What are phonetic symbols? 

Phonetic symbols are codes for every possible sound an English alphabet can possibly make.

We all know 26 English letters produce 48 different sounds.

Given diversity of native English speakers and therefore to bring uniformity to English pronunciation, English language follows standard phonetic symbols system developed by International Phonetic Association.

Phonetic Alphabets Chart

These symbols for sound of English letters have been developed and adopted after intense study of English language and its prevailing varieties. English teachers all over the world follow English Phonetic  Alphabets to teach English pronunciation.


Although it is useful to follow phonetic alphabets for pronunciation but, it is not easy for non natives to achieve/ learn something through imitation. It takes years of practice and continuous exposure to English language to learn correct English pronunciation.


What is a Phonetic Language?

Those languages, which follow one letter one sound system are called,” Phonetic” languages. For example Hindi is a phonetic language wherein each letter represents one sound only.


But, English language follows complex and unpredictable spelling system. Take a look at the following characteristics specific to English language for better understanding.



‘a’ can be pronounced as:


Cat: Bat, Rat, Sat (short, ‘a’ sound)

Car: Bar, Star, Barn (long, ‘a’ sound)

Ball: Call, Stall, Tall (long, ‘o’ sound)

Father: Lather, Rather (long, ’a’ sound different than , Car)


Now look at the following:


Pet: Get, Let, Set (short ‘a’ sound)

Burn: Turn, Learn, Sun (letter u but sound is short sound, ‘a’)

Eight: Gait, late (letter ei but short sound, ’a’)

Pair: Chair (letter ai make short sound, ‘a’)


G: Dog, Log, Smog

G: King (g=ng, it has nasal sound), Bring, Sing

Th: Thumb, Theatre, Thought

Th: Mother, There, Those

S: Mouse, House, 

C: Cell, Celebrations (same sound as,s,)

Phonetic Symbols in a Dictionary

In a dictionary pronunciation for the  word,'dictionary' is given as:

Dictionary Pronunciation/ˈdɪkʃ(ə)n(ə)ri/ 

The letters in color are phonetic symbols for each sound in the word, 'Dictionary'.

Let  us look at each sound closely.

d  is consonant d and sound is d ( dog)

ɪ is a vowel sound ( short) as in Sit

k is consonant K and sound is K ( Kite)

ʃ is a symbol for sound Sh as ( She)

( when you see this symbol  for a word pronunciation, it is a sound Sh as she

ə is a symbol for a very faint sound like a in the word, another

n is the symbol for consonant n as in, 'nun'

ə is a symbol for a very faint sound like a in the word, another

r is the symbol for consonant r as in 'Right'

i is the vowel sound ( long) as in See

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Although phonetic symbols look intimidating, but they are very helpful to know the correct pronunciation of any word in English. 

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