While reading about diphthongs in a different question today, I noticed that while the word "diphthong" doesn't seem to contain any actual diphthongs, it does contain 3 sets of consonant groupings.

When I was younger, I used to think consonant groupings actually were called diphthongs. I know now that I was mistaken, but I do wonder - is there a single word that describes consonant groupings?

After doing some searching on Google, Wikipedia and this site, I'm unable to find a definitive answer besides "consonant cluster" or "consecutive consonant". Those terms may be the only accurate ones available, but I would be mildly disappointed.

  • They are also known as blends, which would satisfy your single word criteria, but consonant cluster seems like the term for them...
    – Kel196
    Aug 28, 2012 at 17:37
  • Are you talking about sounds, or letters? Do you mean things like affricates and coarticulated consonants?
    – tchrist
    Aug 28, 2012 at 17:58
  • 1
    Just to echo @tchrist, your question is ambiguous. Your comment about 'diphthong' suggests you're interested in digraphs, your comparison to diphthongs suggests you're interested in either coarticulated consonants, or phonemes which consist of a sequence of two consonantal targets (affricates and a few other odds and ends). Answering would be easier if you told us which it is. Aug 29, 2012 at 7:05
  • @Gaston; choster read my intentions well, as did you. I was looking for "digraphs". However, the list you just put in your comments made for some very interesting reading. Linguistics is interesting to me but I have a lot to learn about it.
    – Marcus_33
    Aug 29, 2012 at 12:13
  • OK well, in addition to digraphs there are trigraphs and tetragraphs: groups of 3 or 4 letters used to represent a single phoneme. Aug 29, 2012 at 15:28

4 Answers 4


The directly analogous term is indeed consonant cluster, a combination of consonant sounds that appear together.

It is possible that you are thinking of a digraph, which is two characters representing a single sound, rather than a blending of adjacent sounds as with a diphthong or consonant cluster. For example, the ch in church or the sh in hashish are digraphs.

  • In fact, the "ch" of "church" is in a way composed of two sounds, in that it is an affricate: it starts with a stop consonant sound [t], and releases into a fricative consonant sound [ʃ].
    – herisson
    Dec 24, 2016 at 20:33
  • 2
    If consonant clusters are like diphthongs, then what compares to vowel clusters?
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 24, 2016 at 21:21
  • @GregLee , Choster "If consonant clusters are like diphthongs, then what compares to vowel clusters?" <-- Exactly so. The analagous term to diphthong is presumably affricate. Feb 6, 2017 at 17:50
  • But an affricate is only a stop plus a fricative; there are many other ways consonants can occur together, e.g. at the start of words two stops together (common in Greek), or a stop plus a nasal (in many Germanic languages), or syllables with syllabic /r/, /l/, /n/, /m/. There are also consonants with two places of articulation, which could be considered as two consonants together (English labial-velar /w/ for instance).
    – Stuart F
    Jan 8 at 12:48

The technical term is simply "consonant cluster" or "consonant blend". As spoken, they are part of the general class of "phonemes" (especially "digraphs", groups that indicate a non-transitive mouth position, such as "th").

Many phonetic alphabets have specific characters for phonemes that we use consonant clusters for; for instance, the Greek "theta" is a single character that Romanizes to "th". Norse runic lanuages had the "thorn" character, with much the same purpose. The Russian character ш is pronounced similarly to "sh" as in "show". By contrast, the Japanese alphabet is made up primarily of consonant-vowel pairs, and the only "consonant clusters" seen in Romanized spellings involve "n", which is the only consonant sound that exists unpaired in gana/kana (it also exists paired).

  • 1
    No, things like th require only one IPA character. They are not two different consonant sounds.
    – tchrist
    Aug 28, 2012 at 17:54
  • Where exactly did I say different? Please remove the downvote.
    – KeithS
    Aug 28, 2012 at 18:01
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    In English, 'th' is a digraph and not a consonant cluster. In English, 'th' is phonemically a single consonant, even though we spell it with two letters. I believe 'ts' in Japanese is a better example for the single phoneme–consonant cluster dichotomy. Aug 28, 2012 at 18:07
  • Actually the only occurrence of the sound "ts" is in the single character "tsu"; neither "t" nor "s" sounds exist by themselves. Where you might hear "ts" (or other consonants) pronounced without a trailing vowel is in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word ending in "u"; the "u" of such a syllable is whispered or simply dropped.
    – KeithS
    Aug 28, 2012 at 18:20
  • 3
    I think your answer might not have received a downvote if you had done a better job of clarifying when you mean consonant sound versus consonant letter.
    – nohat
    Aug 28, 2012 at 18:56

I read an article regarding the comparison of digraphs and diphthongs in an interesting manner. Digraphs relate to reading, whereas diphthongs relate to sound.

  • 1
    Please cite your source. Dec 24, 2016 at 21:02
  • 2
    So far, this is more of a comment than an answer.
    – Drew
    Dec 24, 2016 at 21:44

There actually are things like consonant diphthongs that occur, though most people aren't aware of them. The sound /j/ is actually a combination of the sounds /d/ and /zh/. The sound /ch/ is a combination of /t/ and /sh/. Both of these are shown this way when they are written in IPA. The letter 'x' is a combination of /k/ and /s/. Qu is a combination of /k/ and /w/. And as was mentioned above, the consonant diphthong /t/-/s/ also comes up in words like tsunami, mozzarella, and pizza.

  • That's interesting! But what are they called?
    – bobpaul
    Mar 6 at 17:29

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