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The Consistent Consonant: Spelling Review Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

The Consistent Consonant: Spelling Review Practice Exercises

Ah, consonants—the old, reliable workhorses of pronunciation. Unlike those pesky vowels, which can make all kinds of different sounds, the 21 consonants are nice and dependable. The b in boy is the same as the bs in bubble, which are the same as the bs in babbling brook. Six consonants can make two or three different sounds—c, g, q, s, x, and y—but for the most part, it is clear which pronunciation is called for in a given word.

Consonants are created by blocking the flow of air from the throat using the lips or tongue. There are six different mouth positions used to produce the consonants, which are described in the following table.

Shape Name Shape Description Letters Formed Using this Shape
alveolar tip of the tongue near the back of the upper teeth t, d, j, n
bilabial lips press together and pull apart b, m, p, w
labiodental lower lip presses against the upper teeth f, v
linguadental middle of the tongue presses near the back of the upper teeth s, z
palatal front of the tongue touches the hard palate y
velar back of the tongue touches the upper palate g, k, q

If you're reading this, of course, you already know the sounds that the different letters make, but here's a quick refresher:

b boy
c place, case
d dog
f effort
g agent, agree
h how
j junk
l aloud, camel
m money
n nail, sudden
p paid
r record, super
s sound, trees
t item
v violin
w welcome
x ax, xylophone, exist
y you, myth, dye, candy
z zip

ODD CONSONANTS OUT

Of the 21 consonants, c, q, and x are the only ones that do not make their own unique sounds. C can make two different sounds, both of which are also made by other letters. It either sounds like an s, as in the word dice, or a k, as in the word cry. In some words, like accent and succinct, it makes both sounds.

The letter q rarely appears without its friend u. There are a few words in the dictionary in which the word q appears without u, but these are mainly words that have been borrowed from other languages, such as cinq (meaning five), or place names, like Qatar (a country in the Middle East). The English q + u combination can either be pronounced kw, as in queen, or k, as in unique.

X can represent three different sounds. When it appears at the beginning of a word (which is not very often), it usually sounds like a z, as in xylophone or Xerox. When it follows the letter e at the beginning of a word it can sometimes make a gs sound, as in exact or exert. In all other cases, x will make a ks sound, as in box, taxi, or extinct.

INSIDE TRACK

Both c and g can make two different sounds, which are classified as either soft or hard. The soft c is pronounced like an s, and the hard c is pronounced with a k sound. The soft g is pronounced with a j sound, while the hard g is pronounced with a guh sound. There are two rules to follow when trying to determine whether c or g will be soft or hard.

  1. When the letter c or g is followed by an e, i, or y, it will almost always be soft. The words cent, decide, and cymbal all have soft c sounds, while the words gel, giant, and gym all have a soft g sound,
  2. When the letter c or g is followed by a, o, or u, it will almost always be hard. The words care, cotton, and crust all have hard c sounds, while the words game, got, and guppy all have a hard g sound.
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