International Phonetic Alphabet

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International Phonetic Alphabet
"IPA" in IPA ([aɪ pʰiː eɪ])
Alphabet – partially featural
Languages Used for phonetic and phonemic transcription of any language
Time period
1888 to present
Parent systems
File:IPA chart 2020.svg
The official chart of the IPA, revised in 2020

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin script. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of speech sounds in written form.[1] The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech–language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators, and translators.[2][3]

The IPA is designed to represent those qualities of speech that are part of lexical (and, to a limited extent, prosodic) sounds in oral language: phones, phonemes, intonation, and the separation of words and syllables.[1] To represent additional qualities of speech—such as tooth gnashing, lisping, and sounds made with a cleft lip and cleft palate—an extended set of symbols may be used.[2]

Segments are transcribed by one or more IPA symbols of two basic types: letters and diacritics. For example, the sound of the English letter ⟨t⟩ may be transcribed in IPA with a single letter: [t], or with a letter plus diacritics: [t̺ʰ], depending on how precise one wishes to be. Slashes are used to signal phonemic transcription; therefore, /t/ is more abstract than either [t̺ʰ] or [t] and might refer to either, depending on the context and language.[Note 1]

Occasionally, letters or diacritics are added, removed, or modified by the International Phonetic Association. As of the most recent change in 2005,[4] there are 107 segmental letters, an indefinitely large number of suprasegmental letters, 44 diacritics (not counting composites), and four extra-lexical prosodic marks in the IPA. Most of these are shown in the current IPA chart, posted below in this article and at the website of the IPA.[5]


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In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers, led by the French linguist Paul Passy, formed what would be known from 1897 onwards as the International Phonetic Association (in French, l'Association phonétique internationale).[6] Their original alphabet was based on a spelling reform for English known as the Romic alphabet, but to make it usable for other languages the values of the symbols were allowed to vary from language to language.[7] For example, the sound [ʃ] (the sh in shoe) was originally represented with the letter ⟨c⟩ in English, but with the digraph ⟨ch⟩ in French.[6] In 1888, the alphabet was revised to be uniform across languages, thus providing the base for all future revisions.[6][8] The idea of making the IPA was first suggested by Otto Jespersen in a letter to Passy. It was developed by Alexander John Ellis, Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, and Passy.[9]

Since its creation, the IPA has undergone a number of revisions. After revisions and expansions from the 1890s to the 1940s, the IPA remained primarily unchanged until the Kiel Convention in 1989. A minor revision took place in 1993 with the addition of four letters for mid central vowels[2] and the removal of letters for voiceless implosives.[10] The alphabet was last revised in May 2005 with the addition of a letter for a labiodental flap.[11] Apart from the addition and removal of symbols, changes to the IPA have consisted largely of renaming symbols and categories and in modifying typefaces.[2]

Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for speech pathology (extIPA) were created in 1990 and were officially adopted by the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association in 1994.[12]


The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound (speech segment).[13] This means that:

  • It does not normally use combinations of letters to represent single sounds, the way English does with ⟨sh⟩, ⟨th⟩ and ⟨ng⟩, nor single letters to represent multiple sounds, the way ⟨x⟩ represents /ks/ or /ɡz/ in English.
  • There are no letters that have context-dependent sound values, the way ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ in several European languages have a "hard" or "soft" pronunciation.
  • The IPA does not usually have separate letters for two sounds if no known language makes a distinction between them, a property known as "selectiveness".[2][Note 2] However, if a large number of phonemically distinct letters can be derived with a diacritic, that may be used instead.[Note 3]

The alphabet is designed for transcribing sounds (phones), not phonemes, though it is used for phonemic transcription as well. A few letters that did not indicate specific sounds have been retired (⟨ˇ⟩, once used for the "compound" tone of Swedish and Norwegian, and ⟨ƞ⟩, once used for the moraic nasal of Japanese), though one remains: ⟨ɧ⟩, used for the sj-sound of Swedish. When the IPA is used for phonemic transcription, the letter–sound correspondence can be rather loose. For example, ⟨c⟩ and ⟨ɟ⟩ are used in the IPA Handbook for /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.

Among the symbols of the IPA, 107 letters represent consonants and vowels, 31 diacritics are used to modify these, and 17 additional signs indicate suprasegmental qualities such as length, tone, stress, and intonation.[Note 4] These are organized into a chart; the chart displayed here is the official chart as posted at the website of the IPA.

Letter forms

Loop-tail ⟨g⟩ and open-tail ⟨ɡ⟩ are graphic variants. Open-tail ⟨ɡ⟩ was the original IPA symbol, but both are now considered correct. See history of the IPA for details.

The letters chosen for the IPA are meant to harmonize with the Latin alphabet.[14] For this reason, most letters are either Latin or Greek, or modifications thereof. Some letters are neither: for example, the letter denoting the glottal stop, ⟨ʔ⟩, originally had the form of a dotless question mark, and derives from an apostrophe. A few letters, such as that of the voiced pharyngeal fricative, ⟨ʕ⟩, were inspired by other writing systems (in this case, the Arabic letter ⟨⟩, ʿayn, via the reversed apostrophe).[10]

Some letter forms derive from existing letters:

