International Phonetic Alphabet for English

From Academic Kids

Template:IPA notice Symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet as used for English.

The square brackets around IPA symbols are not part of the IPA itself, but just serve to indicate that the contents of the brackets are not normal text, but IPA symbols. The distinction is important, as some IPA transcriptions can look like other words. For example, an IPA transcription for bean could be .

Abbreviations below:



English 'plain' vowels


  1. The symbol is just the IPA symbol that means the vowel to the left is long. The vowels marked here with are the English vowels that are usually longer than the others. The distinction between long and short vowels is more pronounced in British and Australian English than in American English (where many researchers do not transcribe any length for vowels at all).
  2. The English and vowels are realized as diphthongs, but they are included here with the plain vowels because the and are just off-glides.
  3. Many AmE speakers (particularly in and around Philadelphia and New York City) have an additional phoneme in this region, the "raised" or "tense short a". The exact pronunciation of this sound varies widely; it can be realized as any of , , , . Some speakers have minimal pairs such as can (tin container) vs. can (be able) or nonrhyming pairs such as mannish vs. Spanish . For most such speakers occurs also before in words like bared and Mary--though usually not marry or merry . Many other American speakers, particularly in a swath from upstate New York to Chicago, whose speech has undergone the northern cities vowel shift, have only a single phoneme, whose realization is virtually the same as the Philadelphia/New York "tense short a". Most Americans from the West agree with English speakers from other countries in having only one phoneme, whose realization is a lax .
  4. For a large number of speakers of North American English, there is no distinction between and . This is frequently called the cot-caught merger. For many of these speakers, the two vowels have merged as ; for others they have merged as . Among American speakers who do have , it is distinctly more open than in British English; it could also be transcribed , though in practice this is rarely done.

Reduced vowels

These are vowels that occur in unstressed syllables.

Note: some speakers do not have a contrast between barred-i and schwa.
  • Rosa's – This sound is called schwa
  • runner – AmE - this is called an r-colored schwa, which is a single sound, not a sequence of schwa and r. BrE & AuE - this is just the reduced vowel schwa.
    • AmE , BrE & AuE
  • button – This is called syllabic n.
  • bottle – This is called syllabic l.
  • open pronounced "opm" – rapid speech only. This is called syllabic m.

R-colored vowels

These are plain vowels that are followed by r.

  • bird
    • AmE , BrE & AuE
  • beard
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
  • beer
    • AmE , BrE & AuE
  • marry *
  • merry *
    • AmE & BrE, AuE
  • Mary * / bared
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
  • bard
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
  • board
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
  • boor
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
Often in BrE
After palatals (for example in sure, jury, cure, Europe) often in AmE; after in AuE
  • byre
    • AmE , BrE , AuE
  • Bauer
    • AmE , BrE , AuE

* For many speakers of American English, all or some of , , and are merged before . That is, merry, marry, and/or Mary are homophones. The vowel is pronounced as . For speakers of British English, these sequences are just the plain vowel, with beginning the next syllable. For some speakers of Australian English the sequences in merry and Mary are homophones.

Also note that speakers with the merger usually still pronounce the vowel in core as .

It was formerly widespread in AmE (and still is to some extant in Ireland and generally in Scotland) to have a phonemic contrast between in words like north, cord, horse, war and in words like force, board, hoarse, wore.


Diphthongs are vowel sounds that smoothly glide from one vowel to another.

  • bide
    • AmE & BrE , AuE
  • Boyd
  • bowed, mouth
    • AmE & BrE , AuE
  • imbued
    • Am & BrE , AuE
This is phonemically a sequence of and rather than a diphthong, because English speakers perceive ewe and two as a valid rhyme, and they say "a ewe" instead of "an ewe", which would be correct if was a vowel.



The voiceless stops , , and are aspirated when they occur at the beginning of stressed or word-initial syllables. Aspiration is marked in IPA with a superscript h. These symbols are thus , , . It is not always necessary to include the superscript h when transcribing English into IPA because speakers make the distinction automatically.


Affricates are phonetically just a sequence of a stop and a fricative.

  • chop
  • joy

A distinction is made in English between affricates and a sequence of a stop and fricative, because a syllable boundary never separates those affricates, but it might separate stop/fricative sequences. The contrast can be heard in the phrases why choose, in which is an affricate, and white shoes, in which it is a sequence of the stop and the fricative . The combined letters for affricates, and are preferred when available in order to distinguish them from stop/fricative sequences, but not commonly used.


Note: the th in thigh and thy are different sounds. The latter is voiced, the former is voiceless. Some linguists consider a glide rather than a fricative.


Note: eng only occurs postvocalically (after vowels) in English.


Approximants are smooth sounds that are almost like vowels.

