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Unique Letter Combinations & Situations

Working on Special Sounds

These unique sounds are usually best brought up and taught when a student runs into a word with such a sound and asks about it.  Students often like if you can provide a reason (for example most silent letters are from ancient Greeks who also gave us much of our scientific words, and the French gave us the soft sounds for the c and g).  Most importantly though, is to provide more words that fit the pattern so the pattern can be learned.  It is helpful to have students highlight the targeted sound to train their brains to recognize and identify the letter combination automatically.  The following explanations and links will help with this.

QU: q is always followed by u

Story: Since the queen broke her leg, the u carries her around in a wheelbarrow.  When the u is carrying the queen around it can’t do anything else (like make a sound or help another vowel) so qu is treated as a single consonant.
qu Word List with help reading look-alike words quite, quit, and quiet.

2 sounds of C: c says /k/ or /s/

The letter c says the /k/ sound.  However, when it is followed by an e, i, or y it says the /s/ sound.  (Examples: city, cycle and cent).  We can thank the French for this softening of the c sound.
2 sounds of c poster
Beginning 2 sounds of c word list
2 sounds of c word lists by sound
2 sounds of c sentences
2 sounds of c advanced list
Soft c word game Ice is Nice
2 sounds of c word game Fancy Stars
Soft c small book At The Circus horizontal and foldable formats
Soft c small book Bruce and Nancy Miss the Dance horizontal format

2 Sounds of G: g says /g/ or /j/

The letter g says the /g/ sound.  However, when it is followed by an e, i, or y it usually says the /j/ sound.  (Examples: giant, gym and gentle).  We can thank the French for this softening of the g sound.
2 sounds of g poster
Beginning 2 sounds for g word list
2 sounds of g word list and story
2 sounds of g wordlist by sound
Soft g sound word game Gentle Giraffe
Soft g drawing activity George the Gigantic Gorilla

3 sounds of S: s says /s/, /z/ and rarely /sh/

The most common reason s is pronounced /z/ is that it follows a voiced letter. (A voiced letter uses your voice box like the the sounds /m/, /l/, and /r/. (An unvoiced letter does not use the voice box like the letters /p/, /t/, and /f/). S rarely says /sh/.
PowerPoint for S says /s/ and /z/ (Remember to download as PPTX for correct formatting and animations)
S has 3 sounds

3 sounds of GH: gh says /g/, /f/, or /-/ (is silent)

gh is pronounced:
/g/ as in ghost at the beginning of syllables (and words).
/f/ as in laugh or /-/ as in plough in the middle or end of syllables (and words).
(*gh used to be pronounced like the end (the ch) of the word “blech,” a back of the throat fricative. Though this sound is still found in German, English gradually moved away from this difficult sound. In Italian gh is pronounced /g/ hence unchanged Italian words like spaghetti and ghetto continue to be spelled with gh.)
gh has 3 sounds

Y at the end of words

Y says long i at the end of one syllable words (try), long e at the end of multiple syllable words (bunny).
-y Teaching Video also on the Open & Closed Syllable page
-y poster series
-y Says Long i at the End of One Syllable Words
-y Says Long e at the End of Multiple Syllable Words
See Open and Closed syllables page for more

-NG, -NK sounds:

The /n/ sound moves to the back of your mouth when paired with g and k. Ng is pronounced /ŋ/ as in the last sound in king. Nk is two sounds, /ŋ/ /k/ as in bank. Watch for the long vowel cheater chunks -ang and -ank.
-ng Word List
-nk Word List

sound of -ng including cheater chunk -ang
sound of -nk including cheater chunk -ank


Use -dge after a short vowel. Since we do not end words in j, we need to use the soft sound of g, spelled ge to make the /j/ sound at the end of a word. In order to keep the e away from a short vowel, a d is added instead of doubling the letter. (If the g was doubled, the first g would say the /g/ sound since it is followed by another g.)
-dge word and phrase list.


Use -tch after a short vowel. Exceptions: much, such, rich, detach/attach, sandwich, spinach, ostrich.
-tch word and phrase list

KN says /k/:

Up until the 1500’s we pronounced the k in kn words like knee and knife. Apparently it is just too hard for us to do that anymore!
kn Word List with endings.  (This is a great list to use to reinforce what various endings mean and how they are asses to words.  Also this helps student learn to recognize the base word.)

PH says /f/ as in phone:

We can thank the Greeks for this letter combination.
ph Word List

Diagraphs- GN, KN, PH, WR, MB, MN

kn, gn, ph, wr, -mb words and phrases list A Gnome Knows
gn, -mb words game Gnome and Lamb
kn, wr, ph words, phrases game A Wren on the Phone
gn kn ph wr mb mn activity Draw a Gnome
gn, kn, ph, wr, -mb, -mn CHALLENGE words Gnarl on the Phone
gn kn ph wr mb mn Mixed CHALLENGE Phrase List Phillip ate a Crumb of Cake

TR not chr

Students often hear /tr/ as /chr/ in words like trip and tree.  It is easy to know how this sound is spelled because it is always tr.   When a word is actually spelled with a chr, it is pronounced as /kr/ as is chrome, chronicle and chrysalis.
tr, (not chr) wordlist to help reinforce that that sound at the beginning of train and truck is /tr/.

OUGHT says /awt/

ought wordlist

X or CKS?

Max vs. chicks.  Learn when we use a letter x to spell the sound /cks/ and when we use the letters cks.

Why is there an e at the end of this word?

Why is there an e at the end of this word? These are a many of the reasons that explain the e at the end of words like horse, nerve, dodge etc.


Sometimes we shove 2 words together and use an an apostrophe to show where we took out the letter(s). “Is not” can also be “isn’t.”
Bundle: Contractions Lesson and 4 Games
Contractions PowerPoint
Contractions flashcards: Match the contraction to the words spelled out.

Watch for voiced and unvoiced letter pairs.

To pronounce each letter in a pair the mouth position is exactly the same, but the vocal cords in the voice box are activated (voiced) for one letter, and the other letter is a breath sound (unvoiced).  Put your fingers on the front of your throat to feel when the vocal cords are activated.  These are easy letters to mix up!
These pairs include:
b and p
d and t
g and k
v and f
z and s
th (the) and th (thin)

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