an adjacent vowel.


plosive followed immediately by a fricative. 

Air flow

the flow or passage of air out of the mouth.


variations on a phoneme. 


tip or blade of tongue against the gum just behind the upper teeth. 

Alternative question

a question in which there is a choice of two or more alternatives.


tip or blade of tongue against the gum just behind the upper teeth. 

Alveolar consonants

[t], [d], [l], [n], [s], [z].


pronounce, say, speak clearly and distinctly.

Articulation of a plosive

 approach (as the articulating organs come together), hold (as they stay together), release (as the separate and allow the blocked air to escape). 


the release of a plosive not immediately followed by voicing for a vowel, a voiceless escape of breath (example voiceless plosives as in p, t, k). 


variances in phonemic pronunciation in connected speech.

Assimilating phoneme

the phoneme that influences the articulation of a neighbouring phoneme.

Assimilated phoneme

the phoneme, which is under the influence of a neighbouring phoneme.

Assimilation, complete

when the articulation of the assimilated phoneme fully coincides with the assimilating one: e.g. horse-shoe [hLSu:]; does she [dAS SI].

Assimilation, partial

– if the assimilated phoneme still has some of its main phonemic features: e.g. twins, place, cry, on the.

Assimilation, intermediate

when the assimilated consonant phoneme changes into a different phoneme which does not coincide with the assimilating one: e.g. goose + berry = gooseberry; news + paper = newspaper.

Assimilation, progressive

when the assimilated phoneme is influenced by the preceding phoneme: e.g. crime, speak.

Assimilation, regressive

if the assimilated phoneme is influenced by the consonant following it: e.g. Is this the way?

Assimilation, reciprocal / double

when the phonemes influence each other: e.g. a quiet twilight.


hearing (not seeing).


tongue in back of mouth for articulation. 

Back vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the back part of the tongue higher than the rest of the tongue.


lips pressed together. 


front line of tongue. 


tongue in central part of the mouth for articulation. 

Centering dipthongs

dipthong with vowel sound made by opening. 

Checked vowels

are vowels those, which are pronounced without any lessening the force of utterance towards their end.

Clear L

used before vowels and j


vowel sound with tongue close to palate. 

Closing dipthongs

dipthong with second vowel phoneme made by closure. 

Closed syllable

a syllable that ends in a consonant sound.


groups of consonants, when preceding consonant is voiceless, the whole cluster is usually voiceless, and vice versa. 


assimilation that eliminates phonemes. 


types of sentences

are differentiated in speech according to the aim of utterance from the point of view of communication.

Complementary distribution

the differences in allophones for any given phoneme which are predictable (such as k being different based on the placement of the vowel). 

Content words (Key words)

content words are important meaningful words: nouns, adjectives, main verbs and adverbs.

Content words are always stressed.

Contextual elision

elided and unelided forms both can be heard (example last month) in colloquial speech. 


a consonant sound, which can be pronounced continuously.


two phonemes are contrastive by listing minimal pairs distinguished by the contrast being illustrated. 


a position of the tongue where the tongue is shaped in a curve, not flat.

Dark l

used before consonants and before w and before a pause. 


using the tongue against teeth. 


after voiceless plosives voiced consonants become devoiced. 


a combination of two vowel sounds pronounced in one syllable.


changing of a simple vowel into a diphthong.

Direct address

is a word or a group of words used to address a person or a group of people.


outward direction of air. 

Ejective consonant

consonant using egressive pharyngeal air stream. 


when a phoneme is dropped in pronunciation as in Christmas, and listen

Emphatic stress

emphatic stress is a special stress that is given by the speaker to some word in a sentence, usually to single out, compare, correct or clarify things. Also called «contrastive stress, logical stress».

English rhythm

has been described as 'stress-timed', meaning that stressed syllables tend to occur at roughly equal intervals and that unstressed syllables fit the time interval between stresses. 'Stress-timed' languages are contrasted with 'syllable-timed' ones (French is the most frequently cited) in which all syllables are said to occupy roughly equal lengths of time.


high fall and low fall marked by asterisk respectively at top or bottom. 


a position of the tongue where the tongue is flat not round.


plosives, affricates and fricatives with strong articulation.

