Why can’t you say chmlk? What makes a vowel?

In elementary school, we all learned the vowels of the English language: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y. But what makes a vowel a vowel? Vowels and consonants are essentially two different categories of sounds that linguists use to better understand how language sounds work. The study of the sounds that human beings can produce is called phonetics. It’s a sub-speciality of linguistics.

According to phoneticians, a vowel is a speech sound that is made without constriction of the vocal tract. What does that mean? It means that when you say a vowel, the sound is not stopped by your tongue, teeth, or cheeks. Try it! When you pronounce all of the vowels, your mouth stays open, but for every consonant, your tongue hits your teeth or the top of your mouth.

The word vowel comes from originally from the Latin vox meaning voice. Consonant means “with sound” from the Latin com (with) and sonare (sound).

Every language has vowels, though some have more vowel sounds than others. Across many languages, all words have to have vowel sounds, but not all words have to have consonants. This is because the sound and volume of spoken language comes from the vowels. The consonants break up the sound that the vowels generate. That’s why it’s impossible to say a string of consonants in a row. By nature, consonants stop the air flowing through the vocal tract, which is why you can say a vowel as long as you have breath, but you can’t draw out a sound like “l” unless you break it up with more vowels, as in “lalala.” This is also why vowels sit in the middle of syllables. They give language form and rhythm.

Strings of consonants sound like parts of words in English. Think of the phrases, “hmm” or “hmph.” They are not complete words, even though they do have some meaning. Without any vowels in languages, we would be left with meaningless consonant strings. Although some languages, like Polish, can have as many as five consonants in a row, in English, we’re typically restricted to three, like str in strict.

Vowels and consonants are oversimplified categories, of course—sounds are in reality more complicated than that. Take sounds like “s” or “z,” which don’t need to be broken up by vowels to continue. Are they vowels or consonants? You can say “z” forever. It’s the onomatopoetic sound of bees buzzing, to give just one example. These sounds are a subcategory of consonants called fricatives, made by pushing air through a very small space in your mouth. And what about y? Y is an example of a semivowel. Learn more about the history of the 25th letter of the alphabet here.

English is a complicated language. What other facets of the English language stump you?

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  3. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 26, 2013 - 4:16 am

    I can actually draw out the ‘l’ sound.

    Polish, Dutch, and German need more vowels. I can hardly pronounce them whenever I come across them. (Not that I see them much – I came from America to an Arabic-speaking country. Although, Arabic is awfully hard to say too, but not from lack of vowels. They add some weird extra sounds. It sounds like they’re choking, if you ask me.)

  4. The teacher -  October 26, 2013 - 1:14 pm

    Vowels A – Z.
    Time to read my boring books that NO ONE likes

  5. Scrabble words with all consonants -  April 15, 2013 - 12:25 am

    We can definitely call something a word if it has no vowels. It would be possible to define something as “English word” stating that because there’s no word in English that has vowels we can state that word must have at least one vowel, but it would be too artificial.

  6. Nathan Butler -  March 14, 2013 - 3:58 am

    For some extra help on pronouncing a string of consonants, imagine that you’re a character in a novel. Your character sneezed and that string is what came out of his/her mouth. Now try saying it, minus the sneezing part. Or if you may, bless you.

  7. miss fab -  May 19, 2012 - 6:17 am

    Also w is a vowel there are several english words use it that way cwth, cwr, cwn

  8. OnceInABlueMoon -  April 12, 2012 - 4:44 pm

    Jorge, the second comment down, k is used with your tongue. The very back of your tongue touches the top of your mouth right next to your throat.

  9. Anonymous -  November 20, 2011 - 1:14 pm

    In regard to the “ch” sound, this also has its own glyph (the Cyrillic alphabet is a good example of this, in which ch, sh, ts, shch, among others are given their own glyphs).

  10. Anonymous -  November 20, 2011 - 1:07 pm

    The first sentence of my previous post should read “each contain” or “both contain”, rather than “each contains”.

  11. Anonymous -  November 20, 2011 - 1:06 pm

    Although it is clear that words like “rythms” and “strengths” (although having 4 and 5 consecutive written consonants, respectively) each contains 3 consecutive consonant sounds:
    rythms: “ry”, followed by the single sound “th”, followed by “m”, then a “s”. In fact, this could be written in an earlier form of English with a single letter for the “th” used.
    strengths: “s”, then “tr”, then “eng”, then “th”, then “s”. The “ng” could be written with a single glyph, as with the “th”.
    In both cases, when the letter combinations that could be replaced with single glyphs are replaced as such, they contain only 3 written consonants.

  12. cess -  November 10, 2011 - 3:20 pm

    If you speak Spanish correctly, “z”, “s”, and “c” do not make the same sound. Ever heard a person from Spain talk? That is why in the Spanish alphabet it is a,b,c,ch,d, etc ..

  13. Tammy D -  October 31, 2011 - 7:39 pm

    Okay, to say you can’t draw out consonants is stupid. You can say L and F and M and N and Z for as long as you have breath.

  14. kay gee -  October 29, 2011 - 10:21 pm


    Vwls on October 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm
    w dnt nd vwls nymr. vwls r stpd. why dnt w jst gt rd f thm?

  15. Julie, J.A.B.'s Freelance World -  October 26, 2011 - 10:41 pm

    I was actually thinking the other day about vowels and consonants. I was just all of the sudden amazed, and I think it is a huge mystery to me, how they even decide and designate what is going to be a vowel and what is going to be a consonant. The very creation of a language as well as it’s alphabet just fascinates me and baffles me all at the same time. It gives me a reason to keep studying, that’s for sure!

  16. Vwls -  October 26, 2011 - 10:34 pm

    w dnt nd vwls nymr. vwls r stpd. why dnt w jst gt rd f thm?

  17. Grace -  October 26, 2011 - 4:15 pm

    Thats super cool! I did not know that! Why is it that you can’t have a vowel after another vowel in a sentence?

  18. Jay -  October 26, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    Sorry. Should have said try to breathe through your mouth…

  19. Jay -  October 26, 2011 - 3:00 pm

    You still use your tongue when you say “K”. It’s just the back of it. Without vocalizing, start to say the letter and stop your tongue before you finish the physical movement used to formulate the sound. Try to breathe. You should find that the tongue is in the way because it is touching the back of the throat preventing air from coming in.

