Voiced & Voiceless Sounds in American English

The Voiced & Voiceless Sounds

Every week I receive questions about the importance of voiced and voiceless sounds in American English pronunciation.

There are several reasons why it’s important to pronounce these sounds correctly.

Lengthen the Vowel Sound Before Voiced Consonants

One of these reasons is that vowel sounds that come before voiced consonants have a long, stretched out sound→

Example One

To illustrate this let’s look at the words bed & bet.

American English speakers lengthen the /ɛ/sound in the word bed.  They do this because /d/ is a voiced consonant sound.

When American English speakers say the word bet the sound of the /ɛ/ is short in length. That’s because the /t/ is a voiceless consonant sound.

So you would say; “I bɛt he didn’t make his bɛ→d this morning!”

Example Two

Here is another example using the words prize & price.

When American English speakers say the word prize they lengthen the vowel because the /z/ is a voiced sound.

  • pri→ze

When American English speakers say the word price the vowel is short in length because the /s/ is a voiceless sound.

So you would say; ” The price of that pri→ze was expensive.”


Vowels that occur before voiced consonants are longer in duration than vowels before voiceless consonants.

American listeners will hear the difference!

This is just one reason why you need to understand how voiced and voiceless sounds effect your American English pronunciation.

University of Iowa Phonetics

The University of Iowa Phonetics features excellent interactive diagrams of all the American vowel & consonant sounds.

The diagrams show you which sounds are voiced & which sounds are voiceless.

Have fun with this!