Voiced and Voiceless in English Pronunciation

Language Skills, Linguistics

The VoiceVoiced and Voiceless (sometimes Unvoiced) describe the two different ways we can make sounds in our mouths.

The basic difference is this:

  • voiced sounds occur when the vocal chords vibrate
  • voiceless sounds occur when the vocal chords are still

An Example of Voiced & Unvoiced

The best way to explain this is with an example. Take these two words:

van – fan

To make both the /v/ sound and the /f/ sound we have our mouth and lips in exactly the same shape; in fact, the only difference between these two sounds is that /v/ is voiced and /f/ is unvoiced.

If you hold your hand lightly against your throat and make the two sounds /v/ and /f/ you can immediately feel the difference.

Try it and see!

Voiced & Voiceless Pairs

These are the most common voiced/voiceless pairs of sounds in English along with a few minimal pairs to help practice them:

voicedunvoicedminimal pair
/b//p/by – pie
/v//f/van – fan
/ð//θ/this – thistle1
/d//t/do – too
/z//s/zed – said
/ʒ//ʃ/genre – shone2
/dʒ//tʃ/gin – chin
/g//k/god – cod

1 this isn’t a minimal pair but it’s close enough
2 nor is this

Voiced, Voiceless and TEFL

It’s sometimes useful to teach these two words (voiced/voiceless) to your class when you come across a particular pronunciation problem which involves this. It’s also useful to show them exactly how we make those sounds – use the fingers on the throat method (but probably best not to put your hands round their throats).

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