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English phonics rules

Updated March 23, 2017

Phonics represents a reading and pronunciation method with fairly precise rules guiding the method's use. Understanding the rules of phonics helps reading teachers teach the complexities of English reading to elementary students. Phonics rules guide young readers to greater reading comprehension. As with many English-language rules, exceptions dot the list of phonics rules. Generally, in phonics, vowels include the standard vowels and include diphthongs, which include "oi," "oy," "ou" and others. All other letters, which stop or limit air flow in the throat, comprise consonants, according to the Glendale Community College website.

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Syllables and Vowels

Phonics rules establish how words sound, which guides learners to recognise words and sound them out when learning to read. Some phonics rules apply to the contents of syllables. All syllables, according to the rules of phonics, must include at least one vowel. Without vowels, no English syllables, and by extension words, could be pronounced. Vowels include "a," "e," "i," "o," "u" and "y." If "y" begins a word, the letter serves as a consonant.


Phonics rules direct the way that letters sound when they appear together. Two consonants together can form a single sound, called a consonant digraph. A consonant digraph counts as a single letter and are not separated into separate syllables. Examples of consonant digraphs include, but are not limited to, "ch," "th" and "ph."

Long Vowels

English syllables, comprised of vowels and consonant combinations, create long and short pronunciations. With syllables that end in any of the vowels, if the ending vowel is the only vowel in the syllable, the vowel usually forms a long sound. Examples of long vowels in syllables ending in a vowel, include the "pa" in "paper" and "my." Other instances of long vowels include syllables ending in a silent "e." For example, in the word "tape," the "a" is long because of the ending "e." In syllables with two vowels together, the first vowel sounds long and the second vowel is silent. Examples include "fail" and "meat."


The letter "r" causes r-controlled sounds. When an "r" occurs in the same syllable as a vowel, the vowel is "r-controlled." R-controlled vowels are neither long nor short. R-controlled vowels usually sound similar. "Ir" and "er," for example are r-controlled vowels with the same sounds.


The sounds of consonants depend upon the presence and location of vowels in a syllable. When the consonant "c" precedes "e," "i" or "y," the "c" sounds like a soft "s," as in "cellar," according to the How to Study website. When the letter "g" precedes "e," "i" or "y," the consonant usually sounds like a soft "g" or "j." Syllables with a single vowel ending in a consonant create a short vowel sound as in "red" or "smack."

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About the Author

Alyson Paige has a master's degree in canon law and began writing professionally in 1998. Her articles specialize in culture, business and home and garden, among many other topics.

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