Sound Effects


How would you pronounce the word ‘ghoti’?


George Bernard Shaw once complained that English spelling was so crazy that the word ghoti could actually be pronounced like the word fish. Confused? Here’s how:

And if you put all three together you get the sound ‘fff-i-sh


Aside from being a curiosity this highlights a mistake that students often make when they are writing about sounds: that is, they confuse sound with the alphabetical appearance of a letter but there are over 40 sounds in the English language and only 26 letters so some letters must be able to make more than one sound.


This is obvious when you think about it. Compare the sound the letters ‘ch’ make in the words cheap and choir. In the first example the two letters make a fairly predictable ‘ch’ sound but in the second they make a sound a little more like a ‘q’. And it doesn’t stop there: the same two letters in ‘chef’, for example, even make a ‘sh’ sound.


So, when talking about sounds, you have to bear in mind that really you are not just talking about the letters used but the sounds those letters make. However,  don’t worry most of the time you will be able to identify sounds just by looking at the letters because English generally sounds like it looks.


Here is a list of some typical sounds that you might be able to identify in the texts you are studying:


Technical Name


m / n / ung


calming and soothing

k / t / p / b / g / d

harsh consonants

violence, anger, etc

f / th


calm or sinister

s / sh / z


calm or sinister

e / o / i

high / short vowels


ay / or / ar

low / long vowels