  • The right-swinging tail, as in ⟨ʈ ɖ ɳ ɽ ʂ ʐ ɻ ɭ ⟩, indicates retroflex articulation. It originates from the hook of an r.
  • The top hook, as in ⟨ɠ ɗ ɓ⟩, indicates implosion.
  • Several nasal consonants are based on the form ⟨n⟩: ⟨n ɲ ɳ ŋ⟩. ⟨ɲ⟩ and ⟨ŋ⟩ derive from ligatures of gn and ng, and ⟨ɱ⟩ is an ad hoc imitation of ⟨ŋ⟩.
  • Letters turned 180 degrees for suggestive shapes, such as ⟨ɐ ɔ ə ɟ ɓ ɥ ɾ ɯ ɹ ʇ ʊ ʌ ʍ ʎ⟩ from ⟨a c e f ɡ h ᴊ m r t Ω v w y⟩.[Note 5] Either the original letter may be reminiscent of the target sound (e.g., ⟨ɐ ə ɹ ʇ ʍ⟩) or the turned one (e.g., ⟨ɔ ɟ ɓ ɥ ɾ ɯ ʌ ʎ⟩). Rotation was popular in the era of mechanical typesetting, as it had the advantage of not requiring the casting of special type for IPA symbols, much as the sorts had traditionally often pulled double duty for ⟨b⟩ and ⟨q⟩, ⟨d⟩ and ⟨p⟩, ⟨n⟩ and ⟨u⟩, ⟨6⟩ and ⟨9⟩ to reduce cost.
    File:Turned small cap omega as a vowel.png
    An example of a font that uses turned small-capital omega ⟨ꭥ⟩ for the vowel ⟨ʊ⟩. The symbol had originally been a small-capital ⟨ᴜ⟩.
  • Among consonant letters, the small capital letters ⟨ɢ ʜ ʟ ɴ ʀ ʁ⟩, and also ⟨⟩ in extIPA, indicate more guttural sounds than their base letters. (⟨ʙ⟩ is a late exception.) Among vowel letters, small capitals indicate "lax" vowels. Most of the original small-cap vowel letters have been modified into more distinctive shapes (e.g. ⟨ʊ ɤ ɛ ʌ⟩ from U Ɐ E A), with only ⟨ɪ ʏ⟩ remaining as small capitals.

Typography and iconicity

The International Phonetic Alphabet is based on the Latin script, and uses as few non-Latin letters as possible.[6] The Association created the IPA so that the sound values of most letters would correspond to "international usage" (approximately Classical Latin).[6] Hence, the consonant letters ⟨b⟩, ⟨d⟩, ⟨f⟩, (hard) ⟨ɡ⟩, (non-silent) ⟨h⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨k⟩, ⟨l⟩, ⟨m⟩, ⟨n⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨p⟩, (voiceless) ⟨s⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨t⟩, ⟨v⟩, ⟨w⟩, and ⟨z⟩ have more or less the values found in English; and the vowel letters ⟨a⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩ correspond to the (long) sound values of Latin: [i] is like the vowel in machine, [u] is as in rule, etc. Other Latin letters, particularly ⟨j⟩, ⟨r⟩ and ⟨y⟩, differ from English, but have their IPA values in Latin or other European languages.

This basic Latin inventory was extended by adding small-capital and cursive forms, diacritics and rotation. The sound values of these letters are related to those of the original letters, and their derivation may be iconic.[15] For example, letters with a rightward-facing hook at the bottom represent retroflex equivalents of the source letters, and small capital letters usually represent uvular equivalents of their source letters.

There are also several letters from the Greek alphabet, though their sound values may differ from Greek. The most extreme difference is ⟨ʋ⟩, which is a vowel in Greek but a consonant in the IPA. For most Greek letters, subtly different glyph shapes have been devised for the IPA, specifically ⟨ɑ⟩, ⟨⟩, ⟨ɣ⟩, ⟨ɛ⟩, ⟨ɸ⟩, ⟨⟩ and ⟨ʋ⟩, which are encoded in Unicode separately from their parent Greek letters. One, however – ⟨θ⟩ – has only its Greek form, while for ⟨ꞵ ~ β⟩ and ⟨ꭓ ~ χ⟩, both Greek and Latin forms are in common use.[16] The tone letters are not derived from an alphabet, but from a pitch trace on a musical scale.

Beyond the letters themselves, there are a variety of secondary symbols which aid in transcription. Diacritic marks can be combined with IPA letters to add phonetic detail such as tone and secondary articulations. There are also special symbols for prosodic features such as stress and intonation.

Brackets and transcription delimiters

There are two principal types of brackets used to set off (delimit) IPA transcriptions:

Symbol Use
[ ... ] Square brackets are used with phonetic notation, whether broad or narrow[17] – that is, for actual pronunciation, possibly including details of the pronunciation that may not be used for distinguishing words in the language being transcribed, which the author nonetheless wishes to document. Such phonetic notation is the primary function of the IPA.
/ ... / Slashes[Note 6] are used for abstract phonemic notation,[17] which note only features that are distinctive in the language, without any extraneous detail. For example, while the 'p' sounds of English pin and spin are pronounced differently (and this difference would be meaningful in some languages), the difference is not meaningful in English. Thus, phonemically the words are usually analyzed as /ˈpɪn/ and /ˈspɪn/, with the same phoneme /p/. To capture the difference between them (the allophones of /p/), they can be transcribed phonetically as [pʰɪn] and [spɪn]. Phonemic notation commonly uses IPA symbols that are rather close to the default pronunciation of a phoneme, but for legibility or other reasons can use symbols that diverge from their designated values, such as /c, ɟ/ for affricates typically pronounced [t͜ʃ, d͜ʒ], as found in the Handbook, or /r/, which in phonetic notation is a trill, for English r even when pronounced [ɹʷ].

