Consonant Combinations Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011


In this lesson you'll learn about consonant combinations and silent consonants.

CONSONANT COMBINATIONS CAN BE very confusing. There are no hard-and-fast rules for the combinations. The best way to learn how to spell words with tricky combinations is to memorize them. There are ways to make the memorization easier, however.

Digraphs and Trigraphs 

Many consonant combinations—called digraphs and trigraphs— are pronounced as one sound. Digraphs are two-letter combinations and trigraphs are three-letter combinations pronounced as one sound. Let's take a look at the most common digraphs and trigraphs. The sound that each makes is noted in parentheses.

Consonant Combinations

As you can see, some of these combinations create sounds that are quite different from the way they look. In fact, some of the combinations are pretty strange! The combination mb, for instance, can be tough to remember because the b is completely silent. A word like plumbing is often incorrectly spelled plumming for that very reason. Consonant combinations such as sh and th are easier to remember because there are no other letters or combinations that produce those sounds.

You can familiarize yourself with the most common consonant combinations by committing them to memory. Use the preceding list as a guide to memorize the combinations. Learning which combination makes a particular sound will help you to remember the correct spelling of the words that contain the tricky combinations.

Consonant Blends 

In the previous set of consonant combinations, the two (or three) letters created one new sound. Another set of combinations, called consonant blends, keep the original sounds of each letter. Here is a list of the most common consonant blends; the blended sound that each makes is noted in parentheses.

Consonant Combinations

As you can see from the list, the sound of each letter blends with the other(s), as if the two (or three) letters were sliding together. This should make it easier for you to remember consonant blends than the other consonant combinations.

Silent Consonants 

Sometimes a consonant appears in a combination but makes no sound. Most of these silent consonants do not follow consistent rules, which can make it difficult to spell the words that contain them. Since there are few tips and rules to define when silent consonants are used in words, it's best to memorize those words.

Some words contain silent letters because their pronunciation has morphed over years of usage. For example, the compound words clapboard and cupboard were both probably originally pronounced as they are spelled, but over the years, the pronunciation changed so that they are both pronounced with a silent p.

Sneaky silent consonants call for you to employ some memory tricks. Here is a list of common words that contain silent consonants. Each of the silent consonants is set in boldface. Practice this list of words using flash cards or by creating mnemonics to learn the tricky words

Consonant Combinations

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Consonant Combinations Practice Exercises

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