Voiced and Voiceless (sometimes Unvoiced) describe the two different ways we can make sounds in our mouths.
The basic difference is this:
- voiced sounds occur when the vocal chords vibrate
- voiceless sounds occur when the vocal chords are still
An Example of Voiced & Unvoiced
The best way to explain this is with an example. Take these two words:
van – fan
To make both the /v/ sound and the /f/ sound we have our mouth and lips in exactly the same shape; in fact, the only difference between these two sounds is that /v/ is voiced and /f/ is unvoiced.
If you hold your hand lightly against your throat and make the two sounds /v/ and /f/ you can immediately feel the difference.
Try it and see!
Voiced & Voiceless Pairs
These are the most common voiced/voiceless pairs of sounds in English along with a few minimal pairs to help practice them:
voiced – unvoiced – minimal pair
/b/ – /p/ – by – pie
/v/ – /f/ – van – fan
/ð/ – /θ/ – this – thistle1
/d/ – /t/ – do – too
/z/ – /s/ – zed – said
/ʒ/ – /ʃ/ – genre – shone2
/dʒ/ – /tʃ/ – gin – chin
/g/ – /k/ – god – cod
1 this isn’t a minimal pair but it’s close enough
2 nor is this
Voiced, Voiceless and TEFL
It’s sometimes useful to teach these two words (voiced/voiceless) to your class when you come across a particular pronunciation problem which involves this. It’s also useful to show them exactly how we make those sounds – use the fingers on the throat method (but probably best not to put your hands round their throats).