What is a grapheme in phonics?

For starters, let’s get the most important question out of the way: what is a grapheme in phonics?

A grapheme is a type of symbol that represents a sound in writing. A grapheme can consist of one letter or a group of letters, and these have particular names. For example, a graphene containing two letters is called a digraph, but one with three is called a trigraph.

Some graphemes can carry the sound of various phonemes, and the same is true and vice versa. For instance, the phoneme /ear/ has four other graphemes to represent it: ‘ear,’ ‘eer,’ ‘ier,’ and ‘ere.’

It’s impossible to speak about graphemes without mentioning phonemes, as they are so inextricably linked. So, to help us understand ‘what is a grapheme in phonics?’, let’s delve into some examples…

What are some examples of graphemes?

To start with, let’s look at some single-letter graphemes in the word ‘dog’:


Here, the phoneme is an /o/ sound, the same as the grapheme (the ‘o’ letter) that represents it. So, on either side of it, you have a ‘d’ representing the short /d/ sound and a ‘g’ grapheme representing /g/.

But, as we’ve discovered from learning about ‘what is a grapheme in phonics?’, graphemes can also consist of two or more letters. There are plenty of words in English that use digraphs, and here are a couple of examples:




In some cases, you might also come across split digraphs. These are digraphs with two vowels, the second being a silent ‘e,’ but where the vowels are split apart by an intervening consonant. Take the words ‘hug’ and ‘huge,’ for example. When we add an ‘e’ to the end of ‘hug,’ we end with a big word with the split digraph ‘u-e.’ When this happens, the ‘u’ in hug becomes a long /u/ sound!

As mentioned before, English also has 3-letter graphemes to represent single phonemes. Here’s an example of a three-letter grapheme (or trigraph) and where it might appear in English:




When talking about ‘what a grapheme is in phonics?’, it’s important to look at the other end of the spectrum: four-letter graphemes. ‘Ough’ is an example of a 4-letter graphene that multiple phonemes can represent:




Choose your Reaction!