A consonant cluster is a group of consonants in a word with no vowel(s) separating them. Very common in English, this phenomenon is particularly difficult for speakers of languages such as Spanish, Arabic and Japanese, where vowel/consonant or consonant/vowel follow each other quite strictly.
Consonant clusters can occur at the beginning of a word, in the middle, and/or at the end. Linking further hinders understanding for students.
Examples of clusters
Note: Don't confuse consonants with consonant letters. For example system /ˈsɪstəm/ begins with only one consonant and not 4, because "y" is a vowel in this case. See Decoding the letter Y.
English words can have up to three consonants at the beginning of a word:
- screw; split; spring; strange; street;
English words can have four or even five consonants in the middle of a word. In these cases they will be in different syllables.
- handspring /nd.spr/
- abstract /b.str/
- extra /k.str/
- explain /k.spl/
- instruct /n.str/
- sightscreen /t.skr/
- watchstrap /tʃ.str/ (/tʃ/ counts as only one consonant)
Although not very frequent, English words can have up to four consonants at the end of a word:
- attempts /mpts/
- glimpsed /mpst/
- sixths /ksθs/
- twelfths /lfθs/
- thousandths /ndθs/