Pronunciation of the English alphabet

Why are there inconsistencies in the pronunciation of the consonants of the alphabet? For example: ‘b’ is pronounced like ‘bee’ but ‘m’ is pronounced as ’em’ rather than ‘me’. The pronunciation of ‘h’ matches nothing and ‘j’ and ‘k’ are orphaned twins.

In Turkish (the only other language I have any knowledge of), the consonants are consistently sounded as if they have an ‘e’ appended.


This is actually a very good question, and it has deep roots. Like many things, it goes back to Latin, which had very regular rules for naming its letters. English inherited the Latin system, extended it in various ways, and applied its own sound changes, resulting in the system we have today.


All of the vowels in Latin were named with their long vowel sound. The vowels in English do the same, though the long vowels have gone through the Great Vowel Shift. This covers:

  • A
  • E
  • I
  • O
  • U


Sounds that were stops in Latin are pronounced with the stop sound followed by [e:]. The vowel sound has shifted to [i:] in English.

  • B
  • C — Note that this was [k] in Latin, but is now [s] in English, due to French which had a k > s sound change
  • D
  • G
  • P
  • T
  • V — Was not distinguished from U in Latin. It’s not clear why it was added to this group.

Sonorants and fricatives

Sounds that were sonorants or fricatives in Latin were pronounced with [e] followed by the sound.

  • F
  • L
  • M
  • N
  • R — The vowel has changed here due to a sound change in English
  • S
  • X — An exception, added to this group because Latin didn’t allow x at the beginning of a word


  • H — See other answers for the history of this sound
  • J — Didn’t exist in Latin. The name came to English by way of French, where it was something like “jah” [dʒa:], which English sound changes turned into the modern “jay”
  • K — Was [ka:] in Latin, from Greek kappa, which English sound changes again changed into the “kay” that we say today
  • Q — Was [ku:] in Latin, mostly unchanged today
  • W — A “double-u”, obviously. Didn’t exist in Latin.
  • Y — Quoting Wikipedia: Old English borrowed Latin Y to write the native Old English sound /y/. When the letter came to be analyzed as a V atop an I (First Grammatical Treatise), it was renamed VI (/u: i:/), which was simplified to one syllable (/wi:/), and by the Great Vowel Shift became Modern English ‘wy’.
  • Z — Existed in Latin only in borrowings from Greek. Originally [zed], from Greek zeta, but changed to [zi:] (“zee”) in American English.

Source : Link , Question Author : dave , Answer Author : JSBձոգչ

Leave a Comment