Other conventions are less commonly seen:

Symbol Use
{ ... } Braces ("curly brackets") are used for prosodic notation.[18] See Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for examples in this system.
( ... ) Parentheses are used for indistinguishable[17] or unidentified utterances. They are also seen for silent articulation (mouthing),[19] where the expected phonetic transcription is derived from lip-reading, and with periods to indicate silent pauses, for example (…) or (2 sec). The latter usage is made official in the extIPA, with unidentified segments circled.[20]
⸨ ... ⸩ Double parentheses indicate either a transcription of obscured speech or a description of the obscuring noise. The IPA specifies that they mark the obscured sound,[18] as in ⸨2σ⸩, two audible syllables obscured by another sound. The current extIPA specifications prescribe double parentheses for the extraneous noise, such as ⸨cough⸩ or ⸨knock⸩ for a knock on a door, but the IPA Handbook identifies IPA and extIPA usage as equivalent.[21] Early publications of the extIPA explain double parentheses as marking "uncertainty because of noise which obscures the recording," and that within them "may be indicated as much detail as the transcriber can detect."[22]

All three of the above are provided by the IPA Handbook. The following are not, but may be seen in IPA transcription or in associated material (especially angle brackets):

Symbol Use
⟦ ... ⟧ Double square brackets are used for extra-precise (especially narrow) transcription. This is consistent with the IPA convention of doubling a symbol to indicate greater degree. Double brackets may indicate that a letter has its cardinal IPA value. For example, ⟦a⟧ is an open front vowel, rather than the perhaps slightly different value (such as open central) that "[a]" may be used to transcribe in a particular language. Thus, two vowels transcribed for easy legibility as ⟨[e]⟩ and ⟨[ɛ]⟩ may be clarified as actually being ⟦e̝⟧ and ⟦e⟧; ⟨[ð]⟩ may be more precisely ⟦ð̠̞ˠ⟧.[23] Double brackets may also be used for a specific token or speaker; for example, the pronunciation of a child as opposed to the adult phonetic pronunciation that is their target.[24]
⫽ ... ⫽
| ... |
‖ ... ‖
{ ... }
Double slashes are used for morphophonemic transcription. This is also consistent with the IPA convention of doubling a symbol to indicate greater degree (in this case, more abstract than phonemic transcription).

Other symbols sometimes seen for morphophonemic transcription are pipes and double pipes, from Americanist phonetic notation; and braces from set theory, especially when enclosing the set of phonemes that constitute the morphophoneme, e.g. {t d} or {t|d} or {/t/, /d/}. Only double slashes are unambiguous: both pipes and braces conflict with IPA prosodic transcription.[Note 7] See morphophonology for examples.

⟪ ... ⟫
Angle brackets[Note 8] are used to mark both original Latin orthography and transliteration from another script; they are also used to identify individual graphemes of any script.[27][28] Within the IPA, they are used to indicate the IPA letters themselves rather than the sound values that they carry. Double angle brackets may occasionally be useful to distinguish original orthography from transliteration, or the idiosyncratic spelling of a manuscript from the normalized orthography of the language.

For example, ⟨cot⟩ would be used for the orthography of the English word cot, as opposed to its pronunciation /ˈkɒt/. Italics are usual when words are written as themselves (as with cot in the previous sentence) rather than to specifically note their orthography. However, italic markup is not evident to sight-impaired readers who rely on screen reader technology.

Some examples of contrasting brackets in the literature:

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In some English accents, the phoneme /l/, which is usually spelled as ⟨l⟩ or ⟨ll⟩, is articulated as two distinct allophones: the clear [l] occurs before vowels and the consonant /j/, whereas the dark [ɫ]/[lˠ] occurs before consonants, except /j/, and at the end of words.[29]

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the alternations /f//v/ in plural formation in one class of nouns, as in knife /naɪf/knives /naɪvz/, which can be represented morphophonemically as {naɪV} – {naɪV+z}. The morphophoneme {V} stands for the phoneme set {/f/, /v/}.[30]

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[ˈf\faɪnəlz ˈhɛld ɪn (.) ⸨knock on door⸩ bɑɹsə{𝑝ˈloʊnə and ˈmədɹɪd 𝑝}]f-finals held in Barcelona and Madrid.[31]

Other representations

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IPA letters have cursive forms designed for use in manuscripts and when taking field notes, but the Handbook recommended against their use, as cursive IPA is "harder for most people to decipher."[32] A braille representation of the IPA for blind or visually impaired professionals and students has also been developed.[33]

Modifying the IPA chart

File:Extended IPA chart 2005.png
The authors of textbooks or similar publications often create revised versions of the IPA chart to express their own preferences or needs. The image displays one such version. All pulmonic consonants are moved to the consonant chart. Only the black symbols are on the official IPA chart; additional symbols are in grey. The grey fricatives are part of the extIPA, and the grey retroflex letters are mentioned or implicit in the Handbook. The grey click is a retired IPA letter that is still in use.

The International Phonetic Alphabet is occasionally modified by the Association. After each modification, the Association provides an updated simplified presentation of the alphabet in the form of a chart. (See History of the IPA.) Not all aspects of the alphabet can be accommodated in a chart of the size published by the IPA. The alveolo-palatal and epiglottal consonants, for example, are not included in the consonant chart for reasons of space rather than of theory (two additional columns would be required, one between the retroflex and palatal columns and the other between the pharyngeal and glottal columns), and the lateral flap would require an additional row for that single consonant, so they are listed instead under the catchall block of "other symbols".[34] The indefinitely large number of tone letters would make a full accounting impractical even on a larger page, and only a few examples are shown, and even the tone diacritics are not complete; the reversed tone letters are not illustrated at all.

