Phonics glossary

There are many technical terms which are used in phonics. It can sometimes seem that parents and teachers are not talking the same language, and confusion can result. Here is an explanation of the most commonly used phonics words.

TermMeaning
Adjacent consonantsTwo or three consonants next to each other that represent different sounds. For example, bl in black. Notice here that bl makes the two different sounds b and l, whereas ck makes the single sound ck
BlendingBlending involves merging the sounds in a word together in order to pronounce it. This is important for reading. For example, j-a-m blended together reads the word jam
ConsonantThe letters of the alphabet (apart from the vowels aeio and u). 
Consonant digraphA digraph that is made up of two consonants (sh in shop).
CVC wordsA consonant-vowel-consonant word, such as catpin or top.
CCVC wordsConsonant-consonant-vowel-consonant words such as clap and from.
CVCC wordsConsonant-vowel-consonant-consonant words such as mask and belt.
DigraphA grapheme made up of two letters that makes one sound (sh in shop).
GraphemeGraphemes are the written representation of sounds. A grapheme may be one letter (f), two letters (ir), three letters (igh) or four letters in length (ough).
Grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs)Knowing your GPCs means being able to hear a phoneme and knowing what grapheme to use to represent it. This is helpful for spelling.
It also means seeing a grapheme and knowing the phoneme that relates to it, which is important for reading. 
PhonemePhonemes are the smallest unit of speech-sounds which make up a word. If you change a phoneme in a word, you would change its meaning. For example, there are three phonemes in the word sit /s/-/i/-/t/. If you change the phoneme /s/ for /f/, you have a new word, fit. If you change the phoneme /t/ in fit for a /sh/, you have a new word, fish – /f/-/i/-/sh/. There are around 44 phonemes in English and they are represented by graphemes in writing.
SegmentingSegmenting involves breaking up a word that you hear into its sounds. This helps with spelling because if you know what graphemes represent the sounds in the word, you can write it! For example, the word jam is segmented into the sounds j-a-m
Split digraphA digraph that is split between a consonant (a-e in make). A split digraph usually changes the sound of the first vowel. For example, compare the pronunciation between man and made.
Tricky wordsWords that are commonly used in English, but they have spelling patterns which make them difficult to read and write using introductory phonic knowledge. For example, saidof and was
TrigraphA grapheme made up of three letters that makes one sound (igh in high).
VowelThe letters aeio and u.