  20. E.A.D. -  October 25, 2011 - 9:13 pm

    Wouldn’t it be fun if there WERE words without vowels?

  21. hightailed -  October 24, 2011 - 6:39 am

    if you realy think about it, all consonants require a sudden burst of air to make sounds like ‘k’ or ‘t’. but nice thoughts out there anyway! keep on doin what you guys do! :)

  22. Dab -  October 23, 2011 - 10:48 pm

    Why has no one pointed out that R is almost IDENTICAL to I….yet I is a vowel and R is not.

    I need someone to explain this.

  23. David Jaques-Watson -  October 23, 2011 - 10:04 pm

    @Scunnerous: in phonics (e.g. Spalding), “y” is given three sounds:
    - the normal “yuh” consonant, as in “yell”;
    - the “ih” vowel, as in “Skippy”, “dummy”;
    - the “eye” vowel, as in “sky”.

    The letter “i” is also given the same last two sounds: “ih”, “eye”.

    Then you add some rules such as “i is never used at the end of a word, use y instead”.

    Unless it’s a non-English word such as “ski”. ;-)

  24. Cassie -  October 23, 2011 - 9:43 pm

    I can hold the K sound…

  25. James -  October 23, 2011 - 12:37 am

    Uh, I thought vowels were used as bridges between different sounds in the word. E.g. I can say chmlk, there in nothing impeding me from doing otherwise, but when I try saying it, it autumatically includes the sounds that normally vowels would take the place for. Why? Because words are said one unit at a time, in one breath, so to keep the single breath for the one word, during the changing of the mouth’s shape, during which time air is still being forced out, another sound is heard in between. This is what vowels funtion as and why we can write tomorrow as tmrrw and still have it sound as such, or very closely. That’s what I remember being told vowels were for.

  26. jebbiii -  October 22, 2011 - 3:02 pm

    It sure seems to me like “r” is a vowel in English some of the time. or at least intermediate between the two. The “r” sound can be used with any vowel although I think they (the man) says there is a schwa sound buried in there in between the two but it really isn’t. Like “murder” — it is pronounced mrdr with no u, e or schwa sound.

  27. Archon -  October 22, 2011 - 12:36 pm

    @ daysd

    The rule for adding suffixes says, when adding “ed” to a word ending in a consonant, double the consonant before adding the “ed”.
    Twelve million lazy/illiterate/both people don’t bother, and suddenly it’s acceptable.
    Cancelled is correct. Canceled is tolerated

  28. daysd -  October 21, 2011 - 8:44 am

    This is unrelated, but could you discuss the use of one or two l’s in the word cancelled/canceled, and why both are used? Thanks!

  29. Rebekah -  October 21, 2011 - 8:02 am

    @ Maria Eduarda: Ch. Nothing else makes the “ch” sound.

  30. my new name is Adam -  October 21, 2011 - 2:31 am

    Tony the Tiger’s description of Frosties had plenty of consecutive consonants

  31. Mojo -  October 21, 2011 - 12:09 am

    the “K” sound is made by the tongue hitting the roof of your mouth, the back of the tongue is part of the tongue.

  32. Hayley -  October 20, 2011 - 8:35 pm

    wow I learn more stuff everyday!!!

  33. toot -  October 20, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    Rita, I stand corrected. You are right and I’m wrong. T and d are indeed classified as “occlusives.” You go to the head of the class.

  34. toot -  October 20, 2011 - 2:00 pm

    Rita, t and d are not stops. English has only five glottal stops: c (hard), g (hard), k, q and x. There are no hard pronunciations for the letters d or t.


    • lindsey -  February 17, 2015 - 11:26 am

      The only reason a W would ever be considered a vowel is if it makes a vowel sound. Same with Y.

  35. Vikhaari -  October 20, 2011 - 11:31 am

    2 pronounce K it looks the middle tongue and back of palate touch though momentarily.
    B, P, and F need no touching, between teeth, palate, lips or such. So is with M too perhaps, but W… too! Can it be true? Here it appears front tongue touches front palate, and then lips meet with each other to produce this letter. Now H looks like having two components: at the beginning and-h ends the process of pronunciation. R on the other hand is under the control of tongue from its back and then coming to the front.
    Then again not being an English speaker, I know nothing about English, perhaps, so kindly forgive any mistake.
    Thank you. And yes again a very interesting and informative article.
    Finally, this must be noted that I have become a regular contributor to this wonderful Hotword blog and I try my very best to write something. Now I notice that it said I have written two weeks before. It is not true. Someone or a group/body, a third party, is doing something to my blog to prevent and thereby not allowing it to be published. Last I contributed to “Brain computing lang” and before “…the berries?” ….

  36. Scunnerous -  October 20, 2011 - 11:04 am

    We really need to reclassify the vowels to include “y”.

  37. Heyy -  October 20, 2011 - 10:57 am


  38. Heyy -  October 20, 2011 - 10:56 am

    Cool, so much to learn. Absoluytely Brilliant feel like a geek!

  39. pancho -  October 20, 2011 - 10:24 am


  40. Dogstar -  October 20, 2011 - 8:49 am

    “R” is a vowel in some Slavic languages, such as Czech. (And evidently Chinese, thanx leza) English uses “W” as a vowel on rare occasion, such as “cwm”. (W was originally written as “UU”, hence the name) Celtic languages, such as Welsh, the origin of “cwm” use it as a vowel all the time. For Maria, a lot of the weird spellings in English stem from the long ago pronunciation, which has now changed. Door used to be pronounced the way it is in German, which rhymes with “sure”.

    Well, I am Czech and I am more than certain that “R” is NEVER a vowel in my mother tongue, I do not understand where some people get their ideas…. “R” as a vowel in Czech, really????

  41. Beautiful and interesting « Alison Geldart -  October 20, 2011 - 8:46 am

    [...] This dictionary.com blog post (thanks Stella) explores vowels and consonants, and their phonetic reasons for being. Vowels allow the air to flow through the throat and mouth freely; consonants stop the voice to make the appropriate sound. [...]

  42. Mike D. -  October 20, 2011 - 7:50 am

    @jorge It’s actually the back of your tongue-you just don’t realize it. But interesting article.

