Feature Articles

Spell words easier with lists of 4 grapheme types

Learning to spell red, head and said can be made easy when you know what is a phoneme and a grapheme. Phoneme is the smallest sound you hear in a word and grapheme is the letter or letters used to represent the phoneme in writing.

The graphemes e, ea and ai represent the same middle phoneme in red /r/-/e/-/d/, head /h/-/ea/-/d/ and said /s/-/ai/-/d/.

Phonemes that are represented by different graphemes can make learning to read or spell very difficult for some people. This is because spelling rules don’t apply to words that contain graphemes with more than one letter. When learning or teaching English, using grapheme lists can be very helpful as similarly spelled words are grouped together.

CLICK HERE to Improve Spelling and Reading Skills with 10 BOOKS OF SHORT STORIES with rimes.

It is important to know that a grapheme is arbitrary. It has absolutely no relation to the phoneme it represents. The symbols were designed by people in history due to creativity, invasions and migration.

In the English language, all words have at least one grapheme that represents a vowel sound. In the German language, some words have no vowel sounds and are represented by graphemes only consisting of consonants.

Graphemes fall under four types. Placing each grapheme under a different heading helps to make sense of the phoneme it represents. Here are four grapheme types to make spelling words easier.

4 Grapheme types to make spelling words easier

1. Single letter

A grapheme can be a single letter that represents a phoneme. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet that do this. These are written as capital or common letters: Aa, Bb, Cc, Dd, Ee, Ff, Gg, Hh, Ii, Jj, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Oo, Pp, Qq, Rr, Ss, Tt, Uu, Vv, Ww, Xx, Yy and Zz.

The letters a, e, i, o, u and y represent long and short sounds. The letters b, c, d, g, j, k, l, v, w, x, y and all vowels represent hard sounds. Soft sounds are represented by f, h, p, and t. Nasals are represented by m and n. Sibilant sounds are written with an s and z.

2. Digraph

A digraph is a grapheme made by two letters that represent one sound. Some are ai, ea, ee, ei, ey, ew, ie, oa, oo, ou, ow, ch, sh, ss, th, wh and wr. Each grapheme that is a digraph may represent one or more phonemes. Listen to the different sounds made with the same grapheme in the following words:

  • ai – paid, said
  • aw – jaw, claw
  • ay – day, say
  • ea – bead, head
  • ee – feed, been
  • ei – vein, leisure
  • ey – obey, honey
  • ew – few, sew
  • ie – field, friend, believe
  • oa – boat, road
  • oo – took, food, door
  • ou – youth, soul, cousin
  • ow – know, tow
  • ch – chat, tech
  • ph – phone, graph
  • sh – ship
  • ss – passion
  • gh – rough, tough
  • th – thin, that
  • wh – white, whole
  • wr – write, wrong

3. Trigraph

A trigraph is a grapheme made by three letters that represent one sound. Some of these are air, are, ear, eir, eig, dge, ght, oar, oor, igh, ure and tch. Observe the single sounds made with the following trigraphs:

  • air – hair, pair, stair, flair
  • are – care, rare, dare, share
  • ear – bear, dear, fear, tear
  • eir – their, weird, weirdo
  • eig – reign, foreign, feign, sovereign
  • dge – edge, grudge, hedge, ledge
  • oar – boar, roar, soar, board
  • oor – door, floor, poor, moor
  • igh – sigh, highlight, sight
  • ure – cure, endure, mature, sure
  • tch – catch, fetch, switch, notch
  • gue – colleague, fatigue, league, vague

4. Grapheme with 4 letters

A grapheme with 4 letters represents one sound in a word. It is referred to as a ‘tetragraph‘ and ‘quadgraph’ by many teachers. Some of these are augh, eigh, ough, and ngue. Listen to the single sounds made with the following ‘tetragraphs’:

  • augh – caught, naught, daughter
  • eigh – eight, weigh, height
  • ough – through, although, though
  • ngue – tongue, cangue, gangue
  • heir – heirdom, heirloom


These are four grapheme types that can make spelling words easier. Lessons can be more fun as words that look the same and may or may not sound the same are placed into groups. This makes remembering the spelling of sight words easier rather than learning them in isolation.

See also:

Alphabet: 7 major things to know about letters and sounds

Trace alphabet: Download 27 free worksheets

Learn alphabet: Download 27 free worksheets to colour

Words -an ending: Download 6 free worksheets to trace

Words -at ending: Download 8 free worksheets to trace

Words -am ending: Download 5 free worksheets to trace

Two letter words: Download 5 free worksheets for tracing

Trace numbers: Download 32 free worksheets for practice

Learn numbers: Download 32 free worksheets to colour

Vowels – syllables, digraphs, trigraphs, long, short and silent

Consonants – digraphs, trigraphs, hard, soft, blends, silent sounds

Spelling rules for ch, tch, ck, k, oi, oy, ou, ow, ie, ei

Affixes – rules for adding prefixes and suffixes

Phonological and phonemic awareness: Help a struggling reader with sounds

About Study Zone Institute

Check Also

Synonyms worksheets and posters

Synonyms worksheets and posters: Download 60 FREE docs to improve your vocabulary fast

Expand your vocabulary quickly with these FREE downloadable synonyms worksheets and posters. Each of the …

Wide Synonyms

Wide synonyms: Download FREE poster and worksheet

Master wide synonyms with this FREE downloadable poster and worksheet. Stick the poster on the …

Discover more from Study Zone Institute

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading