Grammarbites ch 4 – pronunciation

Hooray for computer files and searches. After I decided that the next batch of Grammarbites would be about pronunciation, specifically consonant clusters, I remembered that I’d done a lot of research about this about five years ago, and never finished. I found the file, with most of what appears below in it.

1 Consonant clusters – intial

A consonant cluster is a group of two or more consonants together. English allows clusters with two and three consonants at the beginning of syllables. There are strong rules about which sounds can go together and which can’t. Students who speak languages with different, fewer or no initial consonant clusters need to practice these carefully. Some clusters and words are very common and some are very rare.

Two consonants [By the way, there’s a very specific order to all these groups of words.]

small (smaller smallest etc) smile (smiles smiling smiled etc) smoke (etc) smell smoothmusic museum

snow snap snake snatch sniff – news nuisance (for some people etc)

speak spend space special speed – place play plan plant please – problem provide process price program – pupil pure

black blood blue block blow – bring break / brake brother brought branch – bureau

state still start study stand – twenty twelve twice twin twist – try train trade true treat – tune tube tutor

dwell dwarf – draw drive drink drop dress – during duty due duke

school scheme scale skill skin – question quite quality quarter queen – close clear class claim club – create cross credit crime crisis – queue / cue curious cure

guava Guam – glass glance glad globe glory – great group ground green grow

sphere sphinx – floor flat fly flow flower – from friend free French phrase – future fuel funeral fuse fury


sthenic – thwart – three through throw threat throat

switch sweet swing sweep swim – sleep slow slight slip slide – shrug shrink

human huge humour

Three consonants


split splash – spring spread spray sprint sprinkle – spurious spew

street strong structure strike strength – student studio stupid stew

square squad squeeze squadron squash – sclerosis – screen scream script scratch screw – skew

2 Consonant clusters – final, 2 consonants

English allows clusters with two, three and four consonants at the end of syllables. Students who speak languages with different, fewer or no final consonant clusters need to practice these carefully, as so many happen as a result of plural and possessive nouns, 3rd person singular and past simple verbs, and the contraction of is and has. Some clusters and words are very common and some are very rare.

jump camp stamp damp pump – triumph – warmth

want government point development different – and find end hand mind – month seventh ninth tenth eleventh thirteenth etc millionth billionth – experience since sense evidence difference – lens cleanse – French branch launch lunch inch – change range challenge strange bench

think bank thank drink link – strength length

accept concept adopt except adapt – depth – perhaps collapse corpse glimpse lapse

eighth – its / it’s

width breadth hundredth thousandth – adze towards

fact act effect subject expect – six tax box sex politics



lift left soft shift gift – fifth twelfth

grasp crisp gasp clasp wasp – just first most last must – ask risk task disk / disc mosque

film realm – kiln – help gulp – bulb – result difficult adult fault salt consult – old world child hold build – milk silk – self (myself etc) golf – involve twelve resolve solve evolve – health wealth – else false pulse waltz (/wɒls/ or /wɔːls/, for most people) – Welsh – belch mulch – indulge bulge

For some people, the following words, and a few more like them, have a final two-sound cluster. For others, there is a little erh sound (/ə/):

kitten hidden lesson mention

rhythm criticism

people table little riddle miracle eagle rifle

3 Consonant clusters – final, 2 consonants in plural and possessive nouns and 3ps and ps verbs; 3 consonants; 4 consonants [This section has approx 500 words because I couldn’t split it into approx 250 word segments.]

Some clusters only occur in plural and possessive nouns, 3rd person singular and past simple verbs, and the contraction of is and has. These are marked * below:

* dreamt – * dreamed seemed claimed formed confirmed – * times problems seems systems terms

turned concerned happened opened returned – means conditions questions plans lines

* longed banged hanged winged ringed – * things buildings meetings feelings proceedings

kept developed stopped helped dropped – groups steps relationships shops lips

described climbed disturbed absorbed grabbed – * jobs clubs describes pubs bombs

states minutes patients parents

words needs hands provides

picked locked attacked checked backed – makes weeks works books takes

* shrugged dragged begged tugged hugged – * legs drugs dogs eggs bags

* bathed earthed – deaths paths youths births baths

* breathed smoothed bathed clothed soothed – paths youths truths breathes

stuffed sniffed staffed briefed photographed – * photographs beliefs chiefs cliffs paragraphs

* involved moved received arrived lived – * ourselves etc lives gives leaves knives

used (I used to do it) based increased produced passed

* used (I used it) raised closed caused recognised/recognized

* established published finished pushed wished

* rouged

* changed managed aged charged encouraged

felt – held sold called failed killed smiled pulled – schools levels details rules miles

A very small number of words have three consonant clusters.

attempt prompt tempt contempt exempt – glimpse mumps



next text – sixth


distinct instinct – sphinx larynx – amongst angst

chintz blintz

More often, three consonant clusters occur when –ed or –s is added to a word ending with a two consonant cluster.

jumped jumps camped camps stamped stamps damped damps pumped pumps – triumphed triumphs

wants governments points developments – finds ends hands minds – months sevenths ninths tenths elevenths thirteenths etc millionths billionths – experienced sensed – cleansed – branched launched lunched inched – changed ranged challenged benched

thinks banked banks thanked thanks drinks linked links – strengths lengths

attempts accepts concepts adopts excepts – depths – collapsed glimpsed lapsed


widths breadths hundredths thousandths

facts acts effects subjects expects – taxed boxed sexed

lifts shifts gifts – fifths twelfths

grasped grasps crisped crisps gasped gasps clasped clasps wasps – firsts lasts – asked asks risked risks tasked tasks mosques

filmed films realms – kilned kilns – helped helps gulped gulps – bulbs – results adults faults salts consults – olds worlds holds builds – milked milks silks – golfed golfs – selves (ourselves etc) involved involves twelves resolved resolves solved solves evolved evolves – pulsed waltzed – belched mulched – indulged bulged

Four consonant clusters occur only when –ed or –s are added to a word ending with a three consonant cluster.

attempts prompts tempts exempts – glimpsed


texts – sixths


instincts – angsts

Sometimes clusters occur in the middle of a word when one or more consonants at the end of one syllable is immediately followed by one or more consonants at the beginning of the next. /kstr/ cannot occur at the beginning or end of a syllable, but can easily occur in a word like extra. Following the spelling, we can think of this as /eks.tra/ or following the pronunciation as /ek.stra/ but it cannot be /e.kstra/ or /ekst.ra/ or /ekstr.a/.

4 Consonant clusters v silent letters

Some of the clusters above have alternative pronunciations in which one letter is silent, or the whole cluster becomes another sound.

ft: pronounced in lift, left and soft etc; f is silent in the middle of often (for most people) and soften.

ld: pronounced in old, world and child etc; l silent in would, could and should.

lf: pronounced in self and golf etc; l is silent in half.

lk: pronounced in milk, silk and bulk etc; l is silent in talk and walk etc.

lm: pronounced in film and realm etc; l is silent in calm and palm.

sc: /sk/ in scale, score and disc etc; /s/ in science and scene etc.

sch-: /sk/ in school, scheme and schedule (for some people) etc and /ʃ/ in schedule for other people.

sk: always /sk/ – skill, skin, ask and risk.

sque; always /sk/ at the end of a syllable – mosque. (At the beginning of a syllable, squ becomes /skw/ – square, squad and squeeze etc.)

pt: pronounced in attempt, accept and concept etc; p is silent in receipt (and also at the beginning of pterodactyl).

sl: pronounced in sleep, slow and slight etc; s is silent in the middle of aisle, isle and island.

st: pronounced in state, still, start, just, first and most etc; t is silent in the middle of listen and fasten etc, for most people in Christmas, and in castle, whistle etc.

sw-: pronounced in switch, sweet and swing etc; w is silent in sword.

tw-: pronounced in twenty, twelve and twice etc; w is silent in two.

