What is Phonetic Spelling? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 English Phonetics
  • 0:28 Definition
  • 1:03 Digraphs
  • 1:31 Silent Letters
  • 2:05 Other Unusually Spelled Words
  • 2:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about some of the unusual and complex phonetic spelling patterns that are a part of the English language, including digraphs, silent letters and other anomalies.

English Phonetics

While many languages, such as Spanish, German, and Polish, are considered phonetic languages, others, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Swiss German, are not. English falls somewhere in the middle. Sound and symbol relationships and spelling patterns exist in English, but there are also many words that do not sound at all the way they are spelled. Let's examine phonetic spelling in English.


Simply put, phonetic spelling is spelling words the way they sound. While each letter in English is assigned at least one sound, there are lots of letters or letter combinations that are pronounced differently in different words.

For example, the letter 'p' is frequently assigned the /p/ as in the word 'paper,' however, if it's paired with the letter 'h,' as in 'phone,' the 'ph' together make the /f/.

Similarly, the letter 's' usually makes the /s/ as in 'soup,' but when it is paired with the /h/, as in the word 'ship,' it makes a unique sound.


The letter combinations 'ph' and 'sh' are digraphs. Digraphs are letters that sound differently when they're paired together. This table provides examples of digraphs:

ch cheese

gh rough

ng sing

ph sphere

qu queen

sh show

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