English Phonology - Phonotactics - Syllable Structure - Onset


The following can occur as the onset:

All single consonant phonemes except /ŋ/
Stop plus approximant other than /j/:

/pl/, /bl/, /kl/, /ɡl/, /pr/, /br/, /tr/, /dr/, /kr/, /ɡr/, /tw/, /dw/, /ɡw/, /kw/, /pw/

play, blood, clean, glove, prize, bring, tree, dream, crowd, green, twin, dwarf, language, quick, puissance
Voiceless fricative plus approximant other than /j/:

/fl/, /sl/, /θl/, /fr/, /θr/, /ʃr/, /hw/, /sw/, /θw/, /vw/

floor, sleep, thlipsis, friend, three, shrimp, what, swing, thwart, reservoir
Consonant plus /j/ (before /uː/ or /ʊr/):

/pj/, /bj/, /tj/, /dj/, /kj/, /ɡj/, /mj/, /nj/, /fj/, /vj/, /θj/, /sj/, /zj/, /hj/, /lj/

pure, beautiful, tube, during, cute, argue, music, new, few, view, thew, suit, Zeus, huge, lurid
/s/ plus voiceless stop:

/sp/, /st/, /sk/

speak, stop, skill
/s/ plus nasal other than /ŋ/:

/sm/, /sn/

smile, snow
/s/ plus voiceless fricative:

/sf/, /sθ/

sphere, sthenic
/s/ plus voiceless stop plus approximant:

/spl/, /skl/, /spr/, /str/, /skr/, /skw/, /smj/, /spj/, /stj/, /skj/

split, sclera, spring, street, scream, square, smew, spew, student, skewer
/s/ plus voiceless fricative plus approximant:




  1. For a number of speakers, /tr/ and /dr/ tend to affricate, so that tree resembles "chree", and dream resembles "jream". This is sometimes transcribed as and respectively, but the pronunciation varies and may, for example, be closer to and or with a fricative release similar in quality to the rhotic, i.e., or, .
  2. In some dialects, /wr/ (rather than /r/) occurs in words beginning in wr- (write, wrong, wren, etc.).
  3. Words beginning in unusual consonant clusters that originated in Latinized Greek loanwords tend to drop the first phoneme, as in */bd/, */fθ/, */ɡn/, */hr/, */kn/, */ks/, */kt/, */kθ/, */mn/, */pn/, */ps/, */pt/, */tm/, and */θm/, which have become /d/ (bdellium), /θ/ (phthisis), /n/ (gnome), /r/ (rhythm), /n/ (cnidoblast), /z/ (xylophone), /t/ (ctenophore), /θ/ (chthonic), /n/ (mnemonic), /n/ (pneumonia), /s/ (psychology), /t/ (pterodactyl), /m/ (tmesis), and /m/ (asthma). However, the onsets /sf/, /sfr/, /skl/, /sθ/, and /θl/ have remained intact.
  4. The onset /hw/ is simplified to /w/ in many dialects (wine–whine merger).
  5. There is an on-going sound change (yod-dropping) by which /j/ as the final consonant in a cluster is being lost. In RP, words with /sj/ and /lj/ can usually be pronounced with or without this sound, e.g., or . For some speakers of English, including some British speakers, the sound change is more advanced and so, for example, General American does not contain the onsets /tj/, /dj/, /nj/, /θj/, /sj/, /stj/, /zj/, or /lj/. Words that would otherwise begin in these onsets drop the /j/: e.g., tube (/tuːb/), during (/ˈdʊrɪŋ/), new (/nuː/), Thule (/ˈθuːliː/), suit (/suːt/), student (/ˈstuːdənt/), Zeus (/zuːs/), lurid (/ˈlʊrɪd/). In some dialects, such Welsh English, /j/ may occur in more combinations; for example in /tʃj/ (chew), /dʒj/ (Jew), /ʃj/ (sure), and /slj/ (slew).
  6. Many clusters beginning with /ʃ/ and paralleling native clusters beginning with /s/ are found initially in German and Yiddish loanwords, such as /ʃl/, /ʃp/, /ʃt/, /ʃm/, /ʃn/, /ʃpr/, /ʃtr/ (in words such as schlep, spiel, shtick, schmuck, schnapps, Shprintzen's, strudel). /ʃw/ is found initially in the Hebrew loanword schwa. Before /r/ however, the native cluster is /ʃr/. The opposite cluster /sr/ is found in loanwords such as Sri Lanka, but this can be nativized by changing it to /ʃr/.
Other onsets

Certain English onsets appear only in contractions: e.g., /zbl/ ('sblood), and /zw/ or /dzw/ ('swounds or 'dswounds). Some, such as /pʃ/ (pshaw), /fw/ (fwoosh), or /vr/ (vroom), can occur in interjections. An archaic voiceless fricative plus nasal exists, /fn/ (fnese), as does an archaic /snj/ (snew).

A few other onsets occur in further (anglicized) loan words, including /bw/ (bwana), /mw/ (moiré), /nw/ (noire), /zw/ (zwieback), /kv/ (kvetch), /ʃv/ (schvartze), /tv/ (Tver), /vl/ (Vladimir), and /zl/ (zloty).

Some clusters of this type can be converted to regular English phonotactics by simplifying the cluster: e.g. /(d)z/ (dziggetai), /(h)r/ (Hrolf), /kr(w)/ (croissant), /(p)f/ (pfennig), /(f)θ/ (phthalic), and /(t)s/ (tsunami).

Others can be substituted by native clusters differing only in voice: /zb ~ sp/ (sbirro), and /zɡr ~ skr/ (sgraffito).

Read more about this topic:  English Phonology, Phonotactics, Syllable Structure

Famous quotes containing the word onset:

    While the onset of puberty can vary by as much as six years, every adolescent wants to be right on the 50-yard line, right in the middle of the field. One is always too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too hairy, too clear-skinned, too early, too late. Understandably, problems of self-image are rampant.
    Joan Lipsitz (20th century)