The English Alphabet II

How the Variety of English Sounds Is Written and Pronounced

by Owen Fourie

Each language has its characteristic sounds. In most languages, these sounds are represented by the letters or symbols of its alphabet. In many languages, these letters may be put together in different combinations to produce more sounds.

Digraphs and Diphthongs

Listed below are combinations of vowel letters and combinations of consonant letters. These are digraphs that are pronounced as a single sound.

Although this list does not include every instance, it will help you to be aware of the existence of digraphs. You will discover others as you learn more of the English language.

The term diphthong is used to describe the sound made by the combination of some vowel sounds. A more advanced study will reveal the complications in this area of language, but we’ll not go there.


If you are unsure of the pronunciation of any of these words, do this:

  • copy the word;
  • click on this dictionary text link;
  • paste the word in the search box and click “search”;
  • click on the loudspeaker icon to hear the word.


ai raid
au cause
aw law
ay day
ch chip
ch sandwich
ck duck
dge bridge
ea bread, peach, great
ee feet
ei either
eu feud
ew new, sew
ey fey1, key
ie pied
ng ring
oa goat
oe shoe
oi asteroid
oo book, boot
ou mouth, route
ow cow, show
oy boy
ph phone
qu queen
sh ship, fish
tch watch
th thumb, tooth, that, this
ue fuel
ui fruit
uy buy
wh wheel

1 fey is an adjective meaning strange or otherworldly; it rhymes with day.

One digraph, many sounds; Diversity in pronunciation

When letters are taken together, as in digraphs, to make a single sound, it becomes slightly more complicated, especially if one pair of letters represents one sound in one word and another sound in a different word. Consider the sounds made by ea in bread, peach, and great:

  • In bread, ea is the sound of the short e.
  • In peach, ea is the sound of the long e.
  • In great, ea is the sound of the long a.

In the tabulation, there are several places where more than one word is given for a single sound. The sh sound in fish and ship is the same, but in other places where you see several words, be sure to find out the differences in pronunciation.

Of course, there are many dialects of English. Pronunciation of the vowels and their combinations, particularly, will reflect this variety. Although there are accepted standards of pronunciation, English is a language of delightful diversity as it is spoken globally.

Links for learning

Here are some links to help you with the sounds of the consonants, vowels, and digraphs.

You will find an entertaining collection of videos in the “Basics” play list of the “Helping Your English” channel on You Tube. Although these videos were made for the instruction of children, older students who are beginning to learn English will find them helpful and enjoyable.

There is also the “Speaking English” play list where you will find more advanced lessons.

  1. Basics: Click on the next text link for videos of the alphabet sounds and more.
  2. Advanced: Click on the next text link for videos on speaking English.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. What difficulties are you experiencing as you learn the English language? What solutions have you found for problems that you have had as you have been learning this language?

Here are articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

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