The procedure for modifying the alphabet or the chart is to propose the change in the Journal of the IPA. (See, for example, August 2008 on an open central unrounded vowel and August 2011 on central approximants.)[35] Reactions to the proposal may be published in the same or subsequent issues of the Journal (as in August 2009 on the open central vowel).[36] A formal proposal is then put to the Council of the IPA[37] – which is elected by the membership[38] – for further discussion and a formal vote.[39][40]

Nonetheless, many users of the alphabet, including the leadership of the Association itself, deviate from this norm.[Note 9] The Journal of the IPA finds it acceptable to mix IPA and extIPA symbols in consonant charts in their articles. (For instance, including the extIPA letter 𝼆, rather than ⟨ʎ̝̊⟩, in an illustration of the IPA.)[41]


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Of more than 160 IPA symbols, relatively few will be used to transcribe speech in any one language, with various levels of precision. A precise phonetic transcription, in which sounds are specified in detail, is known as a narrow transcription. A coarser transcription with less detail is called a broad transcription. Both are relative terms, and both are generally enclosed in square brackets.[1] Broad phonetic transcriptions may restrict themselves to easily heard details, or only to details that are relevant to the discussion at hand, and may differ little if at all from phonemic transcriptions, but they make no theoretical claim that all the distinctions transcribed are necessarily meaningful in the language.

File:RPGA international.svg
Phonetic transcriptions of the word international in two English dialects

For example, the English word little may be transcribed broadly as [ˈlɪtəl], approximately describing many pronunciations. A narrower transcription may focus on individual or dialectical details: [ˈɫɪɾɫ] in General American, [ˈlɪʔo] in Cockney, or [ˈɫɪːɫ] in Southern US English.

Phonemic transcriptions, which express the conceptual counterparts of spoken sounds, are usually enclosed in slashes (/ /) and tend to use simpler letters with few diacritics. The choice of IPA letters may reflect theoretical claims of how speakers conceptualize sounds as phonemes or they may be merely a convenience for typesetting. Phonemic approximations between slashes do not have absolute sound values. For instance, in English, either the vowel of pick or the vowel of peak may be transcribed as /i/, so that pick, peak would be transcribed as /ˈpik, ˈpiːk/ or as /ˈpɪk, ˈpik/; and neither is identical to the vowel of the French pique which would also be transcribed /pik/. By contrast, a narrow phonetic transcription of pick, peak, pique could be: [pʰɪk], [pʰiːk], [pikʲ].


IPA is popular for transcription by linguists. Some American linguists, however, use a mix of IPA with Americanist phonetic notation or Sinological phonetic notation or otherwise use nonstandard symbols for various reasons.[42] Authors who employ such nonstandard use are encouraged to include a chart or other explanation of their choices, which is good practice in general, as linguists differ in their understanding of the exact meaning of IPA symbols and common conventions change over time.



Many British dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary and some learner's dictionaries such as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, now use the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent the pronunciation of words.[43] However, most American (and some British) volumes use one of a variety of pronunciation respelling systems, intended to be more comfortable for readers of English and to be more acceptable across dialects, without the implication of a preferred pronunciation that the IPA might convey. For example, the respelling systems in many American dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster) use ⟨y⟩ for IPA [ j] and ⟨sh⟩ for IPA [ ʃ ], reflecting the usual spelling of those sounds in English.[44] (In IPA, [y] represents the sound of the French ⟨u⟩, as in tu, and [sh] represents the sequence of consonants in grasshopper.)

Other languages

The IPA is also not universal among dictionaries in languages other than English. Monolingual dictionaries of languages with phonemic orthographies generally do not bother with indicating the pronunciation of most words, and tend to use respelling systems for words with unexpected pronunciations. Dictionaries produced in Israel use the IPA rarely and sometimes use the Hebrew alphabet for transcription of foreign words.[Note 10] Bilingual dictionaries that translate from foreign languages into Russian usually employ the IPA, but monolingual Russian dictionaries occasionally use pronunciation respelling for foreign words.[Note 11] The IPA is more common in bilingual dictionaries, but there are exceptions here too. Mass-market bilingual Czech dictionaries, for instance, tend to use the IPA only for sounds not found in Czech.[45]

Standard orthographies and case variants

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IPA letters have been incorporated into the alphabets of various languages, notably via the Africa Alphabet in many sub-Saharan languages such as Hausa, Fula, Akan, Gbe languages, Manding languages, Lingala, etc. Capital case variants have been created for use in these languages. For example, Kabiyè of northern Togo has Ɖ ɖ, Ŋ ŋ, Ɣ ɣ, Ɔ ɔ, Ɛ ɛ, Ʋ ʋ. These, and others, are supported by Unicode, but appear in Latin ranges other than the IPA extensions.

In the IPA itself, however, only lower-case letters are used. The 1949 edition of the IPA handbook indicated that an asterisk ⟨*⟩ might be prefixed to indicate that a word was a proper name,[46] but this convention was not included in the 1999 Handbook, which notes the contrary use of the asterisk as a placeholder for a sound or feature that does not have a symbol.

