There are so many American English consonants. Wouldn’t it be nice if they are categorized?

Well, guess what? I think I have just the thing for you.

Learn the IPA (international phonetic alphabet) chart. The complete chart has all the sounds from the world and looks complicated. So here is the chart just for American English which I organized.



This chart is organized in the manner (the left side column) and the place (the top row).

The manner of articulation

It shows you HOW you pronounce the consonant.

The place of articulation

It shows you WHERE you pronounce the consonant. From the left to right, it starts from the front side of your mouth all way to glottis.

The manner of articulation

Plosive – It means STOP! You close the airstream with the tongue or lips and pronounce the consonant suddenly. It is like popping a balloon. For example, /p/ is a plosive.

Nasal – The sound comes from the nose because the airstream is blocked inside the mouth. For example, the sound /n/ comes from the nose because the tongue blocks the air inside the mouth.

Tap or Flap – Tap or Flap is basically a trill but tap the tongue only once. There is only one in American English which is Tap T. T becomes softened and becomes Tap T. For example, T in “water” “butter” “letter.”

Fricative – The air comes out continuously when fricatives are pronounced. Make sure that you do not block the air for these consonants. TH and F, V are fricatives. They need to be produced with continuous airstream.

Affricate – (it is usually not in the IPA chart like this, but it is added here so that I can explain) An affricate is a combination of a plosive and a fricative and you pronounce the two consonants at the same time. For example, /ts/ is a combination of /t/ which is a plosive and /s/ which is a fricative. And you pronounce them at the same time.

Approximant – An approximant is a combination of a fricative and a vowel. The air comes out continuously so it is like a fricative. The sound is very strong because the air comes out from a wider area than in fricatives so it is like a vowel. For example, /ɹ/ is an approximant. There are R blends (type of vowels) so that R is treated as a vowel. But then it is treated as a consonant in a word like “right.” It is a confusing consonant.

Lateral Approximant – “Lateral” means “sides” in Latin. The air comes out from the sides. There is only one approximant in American English which is /l/. You put your tongue against the upper teeth for L but the tongue does not block the air. The air comes out from sides of your tongue.

Voiced Labial-velar Approximant – /w/ in American English (which I did not include in the video above). It is pronounced with lips and in the back of the tongue and the air comes out continuously.


The place of articulation

Bilabial – “Bi” means “two” and “labial” means “lips” in Latin. Which means you use your lips to pronounce the consonant.

Labiodental – “Labio” means “lips” and “dental” means “teeth” in Latin. You use your lips and teeth to pronounce the consonant.

Dental – “Dental” means “teeth” in Latin which means you use your teeth to pronounce the consonant.

Alveolar – You pronounce the consonant at the alveolar ridge. The alveolar ridge is in the hard palate right above the upper teeth where you feel little dents.

Postalveolar – “Post” means “after” in Latin. So the area postalveolar comes after alveolar towards the throat. You pronounce the sound in between the tip and the middle of your tongue.

Palatal – The palatal area is next to the postalveolar. You pronounce the sound in the middle of your tongue.

Velar – You pronounce velar consonants on the back of your tongue.

Glottal – The glottal consonants are pronounced at the glottis where the vocal folds are. For example, in English, “Uh-oh” is pronounced with the glottal stop /ʔ/. Michael Jackson did the glottal stop a lot in singing. He is the master of glottal stop. The vocal fry which is used as a singing technique happens in the glottal.


There you go. Each category became clear? Understanding consonants in a systematic order is very important. I always teach this chart in accent reduction lessons and my clients find it useful.

Comment below to let me know if you understand how to read the consonant chart. Also comment below if you have any questions.

Check out the blog about American English vowel chart as well for better understanding of pronunciation.

Thank you for reading!

American English pronunciation coach. Studied linguistics at UCLA. Specializing in phonetics, phonology, intonation, and second language acquisition.

She likes music and Toastmasters. Recently she enjoys playing ukulele and hand bells.