Can You Guess This Word Based On Its Phonetic Spelling?

By: Kennita Leon
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Phonetic spelling helps one pronounce words correctly using letters and symbols that represent exact sounds. It can help people learning a language to enunciate words like a native. The English language is chocked full of pronunciation pitfalls and nonsense rules where you must "know the word"to pronounce it correctly. Take the silent "h" in "honor" or "ough" mimicking the sound of "f" in "enough." No wonder we need an entire guide to help people understand the English language! 

Founded in Paris in 1886, the International Phonetic Association (IPA) created the pronunciation guide. Called the International Phonetic Alphabet, this publication provides the global academic community a notational standard for the phonetic representation of all languages, (not just English). 

To make life a little more confusing, you'll find that some print and online dictionaries don't use the same symbols as the IPA. For instance, the sound of the "a" in "dark" is, "ɑː" in the IPA. The same sound is "ä" in the American Heritage Dictionary. Whereas, in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the sound is shown as "ä." Not to worry, just look at what symbols are used to pronounce the first couple of questions in the quiz, then answering the rest correctly should be easy. Think of yourself as a code breaker and take the quiz now. 


Phonetic spelling is the representation of words, sounds and other parts of speech using a set of distinct symbols.

In 1886, the International Phonetics Association was created by a group of French and English teachers, led by French linguist Paul Passy.

This organization serves as the foundation for the International Phonetics Alphabet, which was later created in 1888.

The idea for the International Phonetics Alphabet was proposed in a letter by Danish linguist, Otto Jespersen, to Paul Passy.%0DIt was later created through the collective efforts of Passy, Daniel Jones, Alexander John Ellis and Henry Sweet.

It was later created through the collective efforts of Paul Passy, Daniel Jones, Alexander John Ellis and Henry Sweet.

In 1887, the first draft of the standardized alphabet for English, French and German was published.

By September of 1888, a set of six guidelines were created by the International Phonetics Association, which would later govern all future developments of the IPA.

The International Phonetic Alphabet, also known as the IPA, is a standardized method of phonetic transcription.

It was designed to represent the sounds of a spoken language such as phones, phenomes, syllables, speech pathologies and intonation.

It is commonly used by English teachers and those learning English as a foreign language.

It is also used by singers, actors, lexicographers, linguists, speech pathologists and translators.

Many of the symbols used in the IPA were taken from Henry Sweet's Revised Romic Alphabet.

The International Phonetic Alphabet has undergone a number of adjustments, with the most recent change taking place in May 2005.

Other major revisions took place in 1900 and 1932, a time when the importance of phonetics wasn't as great as it is today.

The IPA remained the same until the International Phonetic Association Kiel Convention, which was held in 1989 in Kiel, Germany.

Another minor revision took place in 1993, which included the inclusion of four letters and the removal of other letters, which were used to symbolize voiceless implosives.

Before any changes to the IPA can be approved, a proposal has to be made in the Journal of the IPA.

Shortly after the proposal is submitted, reactions to the proposal are submitted in the current or following issues of the Journal.

Later, a formal proposal is brought forward to the Council of the IPA, where further discussion and a formal vote will take place.

After each revision, a simplified chart is provided by the association, which outlines the details of the updated alphabet.

Over 160 symbols are used in the IPA, with only a small amount being used to transcribe any given language.

Of the symbols used in the IPA, 107 are letters and 31 are diacritics, which are used to modify these letters.

An additional 19 symbols are used to indicate the suprasegmental qualities of words such as length, intonation, tone and stress.

The IPA symbols consist of one or more elements of letters and diacritics.

Other symbols, such as the slash, are used to indicate a broad or phonemic transcription.

In 1991, the Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet (Ext-IPA) was introduced.

The symbols of the Ext-IPA were created to transcribe sounds found only in speech pathologies such as lisps and those of people with a cleft palate.

It is also used to transcribe sounds found in normal speech patterns such gnashing, hushing and smacking lips.

Voice Quality Symbols, such as whispering, are not included in the Ext-IPA.

Ever since its creation, the Ext-IPA has been modified twice – first in 1997, and then in 2016.

Most of the letters used in the IPA are meant to harmonize with the Latin alphabet. As such, they are either Latin, Greek or a modification of the two.

Some letters are neither Greek nor Latin. One such example includes the glottal stop ⟨ʔ⟩ which resembles a dotless question mark.The influence of other writing systems could be seen in the IPA. This includes the pharyngeal fricative, which was inspired by the Arabic letter ‘ain ⟨‏ﻉ⟩‎‎.

Some of the new letters introduced were simply ordinary Latin letters rotated at 180 degrees.

The general rule for the IPA is to use a letter to correspond with each distinct sound.

In order to make it accessible for other languages, the meaning of the symbols was allowed to vary between languages.

The letters of the IPA are organized into three categories – pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants and vowels.

A pulmonic consonant is one that is made by blocking the space between the vocal cords (glottis) or the mouth and either simultaneously or subsequently letting air out of the lungs.

As defined by the IPA, non-pulmonic consonants are sounds created without airflow from the lungs. These include implosives, ejectives, and clicks.

Vowels are defined by the IPA as sounds which occur at the center of a syllable.

Due to the similarity between certain characters, a number is assigned to each character to prevent confusion.

Two main types of brackets are used to start off IPA transcriptions. These are square brackets and slashes.

Other uncommon types of IPA transcriptions include double slashes, double brackets, angle brackets, braces, parentheses and double parentheses.

In IPA, diacritics may be doubled to demonstrate an extra degree of stress of a letter.

There is also a handwritten form of IPA letters which is used in manuscripts and when taking field notes.

The IPA is frequently used in many British dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Aside from the IPA, there is another type of phonetic spelling called pronunciation respelling.

This system involves the respelling of words which already have a standard spelling, so as to convey its pronunciation.

Many of the symbols used in the IPA were taken from Henry Sweet's Revised Romic Alphabet.

It is also used to represent the pronunciation of foreign languages, words with a non-standard spelling, dialect or idiolect.

It is used in literacy, where words are deliberately misspelled in order to create a humorous effect.

About Zoo

Our goal at Zoo.com is to keep you entertained in this crazy life we all live.

We want you to look inward and explore new and interesting things about yourself. We want you to look outward and marvel at the world around you. We want you to laugh at past memories that helped shape the person you’ve become. We want to dream with you about all your future holds. Our hope is our quizzes and articles inspire you to do just that.

Life is a zoo! Embrace it on Zoo.com.

Explore More Quizzes