I am in the process of digging into phonemes as a way to help teach our son to read. I don't remember ever having formal instruction on the role of phonemes in speech, and I am actually having a lot of fun learning. I have been practicing myself based on this list of the 44 phonemes in the english language: Phonics Guide.

But I'm stuck on something: I think the word queen should have four phonemes:

/k/ /w/ /ee/ /n/

I think the phonetic script backs me up:


Looking it up, though, I am getting mixed signals:

This source has three phonemes: http://www.fcrr.org/curriculum/PDF/G2-3/2-3PA_2.pdf, but I'm also seeing sources reference four phonemes.

  • 1
    Personally I think your correct in assuming that it's four phonemes. A good way to tell how many phonemes are in a word, is to look in a mirror and count how many times your mouth changes shape. Pretty weird but it does work.
    – Tarius
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:13
  • The best way is to see the word in the dictionary with pronunciation in IPA.
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 5:45
  • I had not thought about this before. (The number of phonemes in "queen"). I would have said 4. /kwin/ Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


Phonemically, the consonant cluster at the start of queen is usually analysed as two successive phonemes, a stop and a glide (or semivowel), so as /kw/ not as the labialized /kʷ/.

Phonetically it may in fact be [kʰʷ]in some speakers, but this is not a phonemic distinction, only an allophone.

That means the phonemes of queen are /kwin/. Compare twin /twɪn/ in which we again have four not three phonemes.

  • 1
    Or quick /kwɪk/, with the same initial cluster. /kw/ is a consonant cluster in English, not a phoneme the way /kʷ/ is in Latin or Skagit. Of course, since the lips and the tongue are independent articulators, the velar /k/ part and the labial /w/ part can overlap in either direction, so [kʷ] is entirely possible and probly quite common in some people's speech. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 21:43
  • Thank you for the detailed answers! This site is great!
    – Will Liska
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:16

My son went to a Montessori school from pre-school through 2nd grade. They worked on phonemes -- they were required to say their names as phonemes, so my son was d/e/v/i/n. While I think a certain amount of phonemics can be used, it's also an extremely limited way to teach reading. The best approach is a combination of both approaches, phonics and whole language. Here's an article that explains it: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr029.shtml.

At the same time as you are using phonics in a playful manner, you should be reading to your child, as many authentic texts as you can, perhaps sounding out the occasional word. That will be the most effective way to teach your child to read.

  • I wholeheartedly agree. We have been reading authentic texts to him since the beginning and somewhat recently have started sounding out words while pointing to the different parts. I also want him to be versed in phonemes to better understand what makes up a word.
    – Will Liska
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:18
  • @WillLiska Do you have any list of authentic texts you recommend? Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 23:26

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