International Phonetic Alphabet

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The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is the alphabet used by linguists throughout the world to show pronunciation. It is an expanded English alphabet, with the Greek letter theta (θ) representing the unvoiced 'th' sound of 'thin', and the Anglo-Saxon letter eð (ð) representing the voiced 'th' sound of 'then'. It also makes use of Anglo-Saxon ash (æ) and existing letters placed in reverse or upside-down (ɔ and ə).

The IPA can be signalled by enclosing its symbols either in strokes: /'strəʊks/, or square brackets: [skwɛə'brækɪts].[1] The former are used for phonemic transcription, the latter for phonetic; in many situations, either can be employed.

Key to IPA representation of English sounds

A guide to the sounds of English; each section is in a sort of alphabetical order:


Tense vowels

'Tense' vowels are often longer than other vowels, and have a wider distribution in English (e.g. in British English they can form single-syllable words: 'are', 'or').

  • ɑ is pronounced as is the 'a' in 'father', or in British English 'fast', or 'o' in American English 'not'
  • ɜ as the vowel sound in 'her', 'fir', 'fur' and 'work'
  • i as in 'machine', or 'ee' in 'see'
  • ɔ as 'o' in 'or', or 'aw' in 'awful'
  • u as in 'true', or 'oo' in 'food'
  • ː lengthens a preceding vowel

Lax vowels

English 'lax' vowels appear in more restricted contexts than their tense counterparts; for example, most cannot occur at the end of a word.

  • æ is pronounced as the 'a' in 'cat', or AmE 'fast'
  • ɒ as in BrE 'not'
  • ʌ as 'u' in 'up'
  • ə as 'a' in 'about', or 'e' in 'open' (known as 'schwa')
  • ɛ as 'e' in 'get' (often written [e], to simplify)
  • ɪ as in 'it'
  • ʊ as 'u' in 'put' or 'oo' in 'foot'


Diphthongs are produced as a 'glide' from the position of one vowel towards another, forming a continuous articulation in a single syllable; they do not consist of two vowels articulated one after the other, and the positions of the two components of the diphthong often vary in comparison with the single vowels which share the same symbols.

  • as 'i' in 'time'
  • as 'ow' in 'now'
  • as the diphthong in 'hair'
  • as 'ei' in 'vein' or 'ai' in 'vain'
  • əʊ as 'o' in 'go'
  • ɪə as the diphthong in 'fear'
  • ɔɪ as 'oi' in 'coin'
  • ʊə as the diphthong in 'pure'


  • b as in 'be'
  • d as in 'do'
  • as 'j' in 'just', or 'g' in 'gene'
  • ð as 'th' in 'this'
  • f as in 'for'
  • g as in 'go'
  • h as in 'he'
  • j as 'y' in 'you'
  • k as in 'kiss', or 'c' in 'cat'
  • l as in 'like'
  • m as in 'me'
  • n as in 'no'
  • p as in 'pip'
  • ɹ as in 'right' (often written [r], for simplicity)
  • s as in 'sit', or 'c' in 'nice'
  • ʃ as 'sh' in 'she', or 'ti' in 'edition'
  • t as in 'tell'
  • as 'ch' in 'choose'
  • θ as in 'think'
  • v as in 'very'
  • w as in 'we'
  • z as in 'zoo' or 's' in 'these'
  • ʒ as 'si' in 'vision'

In other languages

  • a is the basic letter a sound in many languages. It lies between ɑ and ʌ; it is used instead of [æ] (in words like hat) in the north of England
  • ɐ is the 'open' schwa sound found, for example as final a, in European Portuguese
  • c is the Czech sound of t, as in Martina Navratilova, rather like t followed by a semi-consonantal y
  • χ is the sound of the ch in loch and the Kh in Khalid.
  • ʁ is the sound of the throaty r in French and German
  • y is the sound of u (as opposed to ou) in French and ü in German. In Finnish it is written y. It can be made by rounding the lips as if to say u while trying to say i


  1. British English terminology; slashes: /'slæʃɪz/ and brackets: ['brækɪts] in American English.