23: The /p/ and /b/ in English

Pronounce /p/ and /b/ correctly and compare them with the consonants /f/ and /v/.


Hi everyone. Welcome to this week's Seattle Learning Academy American English Pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is podcast number 23. I hope you found last week's review podcast helpful. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of things that we learned about a while ago.

Today we are going to learn about two more consonant stops, the b sound and p sound. Way back in episode 2, I taught about the t sound and d sound. I reviewed them a bit when I talked about the -ed endings in episode 19. The t sound and d sound are called stops because at use some part of our vocal tract to stop all the air from leaving our vocal tract for a very short period of time, then we let it go with a little puff of air. The b sound and p sound are also stops.

To create these sounds, we use our lips to stop the air, and then we push the lips apart again with a puff of air. The b sound is voiced, and the p sound isn't, making them a voiced/unvoiced pair. Remember, some of our sounds use our vocal cords, and some do not. Different languages of the world have different sounds that are voiced or unvoiced. The b sound uses our voice, the p sound doesn't. Listen to the difference: b sound (b sound) p sound (p sound).

Another small difference between these sounds is that the p sound has more of a puff of air during its sound than the b sound does. Listen to both sounds: (b sound, p sound). This is true of all of our stop sounds; there is more of a puff of air during the unvoiced stops than the voiced stops.

Most students learn that they have a problem saying stop sounds when they are spelling something and a native speakers hears them incorrectly. If you are misheard when saying the letter "p", it is probably because you aren't giving the sound enough puff of air between the b sound and the long e sound at the end of the letter name. Listen to me say the letters: "B" "P". Now listen to me saying the letters "T" and "D": "T", "D". Pay close attention to the puff of air.

Listen to some minimal pairs between the b sound and p sound. Repeat each pair after me.


bath, path
bull, pull
buy, pie
bride, pride
robe, rope


Another problem that I hear Spanish, Japanese, and Korean speakers make is mispronunciation of the b sound by pressing the bottom lip too close the top teeth, which causes a vibration. A native English speaker will hear that as a v sound, and may misunderstand you.

Practice these minimal pairs, and make sure the b sound is created by pressing the lips together, and pushing them open with the air. A small puff of air will help create the sound. The v sound is a fricative, and the sound is caused the friction of air moving out of the mouth between the lower lip and the upper teeth. The air comes out smoothly, and not in a puff for the v sound. Listen to me compare the b sound and v sound: b sound (b sound), v sound (v sound).

Listen to some minimal pairs between the b sound and v sound. Repeat each pair after me.


bent, vent
boat, vote
curb, curve
bail, veil
best, vest


So, if you can remember those two things about the b sound and p sound, native speakers will be able to understand you much better. Make sure to let out a little puff of air with the p sound, and make sure your b sound does not vibrate against your teeth, or it will be perceived as a v sound.

I'll have a link to the word list practice for the b sound, p sound, and v sound along with the transcripts for this episode. You can find free word lists and transcripts at www.pronuncian.com. If you haven't heard yet, you can now buy MP3 files of all the sound lists, so you can easily put sound practice on your iPod and be able to practice even when you don't have an Internet connection. You get 4 and a half hours of audio practice for just $10US. And you also get PDF files of the lists, so you can easily print the lists you want to practice.

As always, I would love to hear from you! If you'd like to send me comments or suggestions, please email me at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com. I do tailor these podcasts to the listeners, and you can thank Pedro in Madrid, Spain for the special attention to the b sound and v sound in this podcast. Tell me what you'd like to make sure I cover, and I'll add it to a podcast as soon as I can!

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Thanks for listening everyone!