  43. John -  October 20, 2011 - 7:20 am

    I’ve heard it said that English is one of the most confusing and difficult languages to learn. After reading this article, along with others on the site, it just makes me more proud just because I am able to speak it. I’ve also heard it said that (besides maybe mandarine) that English is considered more of an art in some aspects than a way of communication. I’m inclined to agree.

  44. Emily -  October 20, 2011 - 6:13 am

    I think yall are just haters.

  45. Kaytee -  October 20, 2011 - 6:08 am

    I have difficulty with German… Sometimes they have 4 consonants >_< and "rdt" are so hard to pronounce!

    Also, the "y" is sometimes pronounced "u" in German. I have found that German can also be very inconsistent although I agree that English is king. My mother tongue is French and I find myself struggling with pronunciation and where exactly to put my emphasis.

    I also just noticed… on a slightly separate note… Why do we say "pronounce", but we write "pronunciation"?? Isn't it a bit inconsistent?

  46. G Callen -  October 20, 2011 - 5:45 am

    What if you are a ventriloquist; does the entire phonetic power equation of the English vocabulary change? Interesting thread, but being a vernacular homicide person of interest, I suggest as someone stated previously; English is an amalgamation of many languages. As such it has metamorphasized into what we call English here in America. I am confident that the British would have a completely different and compelling thought on this. Same as if you wish to learn to speak Spanish; I would conjecture that one could only do so I’n purest form learn Spanish in Costa Rica. Why?; because all other forms of Spanish have been bastardized much the same as English I’n America. Any of you “home-ies” agree?

  47. janey -  October 20, 2011 - 3:27 am

    I think that English is harder to learn than a lot of languages because you can emphasise different words in a sentence and can convey a different meaning each time, so you need a feel for the language to understand it.

    Think of the sentence “What is this thing called love”

    By emphasising each word (done here with punctuation), you get a different meaning from:

    “What, is this thing called love?” (meaning: so this is the state of being in love, is it?)

    down to

    “What is this thing called, love?” (meaning: I’ve found something, my sweet and I’d like you to tell me its name).

    You can’t do this in French for example. You’d need a new phrase for each of the different meanings.

  48. Jorge -  October 20, 2011 - 2:57 am

    Sorry, I made a mistake. I meant to say F, not K. Oh well , it happens…

  49. Cyberquill -  October 20, 2011 - 2:24 am

    To say “chmlk” is actually pretty easy, given the fricatives “m” and “l.” But try and say “chtpk.

  50. shakir -  October 20, 2011 - 12:30 am


  51. Hayley -  October 20, 2011 - 12:26 am

    Wow… Really interesting… But shouldn’t K and Y also be a vowel? I don’t get this a lot… :(

  52. Isabella -  October 19, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    But anyway I really like the article :P

  53. Isabella -  October 19, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    Oh, oh, oh! And am I the only one that can say ‘chmlk’? It comes out a little funny and squashed, but you can still say it?

  54. Isabella -  October 19, 2011 - 11:11 pm

    Oh and what about the letter ‘R’? That doesn’t stop the flow of air whatsoever? And for people saying “what about ‘Z’?” Well, if you say it properly, like we do in the UK and in Australia, you would pronounce it “zed”.

  55. Isabella -  October 19, 2011 - 11:06 pm

    @jorge Um… you can’t say ‘K’ without your tongue coming into contact with the roof of your mouth. The sound that controls the sound ‘K’ is the back of your tongue on the back of the roof of your mouth…

    Just thought I’d correct you because I’m a bit of a smart-ass ^.^

  56. Ty -  October 19, 2011 - 11:04 pm

    From Blake:

    “The sound of English “l” *can* be drawn out as long as one has breath. So can many other consonantal sounds (such as “s” and “z”). It’s only the stops/plosives that cannot be continued. This article is not correct.”

    Correct! On the …tip of my tongue, I can say “L”, “N”, “R” continuously…

  57. Ryan -  October 19, 2011 - 9:11 pm

    for even better consonant strings than in Polish, see Georgian.

  58. Kathleen -  October 19, 2011 - 8:16 pm

    chmlk? CHUH-MILK. hehe. jk. Weird and interesting…

  59. Mark -  October 19, 2011 - 7:48 pm

    You can pronounce k because it is spelled kay

  60. Katharine -  October 19, 2011 - 7:20 pm

    You said you can’t draw out the L sound, but you can. There are plenty of consonants you can drag out. Ones without full vocal stops.

  61. Coolerthanyou -  October 19, 2011 - 7:18 pm

    First off, no one gives a heck about the gosh darn alphabet, get a life you mega geeks. Leaving the vowels and constonants to the phoneticans. Secondly, you guys are a failure. It says Y is the 25th letter.

  62. TP973 -  October 19, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    @ Im not telling: The reason you can say “pwn” is because it is pronounced as “pown”; therefore, the w acts as a vowel, and can be pronounced.

    @ raghunath sahan: “Rhythms” is pronounced like “rithims”; in this case, the y and h act as vowels, and can also be pronounced.

  63. Za Awesomess -  October 19, 2011 - 6:41 pm

    sýr lupínky that’s cheese crisps in Czech

  64. Someone -  October 19, 2011 - 6:33 pm

    Actually, there are a couple words that don’t have vowels. They have y’s. “Gypsy” and “hymn” and “myth” and the most commonly used one, “why” are examples of these words.

  65. Za Awesomess -  October 19, 2011 - 6:32 pm

    Well… that’s really interesting to hear that and to think it was possible to say a bunch of consonants in one word but it really is not.

  66. David Jaques-Watson -  October 19, 2011 - 6:24 pm

    I’m often stumped by people’s names. You can use phonics rules (e.g. Spalding) for most things, but you almost have to throw away the rulebook for many historical names, for modern (pretentious? ;-) variants of previously normal names, and for non-English names that have been Anglicised.

    Examples include Cholmondeley (“chumly”) and Grosvenor (“grow-ven-or”), variants of Rachel (Raychul, Raychelle, Raechell, Rachell), and the Czech Trnka (“tring-ka” but swallowing the “i” is the closest I can come to it).