5 Other common silent letters

Consonant clusters are based on pronunciation, not spelling. Music and news contain the clusters /mj/ and /nj/. x and qu are clusters because they are pronounced /ks/ and /kw/ (question etc) or /kj/ (queue). Ch (at the beginning or end), tch (at the end), ph, sh, th and ng (at the end) are not clusters because they represent the single sounds /tʃ/ (church and watch etc), /k/ (character etc) and /ʃ/ (champagne etc) or /kw/ (choir); /f/ (photograph etc); /ʃ/ (she and wish etc), /θ/ (thin and breath etc) and /ð/ (then and breathe etc); and /ŋ/ (thing etc).

There are also common spellings in which one letter is always or usually silent, or the whole cluster is silent or becomes another sound.

bt: b is silent – doubtdebt.

gh-: h is silent – ghost, ghastly, ghetto, ghoul.
gh: silent in high, through, although etc; /f/ in enough, laugh, rough etc; /x/ or /k/ in lough. [See the next section for more about gh, ght, ough and ought etc.]

gn-: g is silent – gnome, gnaw, gnat, gnarled.
gn: g is silent – design (compare designate), sign (compare signature), campaign, foreign.

gm: g is silent – paradigm (compare paradigmatic), diaphragm (compare diaphragmatic), phlegm (compare phlegmatic)

kn-: k is silent – know, knock, knee etc.

mb: b is silent – climb, bomb, lamb, thumb, limb etc.

mn-: m is silent – mnemonic.
mn: n is silent – autumn (compare autumnal), column (compare columnar) etc.

pn-: p is silent – pneumonia (compare apn(o)ea), pneumatic.

ps-: p is silent – psychology etc.


6 The curious case of gh and especially ough

[This took me so long over the past few days! I wanted to be comprehensive, but word list websites threw up some really obscure words, which I had to consider and generally omit.]

As shown by through, although and enough, gh is associated with a variety of pronunciations; sometimes the vowel before it is different and sometimes the gh is silent or /f/ (or another consonant). The spelling with by far the most variety is –ough.

An anonymous writer created this sentence to show the nine (or ten standard pronunciations of ough: “The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through the snow, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, his work was thorough.”

/ʌf/ (rhymes with puff) enough, tough, rough, slough (verb).

/ɒx/ and /ɒk/ (rhymes with lock) in Irish English lough (compare Scottish English loch; note that a lock is different).

/aʊ/ (rhymes with how) drought, plough (also plow), bough, slough (UK).

apart from drought, ought is always /ɔːt/ (rhymes with taut) thought, brought, sought, ought, bought, fought, wrought, nought.

/uː/ (rhymes with true) through, slough (US) (also slew, slue).

/oʊ/ (rhymes with toe) although, though, dough, thorough (US).

/ʌp/ (rhymes with up) or /əp/ hiccough (now usually spelled hiccup)

/ɒf/ (rhymes with off) cough, trough.

/ə/ thorough, borough and place names including Scarborough (also place names including burgh, especially Edinburgh; by itself, burgh has /x/ or /g/, and the related burgher always has /g/).

Similar spellings have different pronunciations, but not as many.

aight: (//) in straight.

augh(t): (/ɔ:/ or /ɔ/) in daughter, caught, taught, naught (compare nought) etc; (/ɑː/ or /æ/) in laugh, laughter, draught (also draft).

eigh(t): (//) in weigh, weight, eight, neighbo(u)r, freight; (//) in height.

ight is always (//): right, might, light, fight etc.

[For more about ough, see the following post.]

Sources: (for words), and (for pronunciations),,,


6 thoughts on “Grammarbites ch 4 – pronunciation

  1. Pingback: ough | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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