Classical singing

The IPA has widespread use among classical singers during preparation as they are frequently required to sing in a variety of foreign languages. They are also taught by vocal coaches to perfect diction and improve tone quality and tuning.[47] Opera librettos are authoritatively transcribed in IPA, such as Nico Castel's volumes[48] and Timothy Cheek's book Singing in Czech.[49] Opera singers' ability to read IPA was used by the site Visual Thesaurus, which employed several opera singers "to make recordings for the 150,000 words and phrases in VT's lexical database ... for their vocal stamina, attention to the details of enunciation, and most of all, knowledge of IPA".[50]


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The International Phonetic Association organizes the letters of the IPA into three categories: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels.[51][52]

Pulmonic consonant letters are arranged singly or in pairs of voiceless (tenuis) and voiced sounds, with these then grouped in columns from front (labial) sounds on the left to back (glottal) sounds on the right. In official publications by the IPA, two columns are omitted to save space, with the letters listed among 'other symbols' even though theoretically they belong in the main chart,[Note 12] and with the remaining consonants arranged in rows from full closure (occlusives: stops and nasals), to brief closure (vibrants: trills and taps), to partial closure (fricatives) and minimal closure (approximants), again with a row left out to save space. In the table below, a slightly different arrangement is made: All pulmonic consonants are included in the pulmonic-consonant table, and the vibrants and laterals are separated out so that the rows reflect the common lenition pathway of stop → fricative → approximant, as well as the fact that several letters pull double duty as both fricative and approximant; affricates may be created by joining stops and fricatives from adjacent cells. Shaded cells represent articulations that are judged to be impossible.

Vowel letters are also grouped in pairs—of unrounded and rounded vowel sounds—with these pairs also arranged from front on the left to back on the right, and from maximal closure at top to minimal closure at bottom. No vowel letters are omitted from the chart, though in the past some of the mid central vowels were listed among the 'other symbols'.


Pulmonic consonants

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A pulmonic consonant is a consonant made by obstructing the glottis (the space between the vocal cords) or oral cavity (the mouth) and either simultaneously or subsequently letting out air from the lungs. Pulmonic consonants make up the majority of consonants in the IPA, as well as in human language. All consonants in English fall into this category.[54]

The pulmonic consonant table, which includes most consonants, is arranged in rows that designate manner of articulation, meaning how the consonant is produced, and columns that designate place of articulation, meaning where in the vocal tract the consonant is produced. The main chart includes only consonants with a single place of articulation. <templatestyles src="IPA common/styles.css" />

Template:IPA pulmonic consonants/table


  • In rows where some letters appear in pairs (the obstruents), the letter to the right represents a voiced consonant (except breathy-voiced [ɦ]).[55] In the other rows (the sonorants), the single letter represents a voiced consonant.
  • While IPA provides a single letter for the coronal places of articulation (for all consonants but fricatives), these do not always have to be used exactly. When dealing with a particular language, the letters may be treated as specifically dental, alveolar, or post-alveolar, as appropriate for that language, without diacritics.
  • Shaded areas indicate articulations judged to be impossible.
  • The letters [β, ð, ʁ, ʕ, ʢ] are canonically voiced fricatives but may be used for approximants.[56]
  • In many languages, such as English, [h] and [ɦ] are not actually glottal, fricatives, or approximants. Rather, they are bare phonation.[57]
  • It is primarily the shape of the tongue rather than its position that distinguishes the fricatives [ʃ ʒ], [ɕ ʑ], and [ʂ ʐ].
  • [ʜ, ʢ] are defined as epiglottal fricatives under the "Other symbols" section in the official IPA chart, but they may be treated as trills at the same place of articulation as [ħ, ʕ] because trilling of the aryepiglottic folds typically co-occurs.[58]
  • Some listed phones are not known to exist as phonemes in any language.

Non-pulmonic consonants

Non-pulmonic consonants are sounds whose airflow is not dependent on the lungs. These include clicks (found in the Khoisan languages and some neighboring Bantu languages of Africa), implosives (found in languages such as Sindhi, Hausa, Swahili and Vietnamese), and ejectives (found in many Amerindian and Caucasian languages). <templatestyles src="IPA common/styles.css" />

Template:IPA non-pulmonic consonants/table


  • Clicks have traditionally been described as consisting of a forward place of articulation, commonly called the click 'type' or historically the 'influx', and a rear place of articulation, which when combined with the voicing, aspiration, nasalization, affrication, ejection, timing etc. of the click is commonly called the click 'accompaniment' or historically the 'efflux'. The IPA click letters indicate only the click type (forward articulation and release). Therefore, all clicks require two letters for proper notation: ⟨k͡ǂ, ɡ͡ǂ, ŋ͡ǂ, q͡ǂ, ɢ͡ǂ, ɴ͡ǂetc., or with the order reversed if both the forward and rear releases are audible. The letter for the rear articulation is frequently omitted, in which case a ⟨k⟩ may usually be assumed. However, some researchers dispute the idea that clicks should be analyzed as doubly articulated, as the traditional transcription implies, and analyze the rear occlusion as solely a part of the airstream mechanism.[59] In transcriptions of such approaches, the click letter represents both places of articulation, with the different letters representing the different click types, and diacritics are used for the elements of the accompaniment: ⟨ǂ, ǂ̬, ǂ̃etc.
  • Letters for the voiceless implosives ⟨ƥ, ƭ, ƈ, ƙ, ʠ⟩ are no longer supported by the IPA, though they remain in Unicode. Instead, the IPA typically uses the voiced equivalent with a voiceless diacritic: ⟨ɓ̥, ʛ̥⟩, etc..
  • The letter for the retroflex implosive, , is not "explicitly IPA approved",[60] but has the expected form if such a symbol were to be approved.
  • The ejective diacritic is placed at the right-hand margin of the consonant, rather than immediately after the letter for the stop: ⟨t͜ʃʼ⟩, ⟨kʷʼ⟩. In imprecise transcription, it often stands in for a superscript glottal stop in glottalized but pulmonic sonorants, such as [mˀ], [lˀ], [wˀ], [aˀ] (also transcribable as creaky [m̰], [l̰], [w̰], [a̰]).


