A digraph combines two letters to make a single sound in written or spoken English. A digraph can consist of consonants and vowels. These shouldn’t be confused with adjacent consonants, where each letter makes a distinct sound rather than combining to make one sound.
Quadgraphs are a single sound that is made up of four letters. Despite being a four-letter grapheme, they produce a singular phonetic sound when these letters are grouped. Some examples of quadraphs include:
- Ough – This grapheme can have a variety of sounds. For example, ‘ough’ can be used in words like ‘cough,’ ‘bough,’ and ‘through.’
- Augh – can be found in words like ‘laugh’ and ‘naught.’ Although they both contain ‘augh,’ the pronunciations vary.
- ious – it can be found in words like ‘glorious,’ ‘pious,’ and ‘suspicious.’
- Eigh – it can be found in words like ‘eight,’ ‘neigh,’ and ‘weigh.’
- eous – it can be found in words like ‘hideous,’ ‘gorgeous,’ and ‘nauseous.’
Consonant digraphs are taught in EYFS up to five during their study of phonics and English. During year 1, there are many vowel digraphs that children will learn. These can come at the beginning of a word, an ‘initial’ digraph, or the end, a ‘final’ digraph.
What is the difference between digraphs and trigraphs?
Young learners must become familiar with these and confident in recognizing the unique sounds formed by digraphs and trigraphs. Although digraphs and trigraphs have similarities, with both creating a single sound, they are made up of a different number of letters.
An excellent way for pupils to remember the difference between these two terms is to look for the clue in the name. Many words in English have Greek or Latin roots, which can help us understand their meaning. For example, ‘Di’ comes from the Greek ‘dis,’ which means twice. At the same time, ‘tri’ comes from the Latin word ‘trial’ and the Greek word ‘treîs,’ which both mean three. You might like to challenge your pupils to add some more examples to this list:
- dilemma – people who find themself in a dilemma often have to decide between making two different choices
- dioxide – an oxide that is made up of exactly two atoms of oxygen
- tricycle – a three-wheeled version of a bicycle
- triceratops – a dinosaur with three distinctive horns
So, the key takeaway here is that a trigraph is a single sound made with three letters, such as igh, ore, air, ear, and so on. Whereas a digraph is a single sound that has been formed by two letters.
What is a Consonant Digraph?
Consonant digraphs are groups of two consonants that make a single sound. Here are some examples of consonant digraphs:
- Sh – as in ‘she’ or ‘wish.’
- kn – as in ‘know’ or ‘knock.’
- ch – as in ‘chair’ or ‘chat’
- ph – as in ‘phone’ or ‘phonics.’
- wr – as in ‘wrench’ or ‘wreck.’
- ck – as in ‘tick’ or ‘pluck.’
- ss – as in ‘chess’ or ‘class.’
- tch – as in ‘watch’ or ‘witch.’
- th – as in ‘think’ or ‘throw.’
- wh – as in ‘when’ or ‘where.’
- ch – as in ‘rich’ or ‘much’
- sh – as in ‘shoe’ or ‘sheep.’
Vowel digraph examples
These groups of two letters make one sound, where at least one is a vowel. Vowel digraphs are typically placed in the middle of words, although this isn’t always the case.
When teaching phonics, teachers often look at one sound and show children other ways it can be made and written down as a grapheme (the written symbols/letters that represent sounds).
For example, ‘say,’ ‘gain,’ and ‘pray’ all contain the same sound but have different digraphs.
Children will also learn about split digraphs. These occur when digraphs like ‘ae,’ ‘oe,’ ‘ie,’ ‘ee,’ and ‘ue’ are ‘split’ by consonants. Below are a couple of examples:
- The word ‘lie’ contains the digraph ‘ie.’ In the word ‘line,’ this digraph has been ‘split’ by the consonant n to form a new word.
- The word ‘rue’ contains the digraph ‘ue.’ In the word ‘rule,’ this digraph has been ‘split’ by the consonant l to form a new word.
