In this English pronunciation lesson, we will learn and practise pronouncing the /p/ sound. You will also learn the rules of aspiration for pronouncing /p/, which means when and when not to pronounce it with a puff of air.
The sound /p/ is in the words ‘pen’, ‘apple’ and ‘top’.
The phoneme /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!
The Consonant /p/ in Pronunciation
- /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
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
Extend your Learning
◼️ Ready for a bigger challenge? Do my advanced lesson on pronouncing the /p/ sound.
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