English alphabet guide

Learn your A-B-Cs and master 5 common mistakes to sound like a native speaker.

Start learning now

The English language has pinched words and elements from over 350 different languages, so no wonder it’s full of irregularities! And with so many different English accents, pronouncing the 26 letters of the English alphabet isn’t always as easy as A-B-C (as Michael Jackson said).

If you’ve ever been confused by through and tough or struggled to hear the difference between ship and sheep, this English alphabet guide will help you.

Did you know this? There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. However, until 1835, there were actually 27 letters, with the & (ampersand) making up the 27th letter of the alphabet.

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. The table below introduces their position, pronunciation, name and the NATO phonetic alphabet, which you may have heard in war movies or during phone calls to clarify spelling.

Introducing the English alphabet

Capital Lower case Phonic Letter name NATO phonetic alphabet
A a /eɪ/, /æ/ a Alpha
B b /biː/ bee Bravo
C c /siː/ cee Charlie
D d /diː/ dee Delta
E e /iː/ e Echo
F f /ɛf/ ef Foxtrot
G g /dʒiː/ gee Golf
H h /(h)eɪtʃ/ (h)aitch Hotel
I i /aɪ/ i India
J j /dʒeɪ/ jay Juliett
K k /keɪ/ kay Kilo
L l /ɛl/ el Lima
M m /ɛm/ em Mike
N n /ɛn/ en November
O o /oʊ/ o Oscar
P p /piː/ pee Papa
Q q /kjuː/ cue Quebec
R r /ɑːr/ ar Romeo
S s /ɛs/ ess Sierra
T t /tiː/ tee Tango
U u /juː/ u Uniform
V v /viː/ vee Victor
W w /ˈdʌbəl.juː/ double-u Whiskey
X x /ɛks/ ex X-ray
Y y /waɪ/ wy Yankee
Z z /zi/zɛd/ zee/zed Zulu

The 5 most common pronunciation mistakes that English learners make – and how you can avoid them

From beginner through to advanced, when you’re learning how to speak English there are going to be some words that stump English learners, and still stump native speakers, too (we’re looking at you, “Edinburgh” and “Worcestershire”).

While your native language plays a big part in the types of words and sounds that you will have trouble with, there are a few common mistakes that you should look out for.

Even though each letter in the English alphabet has a certain sound, when combined with other letters, this sound can change. Learning these variations will really help you improve your pronunciation and sound like a native speaker.

Let’s take a look.

1. Pronouncing the “gh” sound

Chances are you’ve already encountered this notoriously tricky consonant combination (called a digraph) and it’s range of pronunciations:

  • It sounds like an ‘f’ in words such as "cough", "laugh" and "tough".
  • It sounds like a ‘w’ sound in words such as "though", "through" and "dough".
  • It can become silent in words such as "thought", "night" and "bought".

Our tip: It is pronounced as a ‘g’ at the beginning of words (like "ghost"), and it is either silent or pronounced as ‘f’ at the end of words and syllables.

2. English letters ‘th’

The ‘th’ is certainly one of the hardest consonant sounds in the English alphabet to master. Many languages don’t have this sound, so don’t be put off if you can’t get it straight away. There are some slight variations in the way it can sound:

  • It vibrates slightly, as in “the”, “this”, “that, “they” and “them”.
  • It sounds voiceless, as in “three”, “thing” and “thought”.
  • The h is silent, as in “Thai” and “Thames”.

Our tip: Practise placing your tongue behind your teeth and blow air out as you say the word.

3. Consonants with different sounds, such as ‘c’ and ‘z’

The letter ‘c’ can be pronounced two distinct ways:

  • Like a ‘s’, as in “centre”, “receive”, “cigarette”, “cinema”, “agency” and “notice”
  • Like a ‘k’, as in “cake”, “come”, “cucumber”, “clean”, “cry”, “scratch”, “act” and “panic”

Our tip: Normally when ‘c’ is followed by an ‘i’ or ‘e’, it takes the ‘s’ sound.

The letter ‘s’ can be also be pronounced in two different ways:

  • Like an ‘s’, as in “send”, “simple”, “song”, “system”, “street”, “lost”, “kiss” and “release”.
  • Like a ‘z’, as in “cause”, “reason”, “realism”, “advise”, “always”, “is” and “was”

A short ‘i’ sound, as in “ship”, “live”, “sit”, “hit” and “fit”, can be confusing. You may want to pronounce them as long ‘i’ sounds, as in “leave”, “seat” or “feet”.

4. The short ‘i’

Our tip: try saying the short ‘i’ sound followed by the long ‘i’ sound until you can hear the difference: “ship-sheep”, “live-leave”, “sit-seat”, “hit-heat” and “fit-feat”.

5. The various sounds of ‘a’

When it comes to the vowel sounds, it may seem like there is no method to the madness. So let’s look at the three sounds of the letter ‘a’ that can be tricky:

When it comes to the vowel sounds, it may seem like there is no method to the madness. So let’s look at the three sounds of the letter ‘a’ that can be tricky:

  • The ‘short a’ /æ/, as in “cat”, “add”, “began”, “last”, “back”, “after” and “man” Our tip: The mouth needs to be open, and the tongue relaxed.

  • The ‘long a’ /eɪ/, as in “play”, “make”, “name”, “say”, “came”, “change” and “face” Our tip: The sound is the same way you say the letter ‘A’ in the alphabet.

  • The ‘unstressed a’ /ə/, as in “America”, “finally”, “surface”, “about” and “was” Our tip: Think about where the stress is in the word, instead of saying each syllable.

Go beyond the letters with Busuu’s online English course

Now you know all the English alphabet letters and their correct pronunciation, it’s time to put your knowledge to good use.

Busuu can take you from English basics through to fluency. The course even includes a whole set of lessons on English pronunciation. So what are you waiting for?