Affricates and co-articulated stops are represented by two letters joined by a tie bar, either above or below the letters with no difference in meaning.[Note 13] Affricates are optionally represented by ligatures (e.g. ⟨ʦ, ʣ, ʧ, ʤ, ʨ, ʥ, ꭧ, ꭦ ⟩), though this is no longer official IPA usage[1] because a great number of ligatures would be required to represent all affricates this way. Alternatively, a superscript notation for a consonant release is sometimes used to transcribe affricates, for example ⟨⟩ for [t͜s], paralleling [kˣ] ~ [k͜x]. The letters for the palatal plosives ⟨c⟩ and ⟨ɟ⟩ are often used as a convenience for [t͜ʃ] and [d͜ʒ] or similar affricates, even in official IPA publications, so they must be interpreted with care. <templatestyles src="IPA common/styles.css" />

Template:IPA affricates/table

Co-articulated consonants

Co-articulated consonants are sounds that involve two simultaneous places of articulation (are pronounced using two parts of the vocal tract). In English, the [w] in "went" is a coarticulated consonant, being pronounced by rounding the lips and raising the back of the tongue. Similar sounds are [ʍ] and [ɥ]. In some languages, plosives can be double-articulated, for example in the name of Laurent Gbagbo. <templatestyles src="IPA common/styles.css" />

Template:IPA co-articulated consonants/table


  • [ɧ], the Swedish sj-sound, is described by the IPA as a "simultaneous [ʃ] and [x]", but it is unlikely such a simultaneous fricative actually exists in any language.[61]
  • Multiple tie bars can be used: ⟨a͡b͡c⟩ or ⟨a͜b͜c⟩. For instance, if a prenasalized stop is transcribed ⟨m͡b⟩, and a doubly articulated stop ⟨ɡ͡b⟩, then a prenasalized doubly articulated stop would be ⟨ŋ͡m͡ɡ͡b
  • If a diacritic needs to be placed on or under a tie bar, the combining grapheme joiner (U+034F) needs to be used, as in [b͜͏̰də̀bdɷ̀] 'chewed' (Margi). Font support is spotty, however.


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File:Cardinal vowel tongue position-front.svg
Tongue positions of cardinal front vowels, with highest point indicated. The position of the highest point is used to determine vowel height and backness.
X-ray photos show the sounds [i, u, a, ɑ].

The IPA defines a vowel as a sound which occurs at a syllable center.[62] Below is a chart depicting the vowels of the IPA. The IPA maps the vowels according to the position of the tongue. <templatestyles src="IPA common/styles.css" />

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Front Central Back
Mid Template:IPA vowels/vowelsingle
Template:IPA vowels/vowelsingle

The vertical axis of the chart is mapped by vowel height. Vowels pronounced with the tongue lowered are at the bottom, and vowels pronounced with the tongue raised are at the top. For example, [ɑ] (the first vowel in father) is at the bottom because the tongue is lowered in this position. [i] (the vowel in "meet") is at the top because the sound is said with the tongue raised to the roof of the mouth.

In a similar fashion, the horizontal axis of the chart is determined by vowel backness. Vowels with the tongue moved towards the front of the mouth (such as [ɛ], the vowel in "met") are to the left in the chart, while those in which it is moved to the back (such as [ʌ], the vowel in "but") are placed to the right in the chart.

In places where vowels are paired, the right represents a rounded vowel (in which the lips are rounded) while the left is its unrounded counterpart.


Diphthongs are typically specified with a non-syllabic diacritic, as in ⟨ui̯⟩ or ⟨u̯i⟩, or with a superscript for the on- or off-glide, as in ⟨uⁱ⟩ or ⟨ᵘi⟩. Sometimes a tie bar is used: ⟨u͜i⟩, especially when it is difficult to tell if the diphthong is characterized by an on-glide or an off-glide or when it is variable.


  • a⟩ officially represents a front vowel, but there is little if any distinction between front and central open vowels (see Vowel#Acoustics § Notes), and ⟨a⟩ is frequently used for an open central vowel.[42] If disambiguation is required, the retraction diacritic or the centralized diacritic may be added to indicate an open central vowel, as in ⟨⟩ or ⟨ä⟩.

Diacritics and prosodic notation

Diacritics are used for phonetic detail. They are added to IPA letters to indicate a modification or specification of that letter's normal pronunciation.[63]

By being made superscript, any IPA letter may function as a diacritic, conferring elements of its articulation to the base letter. Those superscript letters listed below are specifically provided for by the IPA Handbook; other uses can be illustrated with ⟨⟩ ([t] with fricative release), ⟨ᵗs⟩ ([s] with affricate onset), ⟨ⁿd⟩ (prenasalized [d]), ⟨⟩ ([b] with breathy voice), ⟨⟩ (glottalized [m]), ⟨sᶴ⟩ ([s] with a flavor of [ʃ], i.e. a voiceless alveolar retracted sibilant), ⟨oᶷ⟩ ([o] with diphthongization), ⟨ɯᵝ⟩ (compressed [ɯ]). Superscript diacritics placed after a letter are ambiguous between simultaneous modification of the sound and phonetic detail at the end of the sound. For example, labialized ⟨⟩ may mean either simultaneous [k] and [w] or else [k] with a labialized release. Superscript diacritics placed before a letter, on the other hand, normally indicate a modification of the onset of the sound (⟨⟩ glottalized [m], ⟨ˀm[m] with a glottal onset). (See #Superscript IPA § Notes.)

