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Naming Convention for Consonants

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Consonants naming convention

During your reading of the various descriptions of English consonants you may have noted a pattern in the way each consonant sound is described. By convention each consonant is described in relation to three parameters, in the following order:

  1. voicing
  2. place of articulation
  3. manner of articulation

To consolidate our understanding of these important features, we provide the following summary explanations.


Voicing refers to whether or not the vocal folds are vibrating during the production of the consonant. If they are not vibrating the sound is voiceless and if they are vibrating then the sound is voiced.

Place of articulation

This refers to the place in the vocal tract where the two articulators come together. So, for example, bilabial means that the two lips come together, labiodental means that the lower lip moves to make contact with the upper incisors, and alveolar means that the tongue tip moves towards the alveolar ridge. We have seen that there eight places of articulation for English consonants:

  1. bilabial
  2. labiodental
  3. dental
  4. alveolar
  5. post-alveolar
  6. palatal
  7. velar
  8. glottal

When two sounds have the same place of articulation, they are said to be homorganic. For example, the oral sound /p/ and the nasal sound /m/ are both articulated with the lips, i.e. they are bilabial. They are, therefore, homorganic consonants. Similarly, the two sounds /s/ and /d/ are both articulated on the alveolar ridge. They too are homorganic.


This indicates the type of contact that is made between the two articulators. For example, the articulators could fully stop the flow of air out of the mouth before subsequently releasing it explosively, i.e. a plosive. Another example is where the two articulators approximate closely such that turbulence or friction is created, i.e. a fricative. We have noted five possible manners of articulation in English:

  1. plosive
  2. nasal
  3. fricative
  4. affricate
  5. approximant


Using the parameters of voicing, place and manner we can apply these to any consonant in order to provide a three-part label. Table 14 shows some examples.

IPA voicing place manner label
n voiced alveolar nasal voiced alveolar nasal
f voiceless labiodental fricative voiceless labiodental fricative
p voiceless bilabial plosive voiceless bilabial plosive
j voiced palatal approximant voiced palatal approximant
voiceless post-alveolar affricate voiceless post-alveolar affricate

Table 14. Example 3-part labels for English consonants.

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