Consonant Clusters

As was mentioned in the last section, the onset and coda of syllables can be single consonants or consonant clusters. Consonant clusters can be challenging for English language learners. In many cases, they blend together sounds that are already difficult.

There is no universal agreement about the number of consonant clusters that can begin a cluster in English.  The reasons include English words that are borrowed and have consonant clusters that only occur in a few words like /sf/ as in “sphere” /sfɛr/ or the status of semivowels in consonant clusters. I am going to reduce it to the set of clusters

Considering consonant clusters at the syllable level only tells part of the story. We speak in continuous streams of sounds, so the consonants at the end of one syllable or word affect the consonants can affect the next syllable or word.  For instance, “my friend Don” would leave out one of the ‘d’s, and become “my fren’ Don.”  In the movie Up In The Air, a flight attendant asks the male lead, “would you like a cancer?”  He looks shocked, and she says it again  Seeing the baffled expression on his she says it a third time slowly, “Would you like a can sir?”

I am going to discuss clusters starting with 2-consonant syllable onset, 3-syllable onset, and then the more comples issue of syllable coda clusters. Then we will look at how words with multiple syllables can affect each other. This leads to cluster reduction, where some of the consonants are left out in continuous speech. For example, we say “text” /tɛkst/, but “teks book” /tɛks bʊk/, dropping the final ‘t’ sound when it is followed by another consonant.

Syllables with 2-Consonant Cluster Onsets

Remember, this at the syllable level so within words there can be many more. For instance, adding “un-‘ to “free” will create “unfree,” and though there are two syllables you still need to pronounce the “nfr” in the word. We will look as many similar examples. First, we will look at Syllables with 2-Consonant Onsets.

 ClusterWordTranscription ClusterWordTranscription
1.        /bl/“blue”/blu/14/sk/“sky”/skaɪ/
2.        /bɹ/“bright”/bɹəɪt/15/sl/“slow”/sloʊ/
3.        /dɹ/“draw”/dɹɑ/16.    /sm/“small”/smɑl/
4.        /dw/“dwell”/dwɛl/17.    /sn/“snap”/snæp/
5.        /fl/“fly”/flaɪ/18.    /sp/“spin”/spɪn/
6.        /fɹ/“free”/fɹi/19.    /st/“stay”/steɪ/
7.        /gl/“glow”/gloʊ/20.    /sw/“sweet”/swit/
8.        /gɹ/“green”/gɹin/21.    /ʃɹ/“shred”/ʃɹɛd/
9.        /kl/“cloud”/klaʊd/22.    /tr/“tree”/tɹi/
10.    /kɹ/“cry”/kɹaɪ/23.    /tw/“twig”/twɪg/
11.    /kw/“queen”/kwin/24.    /θɹ/“three”/θɹi/
12.    /pl/“play”/pleɪ/25.    /θw/“thwart”/θwɔrt/
13.    /pɹ/“prep/pɹɛp/

Example Words with Syllables with 2-Consonant Onsets

1.       /bl/“blisteringly,” “blundering,” “reblend,” “overblissfully”
2.       /bɹ/“breaded,” “lightbrown,” “rebrand,” “transbronchial””
3.       /dɹ/“withdraw,” “dripping,” “dryly,” “undramatically”
4.       /dw/“Dwight,” “indwelling,” “dwarfed,” “antidwarf”
5.       /fl/“inflowing,” “reflex,” “flowers,” “nonfloating”
6.       /fɹ/“fresh,” “subfreezing,” “refrain,” “unfreely””
7.       /gl/“gloomy,” “nonglossy,” “overglorified,” “megaglitch”
8.       /gɹ/“grease,” “regroup,” “disagree,” “upgrade””
9.       /kl/“clever,” “reclusive,” “overclosly,” “preclassical”
10.   /kɹ/“chronological,” “recreated,” “recreational,” “mimicry”
11.   /kw/“quiet,” “unquestionable,” “nonquirky,” “request”
12.   /pl/“replay,” “nonplanners,” “plenitudinous,” “nonpliable”
13.   /pɹ/“pretend,” “reprise,” “nonrpresentative,” “megapretentious”
14.   /sk/“sketchable,” “outskirts,” “telescope,” “subskills”
15.   /sl/“sleepily,” “slamer,” “insular,” “onslaught,” “proslavery”
16.   /sm/“smack,” “smores,” “smash,” “nonsmelling”
17.   /sn/“snack,” “snow,” “nonsnowing,” “nonsnapping”
18.   /sp/“spectacular,” “inspection,” “autospell,” “prospect”
19.   /st/“stall,” “install,” “instead,” “still,” “stirrup,”
20.   /sw/“swingingly,” “persuade,” “forsworn,” “overstock”
21.   /ʃɹ/“shrew,” “enshrine,” “foreshorten,” “preshrunk”
22.   /tɹ/“trust,” “intrepid,” intrangigent,”
23.   /tw/“twinned,” “retweet,” “hundred and twelfth,” “twine”
24.   /θɹ/“thrust,” “thrive,” “enthralled,” “rethread”
25.   /θw/“thwart” (I could leave this out it is so uncommon)

Syllables with 3-Consonant Onsets

There ae far fewer syllables with three consonant onsets, five, or six, if you include a few loan words that are rarely used. They all start with the ‘s’ sound /s/.

 ClusterWordTranscription
1./spl/“splat” /splæt/
2./spɹ/“spread"/spɹɛd/
3./stɹ/“straight"/stɹeɪt/
4./skɹ/“skreech"/skɹit͡ʃ/
5./skw/“squat"/skwɑt/

Example Words with Syllables with 3-Consonant Onsets

1./spl/“splat,” “resplendent,” “missplice,” “presplit”
2./spr/“spreadsheet,” “wellspring,” “offspring,” “spritzer”
3./str/“straighten,” “astray,” “restraint,” “constructive”
4./skr/“score,” “rescope,” “antiscolding,” “prescription”
5./skw/“squirrel,” “nonsqishing,” “supersquirting,” “megasquemish”

Syllable Final Consonant Clusters

As I mentioned, there is some disagreement about consonant clusters in English, but there are 25 syllable coda clusters on which researchers generally agree. To these, we can add morphemes like /z/ or /ed/. 

 EndingExample WordTranscription
1./-dz/“adze”/ædz/
2./-ft/“soft”/sɑft/
3./-ks/“fix”/fɪks/
4./-lb/“bulb”/bʌɫb/
5./-lt͡ʃ/“belch”/bʌɫt͡ʃ/
6./-ld/“build”/bɪɫd/
7./-lf/“gulf”/gʌɫp/
8./-lk/“silk”/ɪɫk/
9./-lp/“help”/hʌɫp/
10./-lt/“salt”/sɑɫt/
11./-nt͡ʃ/“punch”/pʌnt͡ʃ/
12./-nd/“send”/sɛnd/
13./-nt/“cent”/sɛnt/
14./-nz/“bronze”/bɹɑnz/
15./-ps/“lapse”/læps/
16./-pt/“apt”/æpt/
17./-sk/“mask”/mæsk/
18./-sp/“clasp”/klæsp/
19./-st/“chest”/t͡ʃɛst/
20./-kt/“act”/ækt/
21./-lm/“film”/fɪɫm/
22./-lv/“valve”/vɑɫv/
23./-mp/“jump”/d͡ʒʌmp/
24./-nd͡ʒ/“change”/t͡ʃeɪnd͡ʒ/
25./-ŋk/“ink”/ɪŋk/