Common vowel digraph examples include:
- ow – as in know or snow
- ui – as in fruit or bruise
- oe – as in toe or goes
- oa – as in boat or road
- ea – as in thread or lead
- ea – as in read or beach
- ie – as in pie or lie
- ie – as in a field or chief
- ue – as in glue or fuel
- oo – as in wood or flood
- ey – as in they or prey
- ai – as in rain or pain.
Double letter digraphs
There are two different types of digraphs: heterogeneous digraphs and homogeneous digraphs. Heterogeneous digraphs consist of 2 different letters, while homogeneous digraphs contain two instances of the same letter. Homogeneous digraphs are often referred to as ‘double-letter digraphs.’
Double-letter digraphs are very common and are used to indicate a range of different sounds. For instance, they are often used with two vowel letters to convey a long vowel sound in words.
Here are some examples of heterogeneous digraphs:
Here are some examples of homogeneous digraphs:
Split digraphs can be confusing for kids learning phonics as the letters are not directly beside one another in words. In its simplest form, a split digraph is a set of 2 letters that make one sound but are separated within the word.
The split digraph uses an ‘e’ after the initial vowel to warp and change the sound of the vowel. For example, it turns the word ‘hug’ into ‘huge’ and ‘sit’ into ‘site.’ The addition of the ‘e’ after the initial vowel changes the sound of the word from a short, harsh one to a longer, soft sound.
There are five split digraphs in the English language. They are as follows:
Ambiguous letter sequences
In addition to teaching kids how to identify digraphs in words, it is also essential to teach them how to recognize when letter pairs are not digraphs. For example, specific pairs of letters are not classified as digraphs because of compounding, for instance, cooperate. Sometimes, these words will be separated by a hyphen; for example, cooperate becomes co-operate. However, this is not always the case, so it is helpful to be able to recognize them regardless.
What is the Difference between Digraphs and Diphthongs?
A Diphthong is a sound formed by combining two vowels in a single syllable. The sound pronouncing these two vowels begins as one vowel sound and moves towards another. Some examples of diphthongs are:
In the English language, there are 5 different diphthongs:
This diphthong can manifest in various spellings, although it is most commonly written as ow or ou. This diphthong is also pronounced differently depending on which accent is used and what form of English is spoken. Some examples of aʊ words are town, brown, mouth, and count.
The most common writing of this diphthong is ‘igh.’ However, some English words can also be written using a single ‘i’ or ‘y’. In the instances where it is written as a single ‘i’, it is typically followed by a consonant and then an ‘e,’ for example, ‘bite.’ Some examples of aɪ words are might, fight, bike, and why.
In the English language, this diphthong has several different spellings, including ay, ai, ei, ey, ea, or a. Just like the sign before, when this diphthong is written with a single ‘a’, it is generally followed by a consonant and then an ‘e,’ for example, ‘fake.’ Some examples of eɪ words are: play, betray, great, gait, weight, and plate.
The pronunciation of this diphthong is very similar to the pronunciation of the one above. This diphthong, however, tends to precede the letter ‘r.’ Some common spellings of this diphthong are ai, e, and a. Some examples of eə words are pair, bare, hair, and where.
This diphthong also tends to appear before a select few consonants in words. For example, the ɪə diphthong can occur before the letters ‘r’ and ‘l.’ The spellings of this diphthong include ee, ea, and e. Some examples of ɪə words are: deer, meat, disappear, and sphere.
This diphthong is perhaps the most versatile of them all. It can be written in various spellings, including ow, oa, and o. However, when written as a single ‘o’, it tends to be followed by a consonant and the letter ‘e.’ Some examples of oʊ words are: row, bow, float, goat, bloke, and wrote.
This diphthong can only be written using two spellings: oy and oi. Some examples of ɔɪ words are avoided boy, toy, and steroid.
This diphthong likes to lie low and is often pronounced as just a single vowel sound. Some examples of ʊə words are jury, poor, sure, and tour.
The primary difference between digraphs and diphthongs is that they are pairs of letters, and diphthongs are sounds.
- . Hot springs and thermal vents.