Free variation

choice between allophones is free in certain contexts without any apparent system. 

Free vowels

are those, which are pronounced with lessening the force of utterance towards their end.


narrowing of passage above tongue. 


(consonant) produced by expelling breath through small passage formed by tongue or lips so that the air in escaping makes a kind of hissing sound.


tongue in highest part of the mouth for articulation. 

Front vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the rip the tongue higher than the rest of the tongue.

Function words (Structure words)

function words are not stressed: articles, conjunctions, prepositions, personal pronouns, auxiliary verbs, modal verbs.

Glide / Slide

move the tongue as you say the sound.

Glottal plosive

vocal folds blocking the passage of air, also glottal stop. 

Glottal stop

vocal folds blocking the passage of air. 


space between the vocal folds. 

Hard palate

hard part of the roof of the mouth.

Historical elision

dropped historically.


are words which have the same spelling but with different pronunciations.


word pronounced the same but spelled differently. 

Horizontal position

a description in the production of vowels of the position of the higher part of the tongue as begin in from mid or back part of the mouth.


ingressive pharyngeal air-stream. 


direction of air movement inwards. 


consonant between vowels. 


intonation is a certain pattern of pitch changes in speech. Intonation organizes words into sentences, distinguishes between different types of sentences (for example, statements, questions, commands, requests, etc.) and adds emotional coloring to utterances. Intonation is based on several key components, such as pitch, sentence stress and rhythm. There are two basic kinds of intonation: falling intonation and rising intonation.

Intonation group

the shortest possible unit of speech from the point of view of meaning, grammatical structure and intonation.


lip rounding occurring at the same time as some other more important articulation. 


lower lip with upper teeth. 


blockage on the side. 

Lateral approach

from l phoneme sides of tongue have to rise to block air for the plosive. 

Lateral plosion

takes place at the junction of a stop (usually [t] and [d]) and the lateral sonorant [l]. This assimilation occurs within a word and at the word boundaries: e.g. little; that lesson; middle, needle.

Lax vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the muscles of the throat and tongue lax.

Lengthen sound

make the duration of the sound longer.


type of a 5-lined verse with 3 stressed words in lines 1, 2, 5 and two stressed words in lines 3, 4.


a way to connect the final sound of one word to the first sound of the following word smoothly, without breaking the rhythm.


lips playing a role in producing certain vowels and other sounds. 

Lips spread

lips are open slightly and pulled back.

Loss of aspiration

The aspirated English stop phonemes [p, t, k] lose their aspiration after [s] and before a stressed vowel: e.g. speak, skate, style, sky, style, stake. 

Loss of plosion

At the junction of two stops [p, b, t, d, k, g] or a stop and an affricate [c], [g] the first consonant loses its plosion (both within the same word and at the junction of words): e.g. glad to see you; sit down; midday, black chair; picture, what kind.

Low vowel

see Open vowel.


bottom of mouth.


way of articulation. 

Mid-open vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the tongue in a mid, neither high, nor low position.

Minimal pair

two words, which are pronounced the same, except for a single sound -phoneme.

Minimal sentences

two or three sentences, which are pronounced the same except for a single sound-phoneme. Not only must the sounds of the sentences be the same, but the stress, intonation, etc. must also be the same for the sentences to be minimal.

Mixed vowel

the vowel at the production of which the front (or central) part and back part of tongue are raised simultaneously. 


is a pure (unchanging) vowel sound.


evident, lowered soft palate to allow air through.

Nasal approach

with plosives when an approach consists solely in the rising of the soft palate.

Nasal plosion

nasal escape of the air when a plosive consonant sound is followed by a nasal sound. Nasal plosion takes place at the junction of a stop consonant phoneme and the nasal sonorants [m, n]: e.g. garden, help me, bitten, get more.

Nasal release

with plosives when the release consists solely in the movement of the soft palate. 

Non-audible release

when the release of the first plosive in an overlapping plosive sequence is not audible as it is masked by the second closure. 


the beginning of a diphthong; the starting-point. 


vowel sound with tongue farther away from palate. 