  67. TETO -  October 19, 2011 - 5:48 pm


  68. rwlyply -  October 19, 2011 - 5:43 pm

    What about “h”? It doesn’t seem to fit the definition of a consonant or a fricative.

  69. ThE TrOlL -  October 19, 2011 - 3:35 pm

    @ Adam
    Well actually, in Welsh, w sometimes acts as a vowel, making a “oo” sound, as in “swoon”.
    That’s probably where that stems from.

    Or does it…..?………. ??
    ? ?
    ? ? ?



  70. Kat Slatery -  October 19, 2011 - 2:39 pm

    in shorthand w can be a vowel, but shorthand is not considered its own language.

  71. Benjamin -  October 19, 2011 - 1:56 pm

    I believe chmlk is pronounced “Sh-milk” like shmilk. LOL

  72. qunforpun -  October 19, 2011 - 1:50 pm

    this is cool. But k? Tongue has to touch bottom of mouth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  73. sherryyu -  October 19, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    oh coool ive never learned that

  74. Socrates -  October 19, 2011 - 11:44 am

    “chmlk”, isn’t that Jiddish like “schlemiel”?

  75. Doug -  October 19, 2011 - 11:28 am

    Oops…hadn’t read all the comments yet.

    ver, that’s a way better sentence than mine…at least it means something.

    czech: never seen this. Need to do some dictionary work here (since my vocabulary’s pretty weak), but this is hilarious. Thanks.

  76. Doug -  October 19, 2011 - 11:11 am

    Every Czech knows how to pronounce chmlk.

    They’re very proud of their sentence: strč prst skrz krk. It’s not a very useful sort of sentence (stick your finger through your throat), but it’s certainly vowel-less…

    …or it appears that way. In Czech, l and r can be vowels. Notice that each of these words contains r. But they also have words like vlk .

    (If that didn’t come out right, the fourth letter is c with a tiny v over it, making its pronunciation like that of the English ch in church.)
    As to the comment about the possibility of 5 consonants being stacked up in Polish, I’d have to think about this, but I doubt it. For example, Pszczyna is a town in southern Poland, and no Pole would think twice about all those consonants in a row…but although it looks like five, it represents only 3 sounds: sz and cz are digraphs, sounding similar to the English sh and ch in shoe and chew, also digraphs, btw. Offhand I can’t think of any Polish words that have 5 consonant *sounds* in a row.

  77. God is like santa -  October 19, 2011 - 10:27 am


  78. God is like santa -  October 19, 2011 - 10:22 am

    Lol hello

  79. Adam -  October 19, 2011 - 10:05 am


    Well actually, in Welsh, w sometimes acts as a vowel, making a “oo” sound, as in “swoon”.
    That’s probably where that stems from.

  80. Linguist -  October 19, 2011 - 10:01 am

    Not *entirely* true. Some consonants stop the flow of air, such as t, d, p, b, etc. The actual term for these sounds are “stops.” Then you have “fricative consonants” (see wiki if you want more info) that restrict the flow of air, but do not actually stop it. S, z, f, v, etc. are fricatives. L and R are special consonants I won’t go into, but you can hold those too for as long as you have air in your lungs.

    The article is very cursory and over-simplified. Take it with a grain of salt.

  81. Malik -  October 19, 2011 - 8:58 am

    I never hear of “W” being a vowel. You’re right about no “W vowel word,” because “W” is simply not a vowel.

  82. fdfdhg -  October 19, 2011 - 8:51 am

    Get A Life People!!!!

  83. B -  October 19, 2011 - 8:46 am

    W is used as a vowel in the word cwm (pronounced koom) which means “a steep hollow at the upper end of a mountain valley”. By the way, great for scrabble.

  84. Jen -  October 19, 2011 - 8:15 am

    “W” isn’t a vowel…………
    why would people say that? the only word that requires “Y” is “why”, and everything else includes A, E, I, O, U.
    and anyway “W” cannot be a vowel because it includes your lips. when you pronounce “W” it sounds like “wuh”.

  85. DukeMutt -  October 19, 2011 - 8:00 am

    I think “c” should only be in the alphabet, as it is in the Spanish alphabet (“che”, as “ch”. That is the only time “c” makes a unique sound that neither “k” nor “s”, when paired with “h”, can reproduce.

  86. Grace -  October 19, 2011 - 7:49 am

    You can, in fact, continue to say “l” as long as you want.
    To answer Cayl: “W” is a vowel in Welsh.
    I rather enjoy finding words in English in which the official vowels could be removed and the word would sound much the same: church, curve, ribbon…so many of our letters are fricatives or liquids. For instance, the approximant “R”, a.k.a. the American R, does not involve any touching of tongue, teeth, or palate. It’s as good as a vowel.

  87. mhood1 -  October 19, 2011 - 7:00 am

    (1) Although it’s a compound word, “catchphrase” is an English word that has six (!) consonants in a row.
    (2) In the British pronunciation of the name “Ralph”, the “L” is a vowel that functions as an “e” or an “i” – e.g. the actor Ralph Fiennes (pronounced “Rafe Fines”, not “Ralf Fee-ENN-is”) or the composer Ralph Vaughn-Williams (whose name sounds like “Rafe von Williams”)
    (3) Conversely, “U” is a consonant in the British pronunciation of “Lieutenant”, taking a hard “V” (i.e., “F”) sound (“Leftenant”).
    (4) Enough for now – I’m through, thank you!

  88. princess -  October 19, 2011 - 6:50 am

    Thank God I was born in an English speaking country!
    This does not look like Greek to me. =)

  89. john rhea -  October 19, 2011 - 6:44 am

    It seems that this entire post was dedicated to Jorge pronouncing the letter K.

    As Jorge’s attorney, I was asked by Jorge to convey his thank you. He is currently be held in jail by authorities for allegedly robbing a Krispy Kreme.

  90. David -  October 19, 2011 - 6:38 am


  91. Henry -  October 19, 2011 - 6:29 am

    There ain’t no such thing as ‘com’ in Latin. Quite sure it’s supposed to be ‘cum’, which, unlike ‘com’ does mean ‘with’.

    just saying

  92. David -  October 19, 2011 - 6:25 am

    Wow – hard to take a complicated topic like liguistic phonetics in a few paragraphs and not over simplify to the point of inaccuracy. For instance…

    Vowels acctually lend LESS meaning than consonants, particularly for native speakers and hearers. Try changing every vowel sound to one sound – let’s say the long “o” sound – can you still understand this:

    Hollo. Mo nome os Dovod, ond O rollo loke stodo’ong longuoge.

