A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning. The word "sun" has three phonemes: /s/ /u/ /n/.

  • Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sound units, in the English language. (NOTE: the number of phonemes varies across sources.)
  • Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings. For example, the phoneme, or sound, /f/ can be spelled in several ways: ph, f, gh, ff.
  • The sound units (phonemes) are not inherently obvious and must be taught. The sounds that make up words are "coarticulated;" that is, they are not distinctly separate from each other.

Phonemic Awareness (PA) is:

  1. the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992; see References).
  2. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
  3. fundamental to mapping speech to print. If a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon" begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run", he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
  4. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system.
  5. a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success.


Phonemic Awareness Development Continuum 

  Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills

  • Sound and Word discrimination: What word doesn't belong with the others: "cat", "mat", "bat", "ran"? "ran"
  • Rhyming: What word rhymes with "cat"? bat
  • Syllable splitting: The onset of "cat" is /k/, the rime is /at/
  • Blending: What word is made up of the sounds /k/ /a/ /t/? "cat"
  • Phonemic segmentation: What are the sounds in "cat"? /k/ /a/ /t/
  • Phoneme deletion: What is "cat" without the /k/? "at"
  • Phoneme manipulation: What word would you have if you changed the /t/ in cat to an /n/? "can"