Syllabicity diacritics
◌̩ ɹ̩ n̩ Syllabic ◌̯ ɪ̯ ʊ̯ Non-syllabic
◌̍ ɻ̍ ŋ̍ ◌̑
Consonant-release diacritics
◌ʰ Aspirated[a] ◌̚ No audible release
◌ⁿ dⁿ Nasal release ◌ˡ Lateral release
◌ᶿ tᶿ Voiceless dental fricative release ◌ˣ Voiceless velar fricative release
◌ᵊ dᵊ Mid central vowel release
Phonation diacritics
◌̥ n̥ d̥ Voiceless ◌̬ s̬ t̬ Voiced
◌̊ ɻ̊ ŋ̊
◌̤ b̤ a̤ Breathy voiced[a] ◌̰ b̰ a̰ Creaky voiced
Articulation diacritics
◌̪ t̪ d̪ Dental ◌̼ t̼ d̼ Linguolabial
◌͆ ɮ͆
◌̺ t̺ d̺ Apical ◌̻ t̻ d̻ Laminal
◌̟ u̟ t̟ Advanced (fronted) ◌̠ i̠ t̠ Retracted (backed)
◌᫈ ɡ᫈ ◌̄ [b]
◌̈ ë ä Centralized ◌̽ e̽ ɯ̽ Mid-centralized
◌̝ e̝ r̝ Raised
([r̝], [ɭ˔] are fricatives)
◌̞ e̞ β̞ Lowered
([β̞], [ɣ˕] are approximants)
◌˔ ɭ˔ ◌˕ y˕ ɣ˕
Co-articulation diacritics
◌̹ ɔ̹ x̹ More rounded
◌̜ ɔ̜ xʷ̜ Less rounded
◌͗ y͗ χ͗ ◌͑ y͑ χ͑ʷ
◌ʷ tʷ dʷ Labialized ◌ʲ tʲ dʲ Palatalized
◌ˠ tˠ dˠ Velarized ◌̴ ɫ Velarized or pharyngealized
◌ˤ tˤ aˤ Pharyngealized
◌̘ e̘ o̘ Advanced tongue root ◌̙ e̙ o̙ Retracted tongue root
◌꭪ y꭪ ◌꭫ y꭫
◌̃ ẽ z̃ Nasalized ◌˞ ɚ ɝ Rhoticity


^a With aspirated voiced consonants, the aspiration is usually also voiced (voiced aspirated – but see voiced consonants with voiceless aspiration). Many linguists prefer one of the diacritics dedicated to breathy voice over simple aspiration, such as ⟨⟩. Some linguists restrict that diacritic to sonorants, such as breathy-voice ⟨⟩, and transcribe voiced-aspirated obstruents as e.g. ⟨⟩.
^b Care must be taken that a superscript retraction sign is not mistaken for mid tone.
^c These are relative to the cardinal value of the letter. They can also apply to unrounded vowels: [ɛ̜] is more spread (less rounded) than cardinal [ɛ], and [ɯ̹] is less spread than cardinal [ɯ].[64]
Since ⟨⟩ can mean that the [x] is labialized (rounded) throughout its articulation, and ⟨⟩ makes no sense ([x] is already completely unrounded), ⟨x̜ʷ⟩ can only mean a less-labialized/rounded [xʷ]. However, readers might mistake ⟨x̜ʷ⟩ for "[x̜]" with a labialized off-glide, or might wonder if the two diacritics cancel each other out. Placing the 'less rounded' diacritic under the labialization diacritic, ⟨xʷ̜⟩, makes it clear that it is the labialization that is 'less rounded' than its cardinal IPA value.

Subdiacritics (diacritics normally placed below a letter) may be moved above a letter to avoid conflict with a descender, as in voiceless ⟨ŋ̊⟩.[63] The raising and lowering diacritics have optional spacing forms ⟨˔⟩, ⟨˕⟩ that avoid descenders.

The state of the glottis can be finely transcribed with diacritics. A series of alveolar plosives ranging from open-glottis to closed-glottis phonation is:

Phonation scale
Open glottis [t] voiceless
[d̤] breathy voice, also called murmured
[d̥] slack voice
Sweet spot [d] modal voice
[d̬] stiff voice
[d̰] creaky voice
Closed glottis [ʔ͡t] glottal closure

Additional diacritics are provided by the Extensions to the IPA for speech pathology.


These symbols describe the features of a language above the level of individual consonants and vowels, that is, at the level of syllable, word or phrase. These include prosody, pitch, length, stress, intensity, tone and gemination of the sounds of a language, as well as the rhythm and intonation of speech.[65] Various ligatures of pitch/tone letters and diacritics are provided for by the Kiel Convention and used in the IPA Handbook despite not being found in the summary of the IPA alphabet found on the one-page chart.