    It loses something in writing, but if it was spoke, you’d probably get it.

    Need futher proof – Written Hebrew had no vowel making originally. It was assumed that if you knew the language, you would know what vowels to say.

  93. Bob -  October 19, 2011 - 6:16 am

    There is a danish word saying “angstskrig”. It means fearful scream. 7 consonants. ;)

  94. Keith -  October 19, 2011 - 6:10 am

    “Latchstring” has six consecutive consonants… Yay compound words!

  95. Eli -  October 19, 2011 - 6:04 am

    THIS is why I want to go into linguistics. :)

  96. jfarc -  October 19, 2011 - 6:03 am

    Hip Hip, JORGE!!!!

  97. LR -  October 19, 2011 - 5:35 am

    @Maria Eduarda: The spelling of English is irregular because English is a mix of languages – and it has taken a mix of spelling rules from all of them.

    The base of contemporary English is a mix of Celtic (Brythonic, Gaelic, Irish, Welsh); Germanic (Norse, Saxon); and Romance (French; Norman). So the foundation of English comes from 3 different branches of the Indo-European tree.

    Also, English is rare in that it freely adopts words from other languages (most other languages invent new words instead). Juggernaut comes from Hindi, kowtow comes from Chinese, and skosh (meaning “a little”) comes from Japanese, cotton comes from Arabic; philosophy comes from Greek.

    Mixing all these vastly different languages together is bound to get confusing. (But if you look at Old English, you’d see the pronunciation was more uniform.)

    But that has given English the largest, most exact, and most expressive vocabulary in Human History. Not only that but – if you learn the words and their origins – the words hold the history of English itself.

  98. hewhosaysfish -  October 19, 2011 - 5:31 am


    “Cwm” is one, apparently, although I thought it was Welsh.

  99. ver -  October 19, 2011 - 5:26 am

    Why would saying ‘chmlk’ be complicated? (If you only meant that native _english_ speakers can’t do it, please say so.)

    Yeah, also I love Slovak, Polish and Czech languages.
    One of my most favourite (meaningful) Czech sentences would be “Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh.” :)

  100. ccrow -  October 19, 2011 - 5:08 am

    Bring back Þ!!

  101. Avery -  October 19, 2011 - 4:54 am

    When you play scrabble, crwths, brrr, mm, hm, and phtpht are acceptable words…

  102. Bark219 -  October 19, 2011 - 4:39 am

    Vowels are also very low in frequency, and are therefore easier for Deaf people to hear (Sensori-neural deafness is usually worse in higher frequencies). However, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the vowels (particularly the short vowels) when you have a hearing loss.

  103. Bark219 -  October 19, 2011 - 4:36 am

    The fricatives are what we singers refer to as “singable consonants”. They can be held out and can have a pitch (Just because they’re singable, however, doesn’t mean they SHOULD be sung).

    I knew a guy in our church choir who stopped his air all the way through every song. It was so weird! He was actually TRYING to sing nothing but consonants! He ended up singing ahead of every note because he wasn’t using any vowels to sustain. Totally bizarre!!!!

  104. Ollie -  October 19, 2011 - 4:23 am

    When you say the English language generally only has 3 consonants in a row, whereas Polish have up to 5, let’s not forget the word “Strengths”, I know it’s slightly perculiar, but 9 letters in a row with only one vowel deserves a little more adulation! :D

  105. crackhead -  October 19, 2011 - 4:06 am

    Okay Jorge you won this time they all tried saying K without any teeth tounge & cheeck involve are you happy now? K?

  106. VOWELS | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 19, 2011 - 3:50 am

    [...] some ‘Vowels’ or throw in the towels or shake it off and start over. — English, the language of business, [...]

  107. Erl -  October 19, 2011 - 3:39 am

    Hey what about “k” you can say it without your tongue hitting your teeth or the top of your mouth. The letter “k” is also not stopped with your tongue,teeth,or cheeks. When you pronounce “k” your mouth stays open too. Well i can do it idk. — yes it does dude, our tongue hits the upper palate and he upper molars when we pronounce “k”..

  108. John -  October 19, 2011 - 3:35 am

    “R” is a vowel in some Slavic languages, such as Czech. (And evidently Chinese, thanx leza) English uses “W” as a vowel on rare occasion, such as “cwm”. (W was originally written as “UU”, hence the name) Celtic languages, such as Welsh, the origin of “cwm” use it as a vowel all the time. For Maria, a lot of the weird spellings in English stem from the long ago pronunciation, which has now changed. Door used to be pronounced the way it is in German, which rhymes with “sure”.

  109. Blahblah -  October 19, 2011 - 3:18 am

    Oh, and ‘W’ is technically a vowel (although it isn’t use as such). It’s a combination of ‘oo’ and ‘uh.’

  110. Blahblah -  October 19, 2011 - 3:16 am

    I say get rid of ‘C’, make the ‘CH’ sound its own letter (as well as SH, TH, ER [like watER], ZH [like in the 'sure' in exposure], etc. Also, get rid of double and silent letters. Heck, let’s just all use a phonetic alphabet. That would make everything (especially spelling tests) much easier.

  111. Bored or UK -  October 19, 2011 - 2:34 am

    You all neeed to get out more…..

  112. Brandon -  October 19, 2011 - 2:23 am

    Cayl, I believe that “crwth” might be one of those words that those individuals are referring to.

  113. Ole Phat Stu -  October 19, 2011 - 1:39 am

    Crwth is a perfectly valid word.

  114. cyril jay maguliman -  October 19, 2011 - 1:31 am

    agree. English is difinitely beautiful in written, but it’s confusing in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and spelling. Duh! sometimes, it took me a lot of time to understand the proper usage of some words.

  115. Hannah -  October 19, 2011 - 12:49 am

    But…i’m confused. You can pronounce the “ch” sound and that makes it that you can say the word so…? Try it say “chmlk” and pronouce the “ch” sound thuraly. You end up saying the word.

