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What is the phonemic chart?

We can use something called the phonemic chart to help us understand the difference between how a word is spelt and how it should be said.

The Phonemic Chart

The phonemic chart (Click to expand)

The phonemic chart uses symbols to show us the sounds we should make when we say a word. Letters in the standard English alphabet can have lots of different symbols in the phonemic chart depending on the word they are in.

When we use the phonemic chart we put the symbols between two forward slashes (//) to show that it is not the standard alphabet.

Let’s look at the example of ‘read’ again and use the phonemic chart to help us understand the difference between how the two tenses of the verb should be pronounced.

Use the phonemic chart to help you understand the different sounds we are going to look at. You can download and print a copy of the chart from the downloads area at the bottom of the page.

The first symbol we need to focus on is:


The sound of this symbol is sometimes spelled using ‘ee’ and is in words like cheese, free, tree and bee. It is also sometimes spelled with ‘ea’ in words like beat, heat, seat and read.

The second symbol we need to focus on is:


This sound is usually spelt using the letter ‘e’ as in ‘red’ and ‘bed’. It can also be spelt using ‘ai’ as in ‘said’, and ‘ea’ as in ‘head’.

Now we know the phonemic symbols for these two sounds, we can look at the examples again to see how the spelling and pronunciation differ.

A: I love to /riːd/ books. B: Yesterday, I /red/ a book

Learning the phonemic symbols and the sounds they relate to means that you can easily check how to say any word correctly and make sure that people will be able to understand you when you speak to them in English.

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This article is from the free online course:

English for Academic Study

Coventry University