Trigraphs and Quadgraphs: how to teach them?

trigraphs and quadgraphs

In this article, we will discuss trigraphs and quadgraphs. In brief, they are letters’ combinations that make one sound. They can be a group of vowels, consonants, or a mix of both.

trigraphs and quadgraphs
trigraphs and quadgraphs

What is a trigraph?

We have taken on the previous article that digraphs are two letters that together they make one sound. like /ch/ /sh/ and /ph/. Trigraphs are actually three letters that commonly come together and make one sound. Trigraphs can be mere consonants or mere vowels or a combination of both of them. There aren’t many trigraphs as digraphs.

If you don’t know about digraphs, you can check this article…

How many trigraphs in English and what are they?

Actually, there are more than 120 letter combinations that can make different sounds. I tried as much as I can to find a source that can tell me how many are trigraphs exactly but I didn’t find any source that has counted or calculated the number. So, we may not know the right number but am sure we will mention approximately all of them here.

  • Vowel trigraphs: 

     1- EAU: This trigraph does not occur natively in English, but it does occur in several French loanwords and words adapted from French.

it has four different pronunciations:

Pronounced /oʊ/
Pronounced /ju/
Pronounced /ɑ/
Pronounced /ə/

2- iou / eou : they always come with /s/ so I consider they are quadgraphs and should be dealt with separately so we will mention them later.

3- so if we didn’t count the above, /eau/ is the only vowel trigraph that comes in several words. Other than that, there are three letters vowel words that take y or w as their cntral vowel and they also make one sound using these three vowels:

1- awe (/ɔ/)
2- aye (/aɪ/)
3- ewe (/ju/)
4- eye (/aɪ/)
5- owe (/oʊ/)

  • Vowel-consonant trigraphs:

    1 –  IGH: it produces the long /i:/ sound. 
    like insight, light, night, fight

    2- DGE: it makes a (/ʤ/) sound (letter J sound):

    like in the bridge, edge, widget, badge

  •  Vowel-R trigraphs in British English:
      of course, these sounds coming from /are/ or /air/ or /ere/ are one sound made by three letters including the R sound which in British is reduced to be a shwa sound and is not pronounced as a consonant. These are considered trigraphs but we will not include them here in American English phonics.

you might like to browse these:  Alphabet Letters with pictures flashcards

  • Consonant trigraphs:

1- TCH: like in batch, catch, scratch, butcher, ketchup and others.

2- SCH: this combination is mainly used in English as a consonant cluster and not a trigraph like in the words school, schedule or schema.

but when we come to loanwords from german or Swedish we will find it used as a trigraph. We have examples like: schwa, schnitzel or schilling.

What are Quadgraphs?

Quadgraphs are four graphemes that produce one phoneme. These are:

1- EOUS: courageous – dangerous – gorgeous

2 – IOUS: precious – delicious – cautious

3- AUGH: it will always produce the sound  /ɔ/ except in these two words (laugh, draught) combination it will be /f/

like in daughter – caught – naughty – taught

4- OUGH: this is one of the trickiest because it can result in six different sounds.

  • / ʌ / sound like in : cough -tough – rough
  • /a:/ sound like bought – brought – thought
  • /oʊ/: like in although – though
  • /u/ : like in through – slough
  • /aʊ/: like in drought – plough

5- EIGH:  this combination is pronunced as /eɪ/.except in two words it is pronounced as /aI/ like in (height and sleight)

  • /eɪ/: eight -weight – neighbor – freight

6- AIGH: it is pronounced as /eI/ and it only appears in the word straight and all the words derived from it.

Trigraphs and Quadgrahs are very important to learn for teachers as they are putting the basic layers of understanding phonetics. We can teach them once we reach phase 5. which is the start of primary 1 at school.


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