  116. Kelly -  October 19, 2011 - 12:12 am

    I’ve taken Latin. with is spelled cum (with a long u) not com. Please fix it.

  117. czech -  October 19, 2011 - 12:05 am

    And there are European languages, which can write not only syllabes, but also words, sentences and whole stories without one of A,E,I,O,U,Y:

    Pln skvrn z mlh, vlk vtrhl v tvrz “Krch” skrz strž. Plž prchl,
    mlž zdrhl, plch frnkl skrz vrch. Vlk strhl smrk z vrb. Hrb drhl.
    Šprt z Brd mrkl: “Zblbls? Skrč hrb!” Smrk z vrb mrskl v krb.
    Vlk scvrnkl trn z prs v krb. Šprt škrtl. Vlk zhltl trn.
    Vlk krkl. Šprt ztvrdl: “Trp! Strč brk v krk.”
    Prst trhl. Vlk vrhl. Krk vchrstl hlt v prsť. Vlk, pln vln, prchl.
    Šprt, hrd, vrtl srp v drn z chrp. Srp smrskl drn v drť.
    Šprt vrhl v krb hrst chrp. Chrt vtrhl v tvrz. Mrzl.
    Šprt sprdl krb: “Drž drn!” Krb vrzl: “Strč drn v smrk!”.
    Šprt škrtl “Srš, srš”. Chrt prskl: “Prsk! Prsk!”
    Pln sprch drn zvlhl. Šprt trkl:”Strč prsk v krk”. Chrt vsrkl prsk v krk.
    Šprt strhl srst, škrtl. Chrt drkl, zvrhl krb.
    Krb zmlkl. Chrt zvrtl smrk; frnkl.
    Dr. Šprt z Brd zmrzl. Blb.

    … and the story makes perfectly sense.

  118. T -  October 18, 2011 - 11:34 pm

    Wow, I think we need a few more people to correct Jorge…

  119. Carlitos -  October 18, 2011 - 11:33 pm

    I wished for a vowel movement but was completely consonated.

  120. Blake -  October 18, 2011 - 10:27 pm

    The sound of English “l” *can* be drawn out as long as one has breath. So can many other consonantal sounds (such as “s” and “z”). It’s only the stops/plosives that cannot be continued. This article is not correct.

  121. Jojo -  October 18, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    @jorge (the person below)

    “K” is pronounced when the back of your tongue hits the roof of your mouth REALLY LIGHTLY. ^_____^

  122. Nate -  October 18, 2011 - 9:14 pm

    Cayl, ‘y’ can act as a vowel, but ‘w’ cannot. ‘y’ is a vowel in words such as “by” and “beauty”, but ‘w’ never performs this function. Both letters can serve two other functions, though, which I’ll briefly describe below.

    The confusion likely came from the fact that the primary function of both letters is as a semivowel. A semivowel is a type of approximant, and it sounds like a vowel, but acts like a consonant. In this function, ‘y’ sounds like the canonical vowel sound ‘i’ (as in “seed”), and ‘w’ sounds like the canonical vowel sound ‘u’ (as in “goose”). Try saying “yet” and “wet” very slowly, and you will see this (also check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semivowel)

    The other function of both letters is to form a diphthong, for example “boy” or “cow” (‘oy’ and ‘ow’ are each digraphs representing a diphthong).

  123. jose -  October 18, 2011 - 8:37 pm

    some one said “w” can be pronounced with out hitting tongue with teeth,lips or cheeks. I wonder how then it is pronounced! and “r” on the same way.hope i get an opportunity to listen to that person!!!!

  124. pimorton -  October 18, 2011 - 8:33 pm

    The English language, and particularly the American English language, is a wonderful conglomeration, taking from nearly every language in the world. This helps to explain some of the spelling oddities that don’t fit neatly into those rules we learned in elementary school.

  125. graceless -  October 18, 2011 - 7:40 pm

    When I say K the back of my tongue hits the roof of my mouth towards the back. I’m not sure if I could pronounce it the same without doing that. However when I say R my tongue doesn’t move very much at all and doesn’t touch anywhere else in my mouth. I think this is interesting because someone else said that in the Chinese language R is a vowel, and if we are using the same rules as explained here it make sense to me!

  126. Kait -  October 18, 2011 - 7:32 pm

    It definitely says the 25th letter of the alphabet. Try again….

  127. BaboJeff -  October 18, 2011 - 7:28 pm

    @ Maria Eduarda, who posted on October 18, 2011,

    That’s because English is an amalgamation of already established and completely different languages. It was not created by one person, like Korean, but molded through time. According to Dictionary.com, ‘loot’ comes from the Hindi lūṭ whereas ‘door’ possibly comes from the German Tür or Old Norse dyrr, hence the different pronunciations. We use the ‘h’ in ‘hour’ possibly because if comes from Latin either through French (hore) or Spanish (hora) where the ‘h’s are silent. English can be quite a mess and yes very difficult to master, however it is an art form and when used properly can be quite beautiful. Hope this helps.

  128. Ionizer Air Purifier -  October 18, 2011 - 7:03 pm

    I think there are many more complicated languages than English. For example French language is painfully difficult.

  129. Archon -  October 18, 2011 - 6:53 pm

    Consonant means sound(ed) with, not with sound!
    The consonants are sounded with the vowels.

  130. Josuke -  October 18, 2011 - 6:42 pm

    how do you say ytterbium?

  131. Josuke -  October 18, 2011 - 6:40 pm

    why sre all of you still on the 24th letter thing and on Jorge. You guys should move on.
    P.S. Jorge, you can’t say k if you keep your tongue down. Hope you read this, because you only commented first. Don’t think you’ll comment again.

  132. raghunath sahani -  October 18, 2011 - 6:39 pm

    Can you say, “rhythms”? It has no vowels. Trolololololololol
    Disregard the first post.

  133. Peque -  October 18, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    I can draw out “l” and every other consanan without a single vowel…hence the word “grrr.”

  134. dor -  October 18, 2011 - 6:05 pm

    SoMeOnE – a, e, i, o, u, and _sometimes y_.

  135. Im not telling -  October 18, 2011 - 6:03 pm

    so technically speaking, “pwn” is not a word UNLESS “w” really IS a vowel
    for F, I pronounce it as a blowing and then closing my mouth; does that really count?