Under capital letters below we will see how a carrier letter may be used to indicate suprasegmental features such as labialization or nasalization. Some authors omit the carrier letter, for e.g. suffixed [kʰuˣt̪s̟]ʷ or prefixed [ʷkʰuˣt̪s̟],[66] or place a spacing variant of a diacritic such as ⟨˔⟩ or ⟨˜⟩ at the beginning or end of a word to indicate that it applies to the entire word.[67]

Length, stress, and rhythm
ˈke Primary stress (appears
before stressed syllable)
ˌke Secondary stress (appears
before stressed syllable)
eː kː Long (long vowel or
geminate consonant)
ə̆ ɢ̆ Extra-short
Syllable break
(internal boundary)
es‿e Linking (lack of a boundary;
a phonological word)[Note 14]
| Minor or foot break Major or intonation break
↗︎ Global rise[Note 15] ↘︎ Global fall[Note 15]
Up- and down-step
ꜛke Upstep ꜜke Downstep
Pitch diacritics[Note 16]
ŋ̋ e̋ Extra high ŋ̌ ě Rising ŋ᷄ e᷄ Mid-rising
ŋ́ é High ŋ̂ ê Falling ŋ᷅ e᷅ Low-rising
ŋ̄ ē Mid ŋ᷈ e᷈ Peaking (rising–falling) ŋ᷇ e᷇ High-falling
ŋ̀ è Low ŋ᷉ e᷉ Dipping (falling–rising) ŋ᷆ e᷆ Mid-falling
ŋ̏ ȅ Extra low (etc.)[Note 17]
Chao tone letters[Note 16]
˥e ꜒e e꜒ High
˦e ꜓e e꜓ Half-high
˧e ꜔e e꜔ Mid
˨e ꜕e e꜕ Half-low
˩e ꜖e e꜖ Low
˩˥e ꜖꜒e e˩˥ e꜖꜒ Rising (low to high or generic)
˥˩e ꜒꜖e e˥˩ e꜒꜖ Falling (high to low or generic)

The old staveless tone letters, which are effectively obsolete, include high ⟨ˉe⟩, mid ⟨˗e⟩, low ⟨ˍe⟩, rising ⟨ˊe⟩ and falling ⟨ˋe⟩.


Officially, the stress marksˈ ˌ⟩ appear before the stressed syllable, and thus mark the syllable boundary as well as stress (though the syllable boundary may still be explicitly marked with a period).[71] Occasionally the stress mark is placed immediately before the nucleus of the syllable, after any consonantal onset.[72] In such transcriptions, the stress mark does not mark a syllable boundary. The primary stress mark may be doubledˈˈ⟩ for extra stress (such as prosodic stress). The secondary stress mark is sometimes seen doubled ⟨ˌˌ⟩ for extra-weak stress, but this convention has not been adopted by the IPA.[71] Some dictionaries place both stress marks before a syllable, ⟨¦⟩, to indicate that pronunciations with either primary or secondary stress are heard, though this is not IPA usage.[73]

Boundary markers

There are three boundary markers: ⟨.⟩ for a syllable break, ⟨|⟩ for a minor prosodic break and ⟨⟩ for a major prosodic break. The tags 'minor' and 'major' are intentionally ambiguous. Depending on need, 'minor' may vary from a foot break to a break in list-intonation to a continuing–prosodic unit boundary (equivalent to a comma), and while 'major' is often any intonation break, it may be restricted to a final–prosodic unit boundary (equivalent to a period). The 'major' symbol may also be doubled, ⟨‖‖⟩, for a stronger break.[Note 18]

Although not part of the IPA, the following additional boundary markers are often used in conjunction with the IPA: ⟨μ⟩ for a mora or mora boundary, ⟨σ⟩ for a syllable or syllable boundary, ⟨+⟩ for a morpheme boundary, ⟨#⟩ for a word boundary (may be doubled, ⟨##⟩, for e.g. a breath-group boundary),[75]$⟩ for a phrase or intermediate boundary and ⟨%⟩ for a prosodic boundary. For example, C# is a word-final consonant, %V a post-pausa vowel, and T% an IU-final tone (edge tone).

Pitch and tone

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ꜛ ꜜ⟩ are defined in the Handbook as "upstep" and "downstep", concepts from tonal languages. However, the upstep symbol can also be used for pitch reset, and the IPA Handbook uses it for prosody in the illustration for Portuguese, a non-tonal language.

Phonetic pitch and phonemic tone may be indicated by either diacritics placed over the nucleus of the syllable (e.g., high-pitch ⟨é⟩) or by Chao tone letters placed either before or after the word or syllable. There are three graphic variants of the tone letters: with or without a stave, and facing left or facing right from the stave. The stave was introduced with the 1989 Kiel Convention, as was the option of placing a staved letter after the word or syllable, while retaining the older conventions. There are therefore six ways to transcribe pitch/tone in the IPA: i.e., ⟨é⟩, ⟨˦e⟩, ⟨⟩, ⟨꜓e⟩, ⟨e꜓⟩ and ⟨ˉe⟩ for a high pitch/tone.[71][76][77] Of the tone letters, only left-facing staved letters and a few representative combinations are shown in the summary on the Chart, and in practice it is currently more common for tone letters to occur after the syllable/word than before, as in the Chao tradition. Placement before the word is a carry-over from the pre-Kiel IPA convention, as is still the case for the stress and upstep/downstep marks. The IPA endorses the Chao tradition of using the left-facing tone letters, ⟨˥ ˦ ˧ ˨ ˩⟩, for underlying tone, and the right-facing letters, ⟨꜒ ꜓ ꜔ ꜕ ꜖⟩, for surface tone, as occurs in tone sandhi, and for the intonation of non-tonal languages.[Note 19] In t