The English alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, just like German, French, Spanish and a number of others. Because of this, it’s easy for speakers of those languages to assume this aspect of the language is something they can skip. There are good reasons to take a closer look at the alphabet if you’d like to learn English. The alphabet shows you the building blocks of a language, and knowing about the single letters and their pronunciation will help to improve your spelling and your overall understanding. So, reason enough to give the English alphabet a closer look. Let’s do it!
The Alphabet In English
Again, the English alphabet is based on Latin script and today includes 26 characters. However, until the 1830s there were actually 27. Back then, the so-called ampersand (“&”) counted as the 27th letter of the alphabet. Today the alphabet consists of 21 consonants and five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). Just like in German, French or Spanish, the English alphabet contains two sets of characters, uppercase letters and lowercase letters. Unlike many other languages, English doesn’t tend to have many accent marks (or diacritics).
Pronouncing The English Alphabet
Although the letters are identical to German and many other Latin-script languages, pronunciation of the English alphabet is…different. And that’s not all: Within English itself, there are also differences between the British and American pronunciation. As such, the following table shows not just the signification, but also the current pronunciation of the English alphabet according to the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). The IPA represents a collection of characters that can be used to describe almost all languages. As such, it’s currently the most widely used pronunciation system in the world.
Before you look at the table, listen once to how the single letters in the English alphabet are pronounced. You’ll hear them from a native British English speaker who works for Babbel and has recorded them for you. When you’re done listening, try to pronounce the alphabet yourself, and listen to it again in case you’re not quite sure about any of the letters. In the table, you can also see the differences between the American and British pronunciations.
|Letters||Signification||Pronunciation (British English)||Pronunciation (American English)|
|A a||ay / ai||/eɪ/||/eɪ/|
|W w||double-u||/dɑbəɫˈju/||/dʌbəl juː/|
|Z z||zed / zee||/zɛt/||/ziː/|
American Vs. British Pronunciation
As you’ve already seen in the table, the British and American pronunciations of certain letters (O, Q, R, Y) are different. Let’s look at a few examples more closely in order to clarify those difference:
A central difference is apparent in the pronuncation of the letter “R”. As a rule, an American will pronounce that letter. In linguistics this is called “rhoticity”. In contrast, the pronunciation in standard British English is not rhotic, because the [r] is not always pronounced out loud. When the letter comes before a consonant or at the end of a word, then most of the time it’s not pronounced in standard British English (BE):
- Your morning in New York
In Standard American English, that [r] is usually pronounced.
- Your morning in New York
Another difference becomes clear with the letter “Z”. In American English, the letter is pronounced like /ziː/ (zee), whereas in British English it’s pronounced as /zɛd/ (zed).
However, the differences between American and British English go beyond the pronunciation of the ABCs. They are also apparent in vocabulary.
If we take a closer look at the pronunciation of the English alphabet, it’s also important to note that we can make a lot more than 26 sounds with these letters — in fact, there are more than 40 different ones! Furthermore, where they appear in the word will alter their pronunciation. For example, the [c] in cool sounds different than the [c] in city.
Study Tips For The English Alphabet
- The vowels “A” and “I” are also English words by themselves. “A” is the indefinite article, and “I” is the personal pronoun.
- The most common English letter is the “E.”
- A sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet is called a “pangram.” An example is: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. In German: („Der schnelle braune Fuchs springt über den faulen Hund“)
- You can imprint the English alphabet into your mind more easily if you learn an English ABC song.
- Benefit from the Babbel language learning app, where users can spell new words from the very first lesson. The app also contains fun learning games such as “Word Train,” which add a little fun to your study routine and support you in reviewing what you’ve learned.