  136. A very annoyed Latin scholar -  October 18, 2011 - 5:57 pm


  137. Blazingsun -  October 18, 2011 - 5:50 pm

    What about R? I can pronounce it indefinitely, and your tongue doesn’t touch the roof of your mouth or your teeth.

  138. Kyle -  October 18, 2011 - 5:22 pm

    Believe it or not you tongue IS still touching the roof of your mouth
    in order to form the word “k” or “kay” you have to block the airway between the throat and mouth by touching the roof of your mouth all the way in the back by your tonsils
    Try holding you tongue down with your fingers and try to say it, make sure you open your mouth wide, it doesn’t work unless you close your mouth more allowing your tongue to touch haha

  139. Crossark -  October 18, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    OMG, anon is here! never thought this would happen…

    this is so cool. I found some anon ops

  140. Crossark -  October 18, 2011 - 5:19 pm

    @Esteban the Tortilla guy i agree.

  141. Ronald McDonald -  October 18, 2011 - 5:11 pm

    It does say y is the 25th letter in the alphabet.
    Who is really a tortilla guy?

  142. Ax Kamen -  October 18, 2011 - 5:10 pm

    And sometimes R? Why has nobody mentioned R?
    Assisted by vowels yes, but it fits virtually every standard that defines a vowel.
    Fir. Murk. Perm. Gar. Worm. Pork.

  143. Cayl -  October 18, 2011 - 4:31 pm

    I understand “A, E I, O, U and sometimes Y” but some people add a “and W” part, and to this day I have never come across a word with W as it’s vowel.

  144. Dude -  October 18, 2011 - 4:26 pm

    LOL I Tottaly can not do that

  145. Cess -  October 18, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    Hey Maria, how would we say chalk? shalk? khalk? c has a specific sound when it is paired with h.

  146. SoMeOnE -  October 18, 2011 - 3:39 pm

    Can you say, “rhythms”? It has no vowels. Trolololololololol
    Disregard the first post.
    – ThE TrOlL

  147. SoMeOnE -  October 18, 2011 - 3:37 pm

    Can you say, “rythms”? It has no vowels. Trololololololololololol

  148. anonoymous -  October 18, 2011 - 3:35 pm


  149. ferntailwp -  October 18, 2011 - 3:25 pm

    K only sounds right if your tongue hits the bottom of your mouth. Try saying it with you tongue straight out- it sounds hallow and echo-y. Plus, it’s restricted by your throat.

  150. Rita -  October 18, 2011 - 3:23 pm

    “K” is a stop. That means you can’t continuously make the noise. So are “t,” “g,” and “d.”

  151. jess -  October 18, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    @ jorge its true lol i tried doning that

  152. Leigh -  October 18, 2011 - 3:03 pm


    Actually, when you say the letter “k”, your tongue is pressed against your molars!

  153. iNDESIGNER808 -  October 18, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    This is so cool…I really didn’t know that! I love dictionary.com! Better that looking up words and info the old-fashioned way! I meant with books! LOL! Anyways…so cool and random!!!!!!!!!!!!

  154. Isolde -  October 18, 2011 - 2:57 pm

    The letter “k” is a linguovelar consonant; the articulation is the tongue against the soft palate. You may be able to leave your mouth open when you articulate this consonant, but do it in slow motion, so you note the upward movement of your tongue to the palatal area.

  155. TN Girl -  October 18, 2011 - 2:53 pm

    Isn’t “Y” the 25th letter of the alphabet?

  156. Kyle -  October 18, 2011 - 2:52 pm

    jorge, you are a freak of nature if you can pronounce “K” without your teeth, tongue, or cheeks.

    Just kidding, I can somewhat pronounce “K” somewhat without my tongue, but good luck with that…

  157. Kat -  October 18, 2011 - 2:50 pm

    Well, Jorge, as you may or may not realize, the back of your tounge faintly hits the top of your moouth as you say the letter “k”. I do have to ask, however, what about the letter “t”? It wasn’t mentioned in the lst of fractives. . . just saying. . . .

  158. Luckie -  October 18, 2011 - 2:49 pm

    ooh, thats so cool, i never noticed! and good point, Jorge!

  159. Sonya -  October 18, 2011 - 2:46 pm

    @Jorge: I think they mean when the back part of your tongue hits the back of the roof of your mouth to make the “Kuh” sound. I didn’t notice it either until I said the alphabet out loud.

  160. Maya -  October 18, 2011 - 2:41 pm

    Learning about human language is always interesting =)

  161. Melissa -  October 18, 2011 - 2:40 pm

    The back part of your tongue (and not the tip of your tongue) actually does touch the rear roof of your mouth or your soft palate when you say the letter “K.”

  162. Jeremy -  October 18, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    Jorge, when you say a letter “like ‘K’ & not the ‘k-sound’” you are actually pronouncing vowels. Technically, you are saying “kay,” & when you pronounce a letter-sound by itself, it’s just a sound. I think the article is misleading in that you cannot pronounce words without some sort of vowel (I think there needs to be some sort of flow between 2 consonates that normally do not flow together, vowels provide that flow).

  163. Snoopy -  October 18, 2011 - 2:32 pm

    When you pronounce “k” the tongue touches the back of the mouth. Even if you make a less k like click with your mouth you still use this action.

  164. Eden -  October 18, 2011 - 2:26 pm

    It’s true, I can say “k” with my tongue teeth or cheeks not interfering. I can also pronounce “chmlk” with no vowels.

  165. Yup. -  October 18, 2011 - 2:24 pm

    The very back or middle of your tongue touches the roof of your mouth. If you can pronounce the letter K without doing that, I’m positive there are plenty of phoneticians who would love to meet you.

  166. Jon -  October 18, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    When you pronounce the letter “K” the sound comes from not the tip of your tougne but the back near your throat. How ever the consonant “H” is made with a simple breath and no contact occurs between your tougne and anything.

  167. bill boomer -  October 18, 2011 - 2:21 pm

    O.M G! so amazing and learningfull i make my kids use it

  168. 1MA -  October 18, 2011 - 2:18 pm

    jorge ur mistaken…

    when u say “K” the back of ur tongue hits the roof of ur mouth..

    same as with “Q” and similar with “X”

  169. Mariah -  October 18, 2011 - 2:14 pm

    The back of your tounge touches the roof of your mouth when you say “k”. It’s impossible to not touch the top of your mouth.

