Phonics Glossary

Understanding the terminology can be overwhelming if you are new to phonics.

Find out more about phonics on our Phonics Information page, or visit our Phonics store.

Here is an A-Z glossary of the main words you’ll encounter:

What are the main terms I need to understand in phonics?

  • Blending – the skill of joining sounds together to form a word, e.g. b-u-s is bus.
  • Common word – see Sight word.
  • Consonant – a letter in the alphabet that is not a vowel, such as ‘b’, ‘d’, or ‘f’.
  • Consonant cluster – a blended sound that is made from two consonants next to each other. 
  • Counting sounds – the skill of stretching a whole word into separate sounds and counting them, e.g. hat is h-a-t (3).
  • CVC word – a three-sound word that is made from a consonant-vowel-consonant, e.g. pan and sit.
  • CCVC word – a four-sound word that starts with a consonant cluster sound, e.g. flag and drop.
  • CVCC word – a four-sound word that ends with a consonant cluster sound, e.g. jump and hand.
  • Digraph – a single sound made from two letters next to each other, e.g. /ch/ in chick, or /sh/ in sheep.
  • Diphthong vowel – this is a single sound made from two vowels next to each other, e.g. /air/ in chair, or /ow/ in mouse.
  • Dolch list – a collection of sight words sorted by their frequency of usage in English.
  • Ending soundsee Last sound.
  • Fine motor skills – the complex coordination required to hold a pencil and color in neatly or write letters using guidelines.
  • First sound – the sound at the start of the word, e.g. /k/ in king, or /th/ in thumb.
  • Gliding vowel  – see Diphthong vowel.
  • Grapheme – the written symbol that represents a sound. It can be one letter, two, or even three, e.g. ‘z’ in zip, ‘ir’ in bird, ‘air’ in hair. The four-letter graphemes are featured in the Reading Program.
  • Grouping – categorizing or sorting words or images based on similar sounds, e.g. rain and robot both start with /r/. 
  • IPA – an acronym for the International Phonetic Alphabet, a system of symbols representing phonemes created in the late 19th century.
  • Initial soundsee First sound.
  • Isolation – the skill of hearing a single sound within a word, for example, /n/ in lion.
  • Last sound – the sound at the end of the word, e.g. /g/ in log, or /sh/ in wash.
  • Long vowel sounds – the sounds of long a, e, i, o, u, oo represented as blue in this program.
  • Minimal pair – two words with different meanings that share all of the same sounds except for one, e.g. hat/hot, map/man.
  • Oral blending – when the learner sounds out the individual sounds in order to blend them into a single word.
  • Phoneme – a single unit of sound that is represented by one, two, or even three letters, e.g. /h/, /oi/ or /igh/.
  • Pure sound – the ability to pronounce the sounds clearly without adding ‘uh’ to the end, e.g. /t/ not ‘tuh’.
  • Rhyming word – a word that has the same last sounds as another word, e.g. frog/log, bear/share.
  • Schwa – the commonly used short /u/ sound in English that can sometimes distort a pure sound and make blending more difficult.
  • Segmentingsee Stretching.
  • Short vowel sounds – the sounds of short a, e, i, o, u, oo represented as red in this program.
  • Sight word – a commonly-used word in English that should be memorized instead of blended, e.g. the and said.
  • Silent letter – a letter that is written but not heard when pronouncing the word aloud. These are covered in the Reading Program.
  • Soundsee Phoneme.
  • Stretching – the skill of separating a whole word into separate sounds, e.g. sun is s-u-n, or box is b-o-x.
  • Trigraph – a single sound made from three letters next to each other, e.g. /ore/ in snore, or /igh/ in night.
  • Visual blending – when the learner sees the letters and blends the sounds to create a word. 
  • Vowels – the letters a, e, i, o, u.

We hope that you’ve found this post useful. If you have any questions about our Phonics Program, please get in touch.

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