The sounds of English and the International Phonetic Alphabet
This chart contains all the sounds (phonemes) used in the English language. For each sound, it gives:
The symbol from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), as used in phonetic transcriptions in modern dictionaries for English learners — that is, in A. C. Gimson’s phonemic system with a few additional symbols.
The chart represents British and American phonemes with one symbol. One symbol can mean two different phonemes in American and British English. See the footnotes for British-only and American-only symbols.
- Two English words which use the sound. The underline shows where the sound is heard.
- The links labeled AM and BR play sound recordings where the words are pronounced in American and British English. The British version is given only where it is very different from the American version.
To print the chart, use the printable PDF version.
||arm, father||AM BR|
||turn, learn||AM BR||2|
||hot, rock||AM BR||3|
||call, four||AM BR||4 5|
||where, air||AM BR||1 7|
||near, here||AM BR||7|
||pure, tourist||AM BR||7|
Almost all dictionaries use the
esymbol for the vowel in bed. The problem with this convention is that
ein the IPA does not stand for the vowel in bed; it stands for a different vowel that is heard, for example, in the German word Seele. The “proper” symbol for the bed-vowel is
ɛ(do not confuse with
ɜ:). The same goes for
ʳis not pronounced in BrE, unless the sound comes before a vowel (as in answering, answer it). In AmE, the
ʳis always pronounced, and the sounds are sometimes written as
ɒare one vowel, so calm and cot have the same vowel. In American transcriptions, hot is written as
About 40% of Americans pronounce
ɔ:the same way as
ɑ:, so that caught and cot have the same vowel. See cot-caught merger.
In American transcriptions,
ɔ:is often written as
ɒ:(e.g. law =
lɒ:), unless it is followed by
r, in which case it remains an
In British transcriptions,
oʊis usually represented as
əʊ. For some BrE speakers,
oʊis more appropriate (they use a rounded vowel) — for others, the proper symbol is
əʊ. For American speakers,
oʊis usually more accurate.
ris not pronounced in BrE, unless the sound comes before a vowel (as in dearest, dear Ann). In AmE, the
ris always pronounced, and the sounds are often written as
All dictionaries use the
rsymbol for the first sound in red. The problem with this convention is that
rin the IPA does not stand for the British or American r; it stands for the “hard” r that is heard, for example, in the Spanish word rey or Italian vero. The “proper” symbol for the red-consonant is
ɹ. The reason
ris used instead is that it’s easier to type and read.
In American English,
tis often pronounced as a flap t, which sounds like
dor (more accurately) like the quick, hard
rheard e.g. in the Spanish word pero. For example: letter. Some dictionaries use the
t ̬symbol for the flap t.
|IPA||what it means|
The vertical line (
Does this chart list all the sounds that you can hear in British and American English?
No. This page contains symbols used in phonetic transcriptions in modern dictionaries for English learners. It does not list all the possible sounds in American or British English.
For example, this page does not list
the regular t (heard in this pronunciation of letter) and
the flap t (heard in this one) with separate symbols.
It groups them under a single symbol:
(In other words, it groups a number of similar sounds
under a single phoneme, for simplicity.
To understand how sounds are grouped into phonemes, read the article on
So this page actually lists phonemes (groups of sounds), not individual sounds. Each symbol in the chart can correspond to many different (but similar) sounds, depending on the word and the speaker’s accent.
Take the phoneme
p in the above chart.
It occurs in the phonemic transcriptions of pin
In pin, this phoneme is pronounced with aspiration (breathing).
This “aspirated p” sound has its own special symbol in the IPA:
In spin, the phoneme is pronounced “normally”;
this “normal p” sound is represented by
p in the IPA.
p phoneme represents two sounds:
(This can be confusing, because
p can mean both the
Typing the phonetic symbols
You won’t find phonetic symbols on your computer’s keyboard. How do you type them in a Word document, e-mail message, or SRS collection?
To type IPA symbols on your computer, you need to use an IPA-enabled font. Fortunately, all modern operating systems have at least one font with IPA symbols. If IPA symbols are not working (for example, you’re getting squares or question marks instead of symbols), you should select an IPA-enabled font in your application. (This page has a list of recommended IPA fonts on various operating systems.)
However, in many (most?) cases, you won’t have to do anything – even if your current font is missing IPA symbols, many applications will automatically “borrow” missing symbols from a font which has them (this is called font substitution). These borrowed characters may not match the look of your current font, but at least they will be readable. For best results, use an IPA-enabled font from the start.
- You can use my free IPA phonetic keyboard at ipa.typeit.org. It enables you to type your transcriptions online, and copy & paste them to your document. This works well if you type phonetic transcriptions occasionally. However, if you do it frequently, it is not very efficient because every time you want to type something, you have to switch to your browser, then copy & paste your text.
- You can use my app – TypeIt for Windows ($12.50). It lets you type IPA phonetic transcriptions directly in any application or website. If you type phonetic transcriptions regularly, especially if you use them in your SRS, I would definitely recommend that you get the app, as it is inexpensive and it is the easiest, fastest way to type IPA symbols on your PC.
You can also use the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet, which represents IPA symbols with “normal” characters that you can type on your keyboard. The ASCII Phonetic Alphabet is not a standard system, but you can type it fast without special software.
Learning to pronounce the sounds
I have developed English pronunciation software called PerfectPronunciation which teaches learners to pronounce the most frequently used English words. It lets you listen to examples of English sounds, practice your pronunciation, and review your knowledge. PerfectPronunciation uses the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet.