What Is a Digraph?

What is a digraph? It is simply a pair of letters, usually a combination of a consonant or vowel, that produces a phoneme or a single sound. And, you are more than likely to have it used in everyday conversations without even knowing it. 

Digraphs are everywhere. For instance, every time you “phone” your friend to say hello or when you take a hot “shower” after a long day at work. Here is a closer look at the exciting world of digraphs and phonics. 

What Are Digraphs?

As mentioned earlier, digraphs are two letters that form a single sound. For instance, when you say “phone,” the letters “p” and “h” produce a single sound /f/. This sound is referred to as a phoneme. 

Digraphs can either be two consonants or two vowels. 

For example, the word chicken consists of two successive consonants – “c” and “h.” In the word feet, the digraphs are “ee.” But that doesn’t mean digraphs can’t be a consonant and a vowel. 

If you look at the word “few,” its digraphs are the letters “e” and “w.” When you combine these letters, they produce one single sound, meaning they are digraphs. 

Expert insight: When the word consists of two different letters, it is called a heterogeneous digraph. If the letters are the same (for instance: “ss”), you can refer to them as homogenous digraphs. 

So, when is a digraph not a digraph? When the two letters do not produce a phoneme. 

For example, the word “oasis.” 1st-grade students can mistake the letters “o” and “a” as digraphs. However, they are not digraphs. 

If we break down the word to its pronunciation, o-a-sis, the letters “o” and “a” produce a different sound. 

But when you inspect the word “boat,” the digraphs o and a produce one sound. 

Tip: When in doubt, break the word down to its pronunciation. If each letter produces a different sound, they are not digraphs. For instance, the word “cooperate” can’t be pronounced like the word “moon.”

Consonant Digraphs

As mentioned earlier, digraphs can be two consecutive consonants. The two letters can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of the word.

Examples of Consonant Digraphs

Consonant DigraphsCorrespond PhonemesExamples
sh/sh/Show, sheep, push, crash, flash, ship
ch/ch/, /k/, /sh/Chart, catch, patch, latch, punch
th/th/, /t/Month, both, thumb
wh/w/, /h/When, whale, which, whistle, whisk, Wheel, who
wr/r/Write, wrong, wrestle
ck/k/Click, luck, sack, hack
mb/m/Numb, dumb, comb
ph/f/Phonics, phone, graph, dolphin
kn/n/Knee, know, knight
gh/g/, /f/Ghost, cough
ng/ng/Rang, king, sing, length, hang
bb/b/Rabbit, wobble
bt/t/Debt, doubt
cc/k/Account, soccer
ck/k/Clock, duck
ll/l/Bell, chill
mm/m/Comma, summer

Vowel Digraphs

Vowel digraphs often appear in the middle of a word, like in the word “cheese.” Of course, there are some instances that you can spot them at the beginning, like in the word “each.” They can also appear at the end. 

Expert insight: Some sources say that vowel digraphs should be two consecutive vowels, while others classify digraphs as vowel digraphs if the phoneme represents a vowel. 

For instance, the word “cow.” The digraphs are “o” and “w,” but the letters produce the sound /ou/.

Examples of Vowel Digraphs

Vowel DigraphsCorresponding PhonemesExamples
oo/oo/, /u/Balloon, book, blood
ui/i/, /oo/Build, cruise, juice, biscuit
er/ur/, /ear/, /r/Person, fern, germ, after, every
ie/ee/, /igh/, /e/ Chief, fