Difference Between Vowels and Consonants

Main Difference – Vowels vs Consonants

All the speech sounds in the language can be grouped into two groups. These two groups are known as vowels and consonants. A vowel is a speech sound produced by comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with the  vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction. A consonant is a basic speech sound in which the breath is at least partly obstructed. Therefore, the main difference between vowels and consonants lies in their articulation; a vowel is articulated with an open vocal tract whereas a consonant is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract.

What are Vowels

As explained above, vowels are pronounced with an open vocal tract. Therefore, the tongue does not touch the teeth, lips or the roof of the mouth when pronouncing vowel. It is important to notice that the term vowel can refer to both vowel sounds and vowel letters in the alphabet.

There are five vowels in the alphabets: a, e, i, o, and u. Sometimes the letter y is also considered as a vowel. (ex: cry, fly) There are about twenty vowel sounds in English language, and these five vowel letters represent all these sounds. This means that a single vowel letter can represent many vowel sounds. For example, consider the words cat (/kat/), heart(/hɑːt/),  hate (/heɪt/),  all(/ɔːl/), and said/sɛd/. All these words contain the vowel a, but the sound of the vowel is different in each word. In the same manner, the same vowel sound can be also represented by different vowel letters as well. For example, note how the sound /eɪ/ is represented by different words in the words weigh (/weɪ/), clay (/kleɪ/), bake (/beɪk), and opaque (/ə(ʊ)ˈpeɪk/).Difference Between Vowels and Consonants

What are Consonants

A consonant is a basic speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Since the vocal tract is not completely open, the sound is stopped by teeth, tongue, lips, or constriction of the vocal cords at a certain point.

The term consonant also refers to both letters and sounds. All the letters in the alphabet, apart from the 5 vowels, are consonants. Thus, there are 21 consonant letters in the alphabet, and they represent about 24 consonant sounds.

Consonants can be grouped into two major categories: voiced and unvoiced consonants. Voiced consonants make use of the vibrations of the vocal folds in the larynx whereas unvoiced consonants don’t. It is easy to identify voiced and unvoiced consonants by putting your finger on the throat and feeling the vibrations.Main Difference - Vowels vs Consonants

Difference Between Vowels and Consonants


Vowels are basic speech sounds articulated with an open vocal tract.

Consonants are basic speech sounds articulated with a partially or completely closed vocal tract.

Sound produced

The vowel sound is not disturbed by teeth, tongue or mouth since the vocal tract is completely open.

The consonant sound is disturbed by teeth, tongue lips, etc. since the vocal tract is not completely open.

Number of Letters

There are 5 vowel letters.

There are 21 consonant letters.

Number of Sounds

There are about 20 vowel sounds in English.

There are about 24 consonant sounds in English.


Vowels are the nucleus of a syllable.

Consonants have to be linked with a vowel to form a syllable.Difference Between Vowels and Consonants - infographic

Image Courtesy:

“CS vowels lips” by User:Pajast – Krčmová M. Úvod do fonetiky a fonologie pro bohemisty. FF OU, Ostrava 2006, p. 116. ISBN 80-7368-213-3. (Public Domain) via

“IPA chart 2005 consonants”. via

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