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Voiced and Voiceless Consonants

on 2008-11-15, 01:28
Salem Alaikom



One problem that many students face in pronunciation is whether a consonant is voiced or voiceless. This guide should help you understand the differences and give you some simple rules.

What is Voiced?
A simple explanation of voiced consonants is that they use the voice. This is easy to test by putting your finger on your throat. If you feel a vibration the consonant is voiced. Here is a list of some voiced consonants. Pronounce each consonant sound (not the letter) and feel the vibration of your vocal chords.
b
d
th (as in then)
v
l
r
z
j (as in Jane)

What is Voiceless?
Voiceless consonants do not use the voice. They are percussive and use hard sounds. Once again, you can test if a consonant is voiceless by putting your finger on your throat. You will feel no vibration in your throat, just a short explosion of air as you pronounce. Pronounce each of these consonant sounds and feel NO vibration in your throat.
p
t
k
s
sh
ch
th (as in thing)

Careful! Some Consonants Voiced, but are Voiceless
When consonants are put in groups they can change the voiced or voiceless quality of the consonant that follows. A great example of this is the past simple form of regular verbs. As you know, regular verbs add -ed to the end of the verb in the past simple.
play - played
wash - washed
live - lived etc.
These past simple verbs all end in '-ed'. However, some of the verbs are pronounced with a voiceless 't' sound and some are pronounced with the voiced 'd' sound. Why? Here are the rules:

  • If -ed is preceded by a voiceless consonant sound (p, k, sh, etc.) -ed sounds as a voiceless 't'. Remember that the 'e' is silent.
  • If -ed is preceded by a voiced consonant sound (d, b, v, etc.) -ed sounds as a voiced 'd'. Remember that the 'e' is silent.
  • If -ed is preceded by a vowel sound (often 'ay') -ed sounds as a voiced 'd' because vowels are always voiced. Remember that the 'e' is silent.
  • Exception: If -ed is preceded by 't' pronounce a voiced -id. In this case, the 'e' is pronounced.

This pattern can also be found with plural forms. If the consonant preceding the 's' is voiced, 's' will sound as voiced 'z':
chairs
machines
bags
If the consonant preceding the 's' is voiceless, 's' will sound as voiceless 's':
bats
parks
pipes

Connected Speech
Finally, when speaking in sentences the ending consonant sounds can change based on the following words. This is often referred to as 'connected speech'. Here is an example of a change from a voiced 'b' in the word 'club' to a voiceless 'p' because of the voiced 't' of 'to' of the following word:
We went to the club to meet some friends.
Here is an example of a change from a voiced 'd' past simple verb changed to voiceless 't':
We played tennis yesterday afternoon.
Exercise:
Take this list of words and decide if the final consonants are voiced or voiceless.

washed
traveled
coats
gloves
shells
watched
started
changed
books
wheels
lived
dreams
seats
dropped
exchanged
globes
phones
carts
listened
organized

Answers:
washed - voiceless
traveled - voiced
coats - voiceless
gloves - voiced
shells - voiced
watched - voiceless
started - voiced
changed - voiced
books - voiceless
wheels - voiced
lived - voiced
dreams - voiced
seats - voiceless
dropped - voiceless
exchanged - voiced
globes - voiced
phones - voiced
carts - voiceless
listened - voiced
organized - voiced

Have FUN
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