Lesson 45: Practice /p/
Practice /p/ Pronunciation

In this lesson, we will learn the pronunciation and spelling of the /p/ sound in English. /p/ is a what’s known as a plosive consonant, which means that this sound is made by blocking the flow of air and then releasing it in a puff of air: /p/ is for puff.

Of all the consonants in English, /p/ is the peskiest because it doesn’t get on well with microphones. If a /p/ sound is made too close to a microphone, the recorded sound pops. When making a /p/ sound, the lips release air with a burst, which causes disruption in the air, and in turn, affects the microphone. Fingers crossed, I can get through this lesson without recording any annoying p-pops!

Here’s what you need to know about making a /p/ sound:

  • /p/ is a plosive consonant: air is stopped and then released
  • the place of articulation is the lips: purse the lips and then release the pressure
  • /p/ is a voiceless consonant: the vocal cords don’t vibrate 
  • the /p/ (voiceless) and /b/ (voiced) consonants are usually learnt as a pair
  • /p/ is a widespread sound that is present in many of the world’s languages
  • There is no /p/ in Arabic, therefore Arabic native speakers often have difficulty articulating this sound, replacing it with /b/.

So far, so good. You may be thinking that learning /p/ is going to be easy. Learning /p/ is easy – but only up to a point.

As you know already, a puff of air is released when making a /p/ sound: /p/ = plosive.

In linguistics, this puff of air is called aspiration. 

Here’s where learning /p/ gets tricky. /p/ is not aspirated equally in all positions of a word. Observe the following examples (bold text shows aspirated /p/):

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Mom and Pop, may I have some apple pie and whipped cream, pretty please?

You need sensitive ears to hear the difference between aspirated and unaspirated /p/ in the examples. Don’t worry if you can’t hear the difference between the two types of /p/ right now – just keep listening because practice makes perfect. 

The Rules of Aspirating /p/ 

  • Aspirated and unaspirated /p/ sound slightly different, but even so they are still classed as the same consonant
  • /p/ is always aspirated at the beginning of a word: Peter, puff, plosive
  • /p/ is aspirated at the beginning of a stressed syllable: support, approve, apply
  • /p/ is unaspirated in <sp> words: spit, sport, spoon 
  • /p/ is unaspirated in <spr> words: spray, sprint, spring 
  • /p/ is unaspirated at the end of a word (it still sounds like a /p/ but there is no forceful puff of air): cop, map, mop 

What I have just explained is likely to be linguistics overload for most of you. If you want to keep things simple, just don’t exaggerate the /p/ sound at the end of words. For example, don’t say coP, maP, moP.


Practice /p/ Words and Phrases: Some Examples from the Lesson Recording

stop: once you pop, you can’t stop

pretty: pretty as a peach

person: a people person

parent: proud parents

pressure: pile on the pressure

About Jade Joddle Jade Joddle is a speech and voice teacher who gives her non-native speaker clients back the confidence they had in their native language. She teaches high-level professionals to Speak Well in English so that they thrive and succeed.