General Phonogram FAQs

A phonogram is a symbol that represents one or more sounds, such as A, S, TH, and OUGH. The 74 Basic Phonograms describe 98% of English words. A phonogram is classified as basic if it is found in a high frequency word or if it is a commonly used spelling. Many of the basic phonograms are used in tens of thousands of words. A few of the spellings that are rare are included as Basic Phonograms because they are used in common high frequency words, such as the EIGH in neighbor and eight.

The 74 Basic Phonograms originate from the 70 basic phonograms identified by Dr. Orton. Four additional phonograms have been added to the basic set taught in Logic of English curriculum: augh, bu, gu, and cei.

  1. augh is found in common words such as daughter, caught, taught, and laugh. These words are used repeatedly in early children's readers and are foundational vocabulary terms.
  2. bu also appears early in words such as buy and build.
  3. gu is a parallel to the bu phonogram and is found in words such as guide, language, and guilt.
  4. cei is a phonogram which is unique to Logic of English materials. It was created to teach students to use the phonogram EI when followed by a C without teaching the beloved but flawed spelling rule “Use I before E, except after C, when it says long /a/, and in some exceptions.” Rather than memorizing a rule that has numerous exceptions, students can retain the benefits of this rule by learning the phonogram cei, which says /sē/ and is used in many common words including receive, deceive, conceit, receipt, and ceiling.

The 74 Basic Phonograms explain 98% of English words. The Advanced Phonograms unlock thousands of words that cannot be explained by the Basic 74. These phonograms are either very rare or used only in advanced vocabulary. For example:
pn is a Greek phonogram saying /n/ in pneumonia.

A phonogram is a visual symbol that represents a sound: Greek phono, "sound," + gram, from the Greek for a letter or something written.

The 26 letters of our alphabet are phonograms, but they are not the only ones. English regularly uses 48 multi-letter phonograms like igh, ch, and th as well. Together, these 74 phonograms are the basic building blocks of written English.

Learn more: What Are Phonograms?

A phoneme is a distinct, single sound. Phonemes are the smallest units of spoken language, and we combine phonemes to make words. The word "Oh" has one phoneme. The word "cheek" has three phonemes, which you can hear clearly if you say it aloud and separate it into its sounds: /ch/ /ē/ /k/. The sounds, not the symbols that represent them, are the phonemes.

A phonogram is a visual symbol used to represent a sound in writing: t, m, oi, ch, etc.

This is a great question, because it gets at the heart of what a phonogram is.

First, a key for those new to the LOE phonograms:
  • The phonogram EA says three sounds: /ē/ as in lean, /ĕ/ as in bread, and /ā/ as in steak.
  • The phonogram R says /r/ as in run and errand.
  • The phonogram EAR says /er/ as in search.

Now, for the question.

In words like "learn" and "earn" and "search," the letters EAR are working together to say /er/. This is a unique sound made by these letters working together; the vowel is different from what EA says in any other context. So it is its own phonogram.

In the words "bear" and "wear," EA says its third sound, /ā/, and R says /r/. The word "ear" contains two phonograms: the phonogram EA says /ē/, and R says /r/. We see the same combination in "near" and "fear." Students don't need to learn an additional phonogram to decode these words correctly, because they already know the sounds of EA and R.

A multi-letter phonogram is a group of letters working together to say a unique sound that they wouldn't say otherwise. The same letters can sometimes function as separate phonograms, saying their individual sounds, when adjacent to each other. The fact that a phonogram exists and makes a unique sound doesn't mean that every instance of those letters is that phonogram.

While we are asked most often about EA+R, other letter combinations also appear sometimes as a multi-letter phonogram and sometimes as separate phonograms. Consider "ferret," "hothead," "reality," and "enthusiasm."

Note: There is in fact one other unique sound of EAR, but it is so uncommon that we do not teach it as a basic sound of the phonogram. EAR says /ar/ only in the very old English words "heart," "hearth," "hearken," and their derivatives.

Some people teaching Logic of English, particularly those speaking British English, have also asked about teaching EAR as a distinct R-controlled long-vowel, as in "wear" or "hear." This is because the R alters the shape of the long /ē/ or long /ā/ sound in our mouths, in some dialects particularly. We find that the vowel sound is similar enough that students can read and spell words with EA+R correctly without learning the combination as a separate R-controlled phonogram, but it is fine to teach it that way if you prefer.

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