Consonant Sounds 3: Mode of Articulation

Mode of Articulation:

Video Explanation:

The mode of articulation refers to how the sound is produced via blocking the airstream. Some consonant sounds involve the total obstruction of the airstream, for example, with the plosive /b/ and /p/ sounds there is a total obstruction of air by the two lips.

However, in other sounds, such as the liquids /l/ and /r/ and the semi-vowel sounds or glides of /w/ and /j/ (or /y/), there is relatively little obstruction of air.

The Modes of Articulation:


/p, b, t, d, k, g/

The airstream is stopped or blocked completely prior to release. 

See For Yourself: Try pronouncing the above plosive sounds by holding the sound …. difficult, right? You probably noticed why these sounds ‘plosives’ or ‘stops’ easily because they require a stop and release that is similar to a little ex-‘plosion’ in order to be produced.


/f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, h/

Air is forced through a narrow passageway in the mouth or throat creating continuous friction. 

See For Yourself: Go ahead and practice pronouncing these sounds and you will notice that you can hold them (contrary to plosives that require a block and release of air to be pronounced) and there is a steady sound of friction as you do. Try holding the pronunciation of the 1st sound (/f/) alllll the way down to the last sound (/h/).


/tʃ/, /dʒ/

This one is a mix between a plosive and a fricative sound, hence their symbol representation.  E.g. /t/ + /ʃ/  = /tʃ/ (Church) and /d/ + /ʒ/  = /dʒ/ (Judge)

There are only two affricative sounds in English, which are pronounced in the same (same place and mode of articulation) except one is voiced /dʒ/ and the other is not /tʃ/.


/m, n, ŋ/

Air is released through the nose.

See For Yourself: These sounds are all voiced so if you put a finger on your nose, you should be able to feel a vibration in that shnauz of yours as you are pronouncing these sounds.

Here’s a proper example of TOO MUCH nasal sound from the actress Fran Drescher meeting, well, Fran Drescher. BUT remember there are only three nasal consonant sounds in English… so, DON’T pronounce other consonant and vowel sounds nasally (especially for all of those Brazilian Portuguese and French speakers!) or you might risk sounding like this:

Semi-vowels (or glides):

/w, j-y/

These sounds are known as semi-vowels or glides because they barely obstruct the airflow in a type of gliiiiiiding motion (don’t you feel smoooooth pronouncing these ones? ‘Wowwwwwww’ and ‘yyyyyyyyyes’).


/l, r/

Basically, these sounds are semi-vowel sounds that emphasize the importance of the tongue used in their creation – the tongue causes a partial closure of the mouth to produce them.

Chart Awareness: 

Back to the Underhill (1996) consonant chart, the modes of articulation are organized as follows:

First Column: ALL the plosives are in the first column as well as the two affricative sounds in English.

Second Column: All the fricative sounds (except for /h/ which is in the third column) are in the second column.

Third Column: The third row is a mixed column containing all the nasal, liquid, and semi-vowel sounds plus the fricative /h/, which is made by only exhaling air.

p b t d ʧ ʤ k g
f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ
m n ŋ h l r w j/y
Plosive Plosive Plosive Plosive Affricative Affricative Plosive Plosive
                                                             All Fricatives
Nasal Nasal Nasal Fricative Liquid Liquid Semi-vowel Semi-vowel

Comprehension Check: Quiz Time!

Phonology Quiz 4: Modes of Articulation


Great job in learning the ‘how’ consonant sounds are produced. Now it’s time to learn about the ‘where’ in the next post: Consonants Sounds 4: Place of Articulation