It is frequently written in broad transcription of English, since the alveolar trill (the sound for which is normally reserved) does not occur in most dialects of English.

Note: and are also called semivowels.


The suprasegmental symbols are called that because they apply to more than one segment, or symbol. In English, the relevant suprasegmentals are the markings for primary and secondary stress.

  • primary stress
  • secondary stress
  • syllable break

English does not actually have a distinction between primary and secondary stress. The apparent difference is due to intonation: When making a statement, the last stressed syllable will be more strongly stressed than the other stressed syllables. However, as soon as you move a word out of final position, the extra stress is lost. It moves to whichever word is now final, so it doesn't really belong to the word itself, but to the statement. Consider the isolated word Arachnophobia, with stronger stress on the syllable pho than on the rach, versus Arachnophobia's playing at the Bijou, where the stress on rach and pho is equal. Because people usually say a word in isolation when transcribing it, they tend to mark primary and secondary stress, but this is not necessary for English.

Quick reference chart of IPA symbols used for English

The symbols in the following chart are arranged in alphabetical order according the English letter they most resemble. This should make symbols easy to find for those who are not familiar with phonetic terminology. Only symbols found in broad (phonemic) transcription are used. The HTML code for numeric entities for the Unicode code is given (in decimal) for those symbols not in Basic Latin.

Symbol Numeric entities Example words AmE AuE BrE
aɪ price, high, try AmE BrE
aʊ mouth, now AmE BrE
ɐ strut, bud, love AuE
ɐː father, start AuE
æ trap, bad AmE AuE BrE
æɪ face, day, steak AuE
æɔ mouth, now AuE
ɑ father, start, lot, odd AmE
ɑː father, start BrE
ɑe price, high, try AuE
ɒ lot, odd, wash BrE
  back, bubble, job AmE AuE BrE
ɔ lot, odd, wash AuE
ɔ thought, law, north, four AmE
ɔː thought, law, north, four BrE
ɔɪ choice, boy AmE AuE BrE
  day, ladder, odd AmE AuE BrE
or dʒ or ʤ judge, age, soldier AmE AuE BrE
ð this, other, smooth AmE AuE BrE
  dress, bed AuE
eː square, fair, various AuE
eɪ face, day, steak AmE BrE
ə about, comma, common AmE AuE BrE
əʉ goat, show, no AuE
əʊ goat, show, no BrE
or ɚ or ər father, standard AmE
ɛ dress, bed AmE BrE
ɛə square, fair, various BrE
ɜː nurse, stir AuE BrE
or ɝ or ɜr nurse, stir, courage AmE
  fat, coffee, rough, physics AmE AuE BrE
  get, giggle, ghost AmE AuE BrE
  hot, whole, behind AmE AuE BrE
or i or iː fleece, sea, happy, radiation AmE AuE BrE
ɪ kit, bid, hymn, basic AmE AuE BrE
or ɪː or ɪə serious, feared, near, here AuE
ɪə serious, feared, near, here BrE
  yet, beyond, onion AmE AuE BrE
  key, clock, school AmE AuE BrE
  light, valley AmE AuE BrE
ɫ milk, bell AmE AuE BrE
  more, hammer, sum AmE AuE BrE
  nice, know, funny, sun AmE AuE BrE
ŋ ring, long, thanks, sung AmE AuE BrE
oː thought, law, north, four AuE
oʊ goat, show, no AmE
θ thing, author, path AmE AuE BrE
  pen, copy, happen AmE AuE BrE
or r or ɹ right, sorry, arrange AmE AuE BrE
  soon, cease, sister AmE AuE BrE
ʃ ship, sure, station AmE AuE BrE
  tea, tight, button AmE AuE BrE
or tʃ or ʧ church, match, nature AmE AuE BrE
or u or uː goose, two, influence, situation AmE BrE
or ʉ or ʉː goose, two, influence, situation AuE
ʊ foot, good, put AmE AuE BrE
ʊə cure, poor, jury BrE
ʊə cure, tour AuE
ʊɹ cure, poor, jury AmE
  view, heavy, move AmE AuE BrE
ʌ strut, bud, love AmE BrE
  wet, away, queen AmE AuE BrE
ʍ when, which Some English dialects
  chutzpah, loch Foreign words only
  zero, zone, roses, buzz AmE AuE BrE
ʒ pleasure, vision AmE AuE BrE

Primary stress is indicated by the symbol (ˈ) before the stressed syllable; secondary stress by the symbol (ˌ) before the syllable, for example phonetician AmE , BrE , AuE .

Note: You can hide rows of the above table by placing the following code in your user/monobook.css page.
Replace 'xx' with your ISO locale code (either au, gb, or us).

#ipa-table tr { display: none; }
#ipa-table tr.xx,
#ipa-table tr:first-child { display: table-row; }

See also


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