Happy #phonologicalfriday! This week’s focus is on voiced and unvoiced (voiceless) sounds.  No discussion about phonological awareness is complete without a discussion about the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds.

Technically speaking, a voiced sound is a strong sound in which the vocal chords vibrate. All vowel sounds and diphthongs are voiced sounds, but only some of the consonant sounds (/b/, /d/, /g/, /j/, /v/, /z/, /th/ as in that, and /w/ as in wail).

Unvoiced or voiceless sounds are weak and the vocal cords do not vibrate. There are eight unvoiced consonant sounds (/p/, /t/, /k/, /ch/, /f/, /s/, /th/ as in thin, and /hw/ as in whale).

If you put your fingers over your Adam’s Apple (larynx) when you pronounce voiced sounds in isolation, you should be able to feel your vocal chords vibrate. When you pronounce an unvoiced or voiceless sound, you should not be able to feel a vibration.

Voiced sounds take a little more effort to produce compared to their unvoiced counterparts.

There are eight pairs containing a voiced and an unvoiced sound that many students have difficulty with.  They are:





If you practice saying the voiced and unvoiced sounds above, you may notice that that the movement of your mouth and the position of your tongue is the same for both letters.

However, if you put your fingers on your vocal chords as you say these sounds you will notice that for one of the sounds (the voiced) you will feel a vibration and the other sound (unvoiced) you will not.

This subtle difference can be troublesome for some individuals who struggle with telling the difference between the sounds (auditory discrimination).

Educators need to understand the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds because there are several students who struggle to notice the difference between these sounds.  This is especially the case for students who have poor phonemic awareness and students who are learning English as an additional language.

It is common for poor spellers to have errors in their spelling where they substitute a voiced sound for it’s unvoiced pair or vice versa.

For example, when asked to spell the word ‘ball’, the individual may spell ‘pall’ because they were not able to detect the subtle difference between the voiced /b/ and the unvoiced /p/. 

Someone looking at this spelling with only a basic understanding of phonics may think phonetically speaking this spelling of ‘pall’ for the word ‘ball’ does not make sense. However, with the understanding of the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds they would be able to determine that the speller struggled to differentiate between the voiced/unvoiced pair of b & p.

When working with young students or individuals who struggle with the distinction between voiced and unvoiced sounds, it is helpful to explicitly teach and practice the difference between these sounds.

 In a classroom or small group setting, a teacher can introduce a pair of sounds at the beginning of the lesson and then discuss how the students can use their fingers to tell the difference between the voiced and the unvoiced sounds.

Once the students understand the difference between these sounds, they can ask the students to give a thumbs up for words that begin with a voiced sound and a thumbs down for words that begin with and unvoiced sound.

In the beginning, the teacher should work with only one pair of sounds but as the students become more comfortable in the exercise they can practice with the different sounds.

It is important to only focus on the beginning sound (onset) of a word when teaching the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds. Typically voiced consonant sounds may have a weaker, unvoiced sound at the end of a word.  This makes words flow together more easily and naturally when you speak (Smith, 2019).


Henry, M. (2010). Unlocking Literacy: Effective decoding & spelling instruction (2nded.). Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Smith, R. (2019). Rachel’s English: Ending voiced vs. unvoiced consonants. Retrieved from: https://rachelsenglish.com/ending-voiced-vs-unvoiced-consonants/

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