  170. Thayer -  October 18, 2011 - 2:14 pm

    Y is the 25th letter of the alphabet, not the 24th.
    Or do we just not talk about ‘C’ anymore … (whose sounds can be replaced with ‘K’ (if you’re willing to accept ‘KH’ as a ‘CH’ sound) and ‘S’ (although the would complicate the spelling of necessary into a Mississippi variant) … ?

  171. Alyssa Wiseman -  October 18, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    I keep trying to to say it Grrrrrrr……… lol

  172. PerryBC -  October 18, 2011 - 2:08 pm

    @Jorge: It does not only pertain to the tip of the tongue if that’s what you’re thinking. When you say the letter “K”, the mid section of your tongue rises and touches your soft palate thus producing the sound. Keep in mind that in the anatomy of speech there are different parts involved in producing a sound. Try googling for “Anatomy of Speech” to understand more.

  173. rick -  October 18, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Jorge, your tongue does touch the top of your mouth when you pronounce “k”. It’s the back of your tongue at the back of your mouth. Hold the back of your tongue (way back by your uvula) down with your finger and try to make the “k” sound. It can’t be done.

    The “b”, “f”, “p”, and “w” sounds appear to require no tongue, only lips and teeth. The “h” and “r” sounds don’t appear to require any tongue, lips, or teeth at all.

    So the second paragraph is not exactly correct.

  174. Steph -  October 18, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    Try again… “K” is pronounced when you put the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Try saying it while sticking out your tongue.

  175. N -  October 18, 2011 - 1:59 pm

    its impossible to make the ‘k’ sound without your tongue touching the top of your mouth..

  176. Anonymous -  October 18, 2011 - 1:58 pm

    So…. A, E, I, O, U, K, and sometimes Y?

  177. Sean -  October 18, 2011 - 1:56 pm

    @jorge Actually, the back of your tongue hits the soft palate at the rear of your mouth constricting air flow resulting in the “k” sound.

  178. Honchama -  October 18, 2011 - 1:50 pm

    jorge, when you start a “k” sound your tongue actually starts at the very back of the top of your mouth.

  179. wassup -  October 18, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    You still stop the airflow with your tongue – the BACK of it, that is. That’s why at first it might seem like the tongue is not involved, as the front of the mouth indeed stays open, but it’s the back of the tongue that hits the roof of the mouth to make the “kkkkh” sound (otherwise K would sound like “hay” if it didn’t). Try it.

  180. Linkabird -  October 18, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    Am I missing something? I thought there were 26 letters in the alphabet, Y being the second-to-last. How did it end up the 24th letter in the alphabet? Or are we using the new math? :)

  181. lezza -  October 18, 2011 - 1:31 pm

    In my Chinese class, I learned that in Chinese, the “r” sound is classified as a vowel.

    And jorge, I disagree with you. Unless your accent is significantly different from mine, the k sound is stopped by your tongue. The k sound is just an aspirated (breathy) g sound.

  182. no jorge -  October 18, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    @jorge, no,the letter k (pronounced correctly) makes your tongue kinda ‘clicks’, in a way

  183. Taekwondodo -  October 18, 2011 - 1:13 pm

    @ jorge. “K” is pronounced with the back of your tongue hitting the back of your palate, even if just for an instant.

  184. krazy kid -  October 18, 2011 - 1:11 pm

    and jorge, after some thought.

  185. krazy kid -  October 18, 2011 - 1:10 pm

    i agree with the tortilla guy

  186. Patrick -  October 18, 2011 - 1:09 pm

    Jorge – actually, when you say the letter ‘k’, your tongue does hit the roof of your mouth. It’s just with the back of your tongue, not the front. Test it by holding your tongue flat with a spoon or some such, then trying to say ‘k’ without lifting your tongue to the top of your mouth.

    On the other hand, ‘b’, ‘p’, and ‘h’ can all be said without one’s tongue hitting either teeth or roof of mouth. Phoneticians already hedge a bit on ‘h’, calling it an ‘aspirant’ instead of a ‘consonant’.

  187. Esteban the Tortilla guy -  October 18, 2011 - 1:08 pm

    Nah, the back of the tongue hits the back of the roof of the mouth with “k”.

    But how do y’all figure this: you can’t draw out a sound like “l” unless you break it up with more vowels, as in “lalala.” ? You can say “l” all day, like “z”, though not nearly so onomatopoetic!

  188. Nick -  October 18, 2011 - 1:01 pm

    I can do that too, probabally everyone elso can. also is chmlk even a word?

  189. Edgraphics -  October 18, 2011 - 12:51 pm

    The letter “k” is a consonant because this letter sound is made by the constriction of the vocal tract. When you say the letter “k”, you can feel the constriction in your vocal tract.

  190. DRF -  October 18, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    I actually can hold the “l” indefinitely. Ditto for “s,” “sh,” “m,” and “n.” Maybe “d” or “ch” would be a better example.

  191. Elend -  October 18, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    To be pedantic…

    “When you pronounce all of the vowels, your mouth stays open, but for every consonant, your tongue hits your teeth or the top of your mouth.”

    “B,” “P,” and “M” stop the air but do not require the tongue. Also:

    “Learn more about the history of the 24th letter of the alphabet here.”

    Do you happen to mean the 25th letter?

  192. Maria Eduarda -  October 18, 2011 - 12:31 pm

    As a foreigner, I cannot cease to be amazed by English spelling. Why is loot pronounced “luut”, but door is “dor”? Why is the H not pronounced in hour? All European languages have irregularities in their spelling (I blame this Latin alphabet – why do we even have a C when there’s an S and a K? Bah!), but English is probably the most irregular language in the world. It makes written English look beautiful and interesting, but it can be tricky if you’re bad at spelling or if you’re not a native speaker and have to learn each word’s proper pronunciation.

  193. jorge -  October 18, 2011 - 12:23 pm

    Hey what about “k” you can say it without your tongue hitting your teeth or the top of your mouth. The letter “k” is also not stopped with your tongue,teeth,or cheeks. When you pronounce “k” your mouth stays open too. Well i can do it idk.


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