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What are consonant clusters in English?

What are consonant clusters in English?
What are consonant clusters in English?

What are consonant clusters in English?

A consonant cluster (sometimes known as a consonant blend) is a group of consonants that appear together in a word without any vowels between them. When reading clusters, each letter within the cluster is pronounced individually.

Sometimes in certain consonant clusters (a string of two or more consonants in a word) the sounds may be reduced or dropped. Below are some of these reductions.

The sts cluster

In the consonant cluster ‘sts’, the /t/ can be dropped. 

Listen to the pronunciation of these examples. The first word is with proper enunciation, the second with the reduced sounds. Then listen to the words in sentences.

  • Costs (cos:s)
  • A Porsche costs way too much for me.
  • Masts (mas:s)
  • The masts on the sailing ship were over forty feet tall.
  • Tests (tes:s)
  • Most students are not that fond of tests.

The sks cluster

In the consonant cluster ‘sks’ the /k/ may be dropped.

Listen to the pronunciation of these examples. The first word is with proper enunciation, the second with the reduced sounds. Then listen to the words in sentences.

  • masks (mas:s)
  • At a costume party, masks are mandatory.
  • asks (as:s)
  • A certain relative of mine often asks me for money.
  • desks (des:s)
  • The desks used in classrooms are usually uncomfortable.

The th cluster

In the consonant cluster ‘th’, the /th/ can be changed or dropped.

Listen to the pronunciation of these examples. The first word is with proper enunciation, the second with the reduced sounds. Then listen to the words in sentences.

  • The ‘th’ may become a /t/ as in months (munts)
  • There are twelve months in a year.
  • The ‘th’ may become a /k/ as in strengths (strengks)
  • Athletes strengths are sapped if they exercise excessively.
  • The ‘th’ may become a /thv/ as in twelfths (twelfs)
  • The recipe calls for seven-twelfths of a cup of butter.

The nt cluster

In the consonant cluster ‘nt’, if it is followed by a vowel sound, the /t/ may be dropped. A flapped ‘n’ is used in its place.

Listen to the pronunciation of these examples. The first word is with proper enunciation, the second with the reduced sounds. Then listen to the words  in sentences.

  • The center of town is that way. (cen’ner)
  • The renter of the house couldn’t pay the rent. (ren’ner)
  • That shirt costs twenty dollars. (twen’ny)

The tr cluster

Allophones of /t/ and /d/ before /r/ often cause the /tr/ and /dr/ cluster to be pronounced similarly to /ʧr/ and /ʤr/, respectively. In addition to the stops becoming affricate-like, the /r/ also takes on the qualities of a fricative as it blends with the consonant before it. This is also true with the /tr/ of the /str/ cluster.

Because most dictionaries do not transcribe individual allophones, the first transcription shown below is the more common dictionary transcription. The second transcription can help non-native English speakers better understand the common pronunciation used by native English speakers.

1. /tr/    →    /ʧr/      tree: /tri/            → /ʧri/
2. /dr/   →    /ʤr/     dream: /drim/   → /ʤrim/
3. /str/  →    /ʧr/       street: /strim/   → /sʧrit/

trace          track            tract           tractor           trade            tradition
traffic        tragedy        tragic         trail               trailer           train
trainer       traipse          trait           traitor            tram             tramp
trample     trampoline   trance        tranquil         transfer         translate
transmit    transplant     transport   trap                trapeze         trash
trauma      travel

You can become more familiar and comfortable with consonant blends by examining some of the letters that are commonly joined together in consonant blends including: 

  • bl             dr               br              Cl                   cr                 gr
  • fl              pr              pr               Gl                  pl                 tr
  • dr             cl               fl                Sl                  fr                 sc
  • sk                               str                                    scr
  • st                                sh                                    spl
  • sw                              th                                     spr
  • sn                               tw                                    squ
  • sm                              wr                                    thr
  • wh                              sch                                   shr

Many of these consonant blends probably look familiar to you since we all use words with them on a daily basis.

Examples of Words with Consonant Blends

Now that you have a firm grasp on what consonant blends actually are, let’s look at some examples of commonly used and heard words that use them.

  • Blend, bland, blue, black, blanket, bleach, blast, blatant, blame, bluebird, bleak
  • Brake, brew, brim, broom, brain, brand, brave, brat, breeze, breathe, breed, break
  • Click, clam, clambake, clammy, clap, clapping, clarify, clarity, clash, climb, cling, clock
  • Crab, crumb, crib, cry, crank, crow, crew, crud, crazy, create, creation, credit, creature
  • Drew, draw, drain, drat, drone, drink, drag, dragon, drastic, drawer, drawbridge

1./br/

  1. break
  2. bring
  3. brother

2. /kr/

  1. cry
  2. create
  3. crazy

3. /dr/

  1. draw
  2. drive
  3. dream

4. /fr/

  1. free
  2. friend
  3. from

5. /gr/

  1. great
  2. green
  3. grow

6. /pr/

  1. price
  2. practice
  3. private

7. /ʃr/

  1. shrimp
  2. shrink
  3. shrug

8. /skr/

  1. scratch
  2. scream
  3. screen

9. /spr/

  1. spring
  2. spread
  3. spray

10./str/

  1. street
  2. strong
  3. stress

11./tr/

  1.  try
  2. tree
  3. true

12./θr/

  1. three
  2. throw
  3. through

In English, consonant clusters can occur at the beginning (an initial consonant cluster), in the middle (a medial consonant cluster) or at the end of a syllable (a final consonant cluster). For example, in the world brilliant which has two syllables, there is a consonant cluster at the beginning of the first syllable (“br”), at the end of the first syllable (“ll”), and at the end of the second syllable (“nt”). They can also occur in the middle of a syllable, for example the consonant cluster “ch” in the middle of the word “ache”.

The consonant clusters belonging to a single syllable are known as intra-syllabic clusters whereas the consonant clusters belonging to two different syllables in a single word are known as inter-syllabic clusters. Thus, in linguistics, a consonant cluster also known as consonant blend is a group of consonants which have no intervening vowels in between them. The maximum possibility of consonant cluster is three consonants in the beginning and four in final position.

 

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