Open syllable

a syllable that ends in a vowel sound.


a sound at the production of which the air is forced to go only through the mouth. 

Ordinary approach

tongue tip rises to produce plosive. 

Ordinary approach/release

since the opposite of nasal is ORAl and the opposite of lateral is MEDIAN, the "ordinary" approach/release, characterizing for example the d in eddy is properly termed MEDIAL ORAL.

Other stressed words

other words that are usually stressed are demonstrative pronouns, reflexive pronouns, absolute forms of possessive pronouns, negative forms of auxiliary and modal verbs, question words, numerals and certain indefinite pronouns.

Overlapping plosive consonants

in a sequence of plosives with different places of articulation release of first plosive articulation does not occur until after the approach phase of the second. 


a hard bony structure at the top of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge. 


the articulation process which involves the raising of the front of the tongue towards the palate.


a word, a phrase or a sentence, which serves to show the speaker's attitude to the thought expressed in the sentence, to connect the given sentence with another one or to add some detail to the main idea.

Partial devoicing

The English sonorants [m, n, l, r, w, j] are partially devoiced after voiceless consonants (usually within a word): e.g. try, clean, sleep, prey, price, swim, floor, small.


pauses mark the borders between parts of a sentence or between sentences. Pauses can be very short (barely noticeable between thought groups), a little longer where the commas are, and quite clear where the full stops are.


air set in motion holding the vocal folds together and using air above. 

Pharyngeal eggressive


Pharyngeal ingressive



a single significantly distinctive speech – sound. The phoneme of a language contrasts with one another.

Phonemic alphabet

an alphabet, which contains one and only one symbol for one phoneme.


pitch is the degree of height of our voice in speech. Normal speaking pitch is midlevel pitch.

Intonation is formed by pitch changes from high to low for falling intonation, and from low to high for rising intonation. Stressed syllables are usually higher in pitch than unstressed syllables.


place of articulation. 


release of articulation organs with an explosive sound. It is true whenever the plosive sound

/k,g,p,b,t.d/ occur in speech. 


sound in which air-stream is entirely blocked for a short time, p,b,t,d,k,g

Plosive theory

with plosives described in a chart as first part of being approach, being hold and being release. 

Pressed lips

top and bottom lips touching.

Primary and secondary stress

primary stress is the strongest stress that is given to a syllable in a word. Secondary stress is weaker than primary stress but stronger than absence of stress.

Protruded lips

rounded lips, pushed out.


short, quick expel of air.


air set in motion in the lungs. 

Pulmonic egressive

egressive pronunciation from the lungs, ordinary speech. 

Pulmonic ingressive

in-breathing speech. 


differing positions of the body of the tongue. 

Quantitative reduction

when the length of the vowel is reduced without changing its quality.

Qualitative reduction

when the quality of the vowel is changed.

Reduction and linking

reduction makes the sounds in the unstressed syllables shorter, for example, an unstressed reduced vowel sound is often changed into the neutral sound or even dropped. Linking is a way to connect the final sound of one word to the first sound of the following word smoothly, without breaking the rhythm.


English is a very rhythmical language, which means that stressed syllables in speech occur at regular intervals. Rhythm is «stress – unstress – stresss – unstress – stress – unstress» pattern, where «stress» is one stressed syllable, and «unstress» can be several unstressed syllables that are usually shortened and run together in the interval between the stressed syllables. Phonetic rules of reduction and linking are used to shorten the unstressed syllables and to join them together smoothly.

Rhythmic group

a word or a group of words that is said with a certain rhythm.


high rise or low rise marked by asterisk respectively at top or bottom. 


top part of your mouth, inside.

Roll or trill

rapid series of closures and openings. 

Round lips

make a circle with lips.

Rounded vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the lips rounded. In English only the back vowels are rounded; and the close, back vowel sounds are rounded more than the open, back vowels.


The reference accent for British English is called Received Pronunciation


Southern British Standard or Received Pronunciation. 

Secondary articulation

a secondary occurrence such as labialization, palatalization, velarization accompanying a more important primary articulation. 


concerned with the meaning of words.


a shortest possible semantic and grammatical unit in a sentence. 

