Consonants

Consonants

All the letters in the alphabet apart from A, E, I, O and U (called vowels) are known as consonants.

More about Consonants

With seven consonants, rhythms is the longest word without any vowels. There are three words with six consonants and no vowels:
  • He moved very spryly.
  • (Spryly means in a nimble or agile manner.)
  • She is sylphy.
  • (Sylphy means like a sylph (a slender graceful girl).)
  • Eclipses occur at times of syzygy.
  • (Syzygy is the straight-line configuration of three or more celestial bodies.)
Some might argue that these words do contain vowels because they include Y, which is often called a semi-vowel. (There's more on this in the entry on vowels.)

With "no vowels", we have crwth (a stringed instrument) and cwtch (a shed, cuddle or hiding place). But, both of these words derive from Welsh, which typically treats W like the U in cut.

A consonant is a letter whose sound is produced by obstructing the breath in the vocal tract. For example:
  • T is pronounced using the tongue (front part)
  • K is pronounced using the tongue (back part)
  • B is pronounced with the lips
  • H is pronounced in the throat
  • F is pronounced by forcing air through a narrow gap
  • M is pronounced using the nasal passage

Why Should I Care about Consonants?

Use a (not an) before a consonant sound. Note the word sound. (The ruling is not use a before a consonant.)
  • It was a unique experience to receive an unequivocal answer.
  • (Even though unique and unequivocal start with the same letter (same two letters in fact), unique starts with a consonant sound (Y) while unequivocal starts with a vowel sound. Remember, use a (not an) before a consonant sound.)
  • Becoming a eunuch wasn't a one-off deal it was a two-off deal.
  • (Eunuch and one-off start with vowels but with consonant sounds.)
There is more on this in the entries for indefinite articles and vowels.

Key Point

  • Use a (not an) if the next word starts with a consonant sound.
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