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Consonants and Spelling Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction

Although most consonants have only one pronunciation, there are six that can be pronounced two or more ways. In this lesson you will learn about consonant pronunciation, what the various sounds are, and how to remember the correct spelling of tricky words, even when their pronunciation throws you off.

Proper pronunciation is a key to learning how to spell words correctly. With consonants, on the other hand, while there is some variation based on letter combinations, the pronunciation is fairly consistent and straightforward.

There are a few exceptions to this generalization. For example, the letters c and g can each be pronounced two different ways, soft or hard: center, carton, general, garden. This characteristic can lead to faulty spelling. A soft c can be mistaken for an s and a hard c for a k. Let's take a look at what the soft and hard pronunciation means. But before we get into the anomalies of consonants, let's review the basics.

Our alphabet contains 21 consonants, and almost all of them make the same sound all the time. Six of those consonants can make more than one sound, however: c, g, q, s, x, and y. In pronunciation, consonant sounds are created by blocking the flow of air from the throat using the lips or tongue. Six mouth positions are used to produce consonants; you can feel the different positions when you speak. Try reading parts of this lesson aloud, paying attention to how your tongue or lips move with each letter and sound. You will notice that each letter requires your mouth, lips, and tongue to move in certain predictable ways.

TIP:

Here is a quick refresher on the sounds that each consonant makes.

b boy
c place, case
d dog
f effort
g agent, agree
h how
j jump
l aloud
m money
n nail
p paid
q quick, unique
r record, super
s sound, trees
t item
v violin
w welcome, awe
x ax, xylophone, exist
z zip

Of the 21 consonants, there are only three—c, q, and x—that do not make their own unique sounds; that is, other letters can make the same sounds. The letter c can make two different sounds, both of which are also made by other letters. C can sound like s, as in nice and advice, or it can sound like k, as in coward and cry. To further complicate the issue, there are some words, such as accent and succinct, where c makes both sounds.

The letter q is another anomaly. In English, the letter q is almost invariably followed by the letter u. (The few words in the dictionary in which q is not followed by u are mostly words that have been borrowed from other languages.)

The English q + u combination can be pronounced either as kw, as in queen, or as k, as in unique.

Lastly, the letter x can represent three different sounds. When it appears at the beginning of a word, it usually sounds like a z, as in xylophone. When it follows the letter e at the beginning of a word it usually makes a gs sound, as in exact. In all other cases, x makes a ks sound, as in box or taxi.

Soft and Hard C and G

The letters c and g can be pronounced in two distinct ways: soft or hard. A soft c is pronounced like an s and a hard c is pronounced like a k. A soft g is pronounced like a j and a hard g is pronounced with a guh sound. Two rules will help you to determine whether to pronounce these letters with a soft or a hard sound.

1. When the letter c or g is followed by an e, i, or y, it will almost always be soft.
2. When the letter c or g is followed by an a, o, or u, it will almost always be hard.
3. When the letter c or g is followed by a consonant, it will almost always be hard.

Let's look at some examples for each case.

Consonants

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Consonants Spelling Practice Exercises

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