English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What are consonants? (with examples)

What are consonants? (with examples)

A consonant is a letter of the alphabet that represents a basic speech sound produced by obstructing respiration in the vocal tract. All the letters of the alphabet except A, E, I, O, and U (called vowels) are known as consonants.

For example:

  • T is pronounced using the tongue (front part)
  • K is pronounced using the tongue (back part)
  • B is pronounced with the lips
  • H is pronounced in the throat
  • F is pronounced by forcing air through a narrow gap
  • M is pronounced using the nasal passage

Una consonante se puede combinar con una vocal para formar una sílaba.

More about Consonants

With seven consonants,“rhythms“is the longest word without vowels. There are three words with six consonants and no vowels:

  • He moved very spryly.
    (“Sprilo“means in a nimble or agile manner.)
  • She is sylphy.
    (“Sylphy“means like a“sylph“(a slender graceful girl).)
  • Eclipses occur at times of syzygy.
    (“Syzygy“is the straight-line configuration of three or more celestial bodies.)

Some might argue that these words contain vowels because they include Y, which is often called a semivowel. (There’s more on this on the vowels page.)

No“vowels“, we have crwth (a stringed instrument) and cwtch (a shed, a hug, or a hiding place). But both words derive from Welsh, which normally treats W like U in“cut“.

Why Should I Care about Consonants?

There are two good reasons to worry about consonants.

(Reason 1) Use“a“and“an“correctly.

Use“a“(no“an“) before a consonant sound. Note the sound of the word. (The rule is not to use“a“before a consonant).

  • It was a unique experience to receive an unequivocal answer. ✔️
    (Even though“unique“and“unequivocal“start with the same letter (the same two letters in fact),“unique“starts with a consonant sound (Y) while“unequivocal“starts with a vowel sound. Remember that you must use“a“(not“an“) before a consonant sound.)
  • Becoming a eunuch wasn’t a one-off deal – it was a two-off deal. ✔️
    (“Eunuch“and“one-off“both start with vowels but with consonant sounds.)

Take special care with abbreviations.

  • She was injured in a RTA. ❌
  • She was injured in an RTA. ✔️
    (The letter“R“is a consonant, but the initialism RTA is pronounced“And so,“i.e., it starts with a vowel sound. Therefore,“an“is correct.)
  • A MAFF official came to stuff an MRSA outbreak. ✔️
    (The acronym MAFF attracts“a“because it is pronounced“maf,“i.e., it starts with a consonant sound. However, the initialism MRSA attracts“an“because it is pronounced“em-ar-ess-ay,“i.e., it starts with a vowel sound.)

(Reason 2) Use consonance to add rhythm and musicality to your writing.

Consonance is a literary technique created by repeating the same consonant sound in neighboring words. It is used by poets and lyricists to compel their audiences to consider the close rhyme created by the consonance. Consonance is not the same as alliteration, in which all neighboring words begin with the same letter or sound.

  • I earn my keep by cracking locks or picking a pockets.
  • She swung her fist in angst against the beast.
  • The new logo says boorish and English but also stylish.

Key Points

  • Use“a“(no“an“) if the following word begins with a consonant sound.
  • Use consonance to compel your readers to think more deeply about your word choice.

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