Sentence stress

sentence stress makes the utterance understandable to the listener by making the important words in the sentence stressed, clear and higher in pitch and by shortening and obscuring the unstressed words. Sentence stress is the main means of providing rhythm in connected speech. All words have one or two stresses in isolation, but when they are connected into a sentence, important changes take place: content words are stressed and function words aren’t; thought groups are singled out phonetically; the unstressed syllables are blended into a stream of sounds between the stressed syllables; in the words with two stresses one stress may be shifted or weakened to keep the rhythm; emphatic stress may be used in the sentence to single out the most important word; the last stressed word in the sentence gets the strongest stress with the help of falling or rising intonation.

Shorten sound

make the duration of the sound shorter.

Soft palate

valve that controls the entry of air from the throat (pharynx) into the nose. 

Speech timbre

a special coloring of voice, which shows speakers emotions.


normal reading and speaking speed is neither too fast nor too slow. Speed is directly connected to rhythm, and because of that «fast» doesn’t necessarily mean «good». The best way to achieve normal English speed is to practice repeating audio materials with the recorded speaker’s speed. Information for the curious: typical speaking speed of native speakers is approximately 160 words per minute. This includes all stressed and unstressed words, very short words like «I, a, the, is, but», long words and normal pauses.


contact of the articulation, organs, i.e. the beginning of a plosive sound which is followed by a plosion.


a greater degree of force and loudness given to certain syllables in words. Stressed syllables are strong, loud and clear. Unstressed syllables are weak, short and much less distinct.

Stress position

that position which contains a stressed word. A stressed word in English is generally pronounced with greater intensity (loudness); and greater duration

(length of time) on its most prominent syllable.


given accent. 


one vowel sound forms one syllable. A diphthong is also one vowel sound and forms one syllable.

Syllabic consonants

sounds which are rather longer than usual and have syllable making function like vowels, examples: 'l' and '-n'. 


touch quickly.


the relative speed with which sentences and intonation groups are pronounced in connected speech.

Tense vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with the muscles of the throat and tongue tense.

Thought groups

a combination of several content and function words united logically into one part of a sentence according to grammatical and lexical norms, for example: a good book, the new teacher, sent me a letter, in the afternoon, to the supermarket, etc. Phonetically, thought groups are marked by pauses, stress and intonation to show the beginning and end of a thought group and the most important words in it.


tip of tongue. 

Tooth ridge

the hard area directly behind your top front teeth.

Top of mouth / Roof of mouth

area of tooth ridge, hard palate and soft palate.

Traditional orthography

the spelling system generally used for writing English.

Unrounded vowel

a vowel, which is pronounced with lips unrounded.


without accent. 

Unvoiced (voiceless)

the vocal cords do not vibrate.


top of mouth.


raised back of tongue against soft palate. 

Vertical position

a description, – in the production of vowels – of the position of the higher part of the tongue as being near the top of the mouth, in the middle of the mouth, or near the bottom of the mouth.


seeing (not hearing).

Vocal cords

appendages in the throat for the production of sounds.

Vocal folds

in the larynx, behind the adam's apple. 


the sound is made by vibrating the vocal cords (voice box). To test whether you are making the sound voiced, put your fingers on your voice box.

With a voiced sound you should feel a vibration.

All vowels are voiced.

Voiced implosive

voiced ingressive. 


glottis wide open, non-vibrating glottis. 


voiced or voiceless. 

Voicing diagram

diagram showing when a word is voiced and unvoiced in its phonemes. 

Voicing, place, manner

standard manner of expressing sound (i.e. voiced velar fricative). 

Vowels of constantly full formation

unstressed vowels which are used in all styles of pronunciation and are rather close in timbre to the same vowels under stress. They are used in many words of foreign origin (Latin or Greek): e.g. extract ['ekstrækt], programme ['prougræm].

Weak form

used with articles, prepositions etc. to differentiate from strong form with different phoneme. 

Word stress

stress in individual words. In isolation, every word has its own stress. Short words usually have one stress, longer words can have two stresses: a primary stress and a secondary stress.

Zero reduction

a process when the vowel in a reduced word is omitted.