Consonant clusters at the beginning of words

Combinations of consonant sounds [consonant clusters) can be difficult to pronounce for some learners. English words can start with a vowel, or one, two or three consonant sounds.


Compare:
am    ⇒   ram   ⇒   cram   ⇒   scram

Here are the possible two-consonant clusters at the start of English words:

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In addition, the following two-consonant clusters are possible with /s/:

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Here are the possible three-consonant clusters at the start of English words:


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Note: Some consonant clusters marked x in these tables are used in a few uncommon words, for example- schwa (the name of the sound /ə/) and people’s names.
In order to be understood clearly you should –
avoid changing a consonant in a cluster to a different consonant.
For example: saying ‘present’ for ‘pleasant’ or saying ‘queue’ for ‘crew’
avoid leaving out one of the consonant sounds.
For example: saying ‘poblem’ for ‘problem’ or saying ‘foo’ for ‘few’
avoid adding an extra vowel between consonants.
For example: saying ‘tewin’ for ‘twin’ or saying ‘faree’ for ‘free’
avoid adding an extra vowel at the beginning of the word.
For example: saying ‘estop’ for ‘stop’ or saying ‘escream’ for ‘scream’

EXERCISE 1
You will hear some short definitions. After each definition, press ‘pause’, tick (✓) the word you think is being defined and say it aloud. When you press ‘play’ again you will hear the correct answer.
Repeat it and then continue in the same way. The answers are given below the last exercise.


EXAMPLE ‘to cook in hot oil’ fly / fry ✓
1 string / sting
2 clean / queen
3 strain / stain
4 Spain / sprain
5 slum / sum
6 pain / plain
7 slip / sip
8 kick / quick
9 scare / square
10 grass / glass

EXERCISE 2
You will hear some words. After each word, press ‘pause’ and underline the correct definition. When you press ‘play’ again you will hear the correct answer.

EXAMPLE: ‘stray’
to not leave / to move away from the intended route

1 to produce a continuous light / to increase in size
2 to shake with fear / a sweet food
3 to move through water / attractively thin
4 dried stalks of wheat / another word for shop
5 watery liquid in your mouth / to divide into two
6 activity done for enjoyment / to give money for something
7 a border around a picture / burning gas
8 not mixed / not rich

EXERCISE 3
Listen and underline the sentence you hear.

EXAMPLE:
The band isn’t very popular. / The brand isn’t very popular.
1 Just across the road. / Just cross the road.
2 The cat was following its tail. / The cat was following its trail.
3 Before that I had tried a motorbike. / Before that I had to ride a motorbike.
4 It’s Michael’s twin. / It’s Michael’s to win.
5 He fell into a deeper sleep. / He fell into a deep sleep.
6 I thought it was a terrible slight (= insult). /1 thought it was a terrible sight.
7 Just blow your nose. / Just below your nose.
8 This one is a pear. / This one is spare

Try building words by adding consonant sounds. Start with a vowel sound, and then add one
consonant sound at a time before or after the vowel, in any order, to build new words.
(Note: (i) a consonant sound may consist of more than one letter; (ii) don’t add any new vowel sounds.)
Then say aloud the words you have written. For example:
/eɪ/: ache => lake => flake => flakes (2 consonants before the vowel and 2 after)
/aɪ/: rye => rife => rifle => trifle => trifles (2 before and 3 after)
/i:/: sea => seem => scheme => scream => screamed (3 before and 2 after)
Now try with other vowels (eə,  ɪə,  ɑː,  u:,  etc.).

KEY:

EXERCISE 1 (United States)
1 (a piece of thin cord) string
2 (a woman who rules a country) queen
3 (an injury to a muscle) strain
4 (a country in southern Europe) Spain
5 (a poor area in a city) slum
6

(a feeling when you have been hurt) pain
7 (to drink a small amount) sip
8 (done with great speed) quick
9 (to make someone frightened) scare
10 (a hard transparent material) glass

EXERCISE 2 (Canada)
(grow) to increase in size (NOT glow)
(quake) to shake with fear (NOT cake)
(swim) to move through water
(NOT slim)
(store) another word for shop
(NOT straw)
(spit) watery liquid in your mouth
(NOT split)
(pay) to give money for something(NOT play)
(flame) burning gas(NOT frame)
(pure) not mixed (NOT poor)

EXERCISE 3
1 Just cross the road.
2 The cat was following its trail.
3 Before that I had to ride a motorbike.
4 It’s Michael’s twin.
5 He fell into a deeper sleep.
6 I thought it was a terrible sight.
7 Just below your nose.
8 This one is a pear.

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