Dr. Johanna E. Rubba
English Department (Linguistics)
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California

Last updated 4/12/04 
Copyright Wendy Sutter & Johanna Rubba 2003

Help with Phonetic Symbols

The table below sets out the phonetic symbols in correspondence with the letters of the alphabet that often spell them, in normal alphabetical order. This list can help you find a symbol you need quickly. The phonetic description of the sound each phonetic symbol stands for is also given.
 
Alphabet
Letter 
Phonetic 
Symbol
Phonetic description of sound
Example Words (spelling of sound underlined and/or bold)
a
æ
low front unrounded lax vowel bad, plaid
a
e
mid front unrounded tense vowel bait, plate, play
a
mid central unrounded lax vowel about, sofa
a
low back unrounded lax vowel father; small bought, caught, tall, coffee, fog, dog
SOME SPEAKERS HAVE OPEN O (SEE 'o' BELOW) IN THESE WORDS.
b
b
voiced bilabial stop beat, stubble
c
k
voiceless velar stop cat, epic
c
s
voiceless alveolar fricative city, force
ch
voiceless alveo-palatal affricate church, match
d
d
voiced alveolar stop did, fiddle
e
i
high front unrounded tense vowel see, me, beat, machine 
e
mid-low front unrounded lax vowel bet, said, head
f
f
voiceless labiodental fricative fire, stuff, cough, phone 
f
v
voiced labiodental fricative of
g
g
voiced velar stop good, vague, soggy
g
voiced alveo-palatal affricate gem, gym, fudge, jump
h
h
voiceless glottal fricative high, who
i
ay
low back-to-high front unrounded diphthong tide, buy, fly
i
high-mid front unrounded lax vowel bit, fin, women (plural)
i
y
voiced palatal glide onion, union
j
voiced alveo-palatal affricate gym, jump, fudge, pag
k
k
voiceless velar stop kid, back, cat, tax, ache, quote, bouquet
l
l
voiced alveolar lateral liquid last, follow, pal
m
m
voiced bilabial nasal mood, summer
n
n
voiced alveolar nasal sun, funny, knee, mnemonic, gnome 
n, ng
voiced velar nasal sing, pink, anger
o
o
mid back rounded tense vowel so, know, boat, though, toe, sew
oo
u
high back rounded tense vowel boot, crude, new, through
oo
high-mid back rounded lax vowel book, could, put, woman (singular)
o
mid-low back rounded lax vowel dog, frog, bought, caught, tall, coffee

YOU MAY NOT HAVE THIS SOUND IN YOUR SPEECH; IT IS NOT UNIVERSAL IN AMERICAN ENGLISH (see 'a' above). If you pronounce 'cot' and 'caught' exactly alike, you probably do not need this symbol to transcribe your own speech.

o
low back unrounded lax vowel not
ou, ow
ow
low-to-high back rounded diphthong how, house, sauerkraut
oi, oy
oy
mid-to-high, back-to-front, rounded-to-unrounded diphthong  boy, coin, Freud
p
p
voiceless bilabial stop puppy
q
k
voiceless velar stop quite, plaque
r
r
voiced alveolar liquid rib, write, sorry, far
s
s
voiceless alveolar fricative sick, city, fuss, face
s
z
voiced alveolar fricative easy, phase, as
s
voiced palatal fricative pleasure, fusion, azure
sh
voiceless palatal fricative shin, machine, chic
t
t
voiceless alveolar stop tip, letter, Thomas
th
voiceless interdental fricative thing, both, ether (the gas)
th
voiced interdental fricative this, brother, either
u
mid-low central unrounded lax vowel but, some
Some speakers have this sound in words with 'oo', such as 'book' and words with 'u', such as 'push'.
u
u
high back rounded tense vowel nude, flu, true, union (the 'u' in 'union' spells two sounds: /y/ and /u/
v
v
voiced labiodental fricative liver, very, of
w
w
voiced labial (or labiovelar) glide with, queen
Many speakers pronounce words with 'wh' with this sound: where, white. 
wh
,
voiceless labial (or labiovelar) glide Used in words with 'wh', e.g. white, when, by many speakers from the Northwest, the South, and the Midwest. If you pronounce 'witch' and 'which' exactly alike, you do not need this symbol to transcribe your own speech.
x
ks
voiceless velar stop followed by voiceless alveolar fricative tax, box
y
y
voiced palatal glide you, union (The 'u' in this word spells two sounds: /y/ and /u/.)
z
z
voiced alveolar fricative zoo, buzz, easy, phase, as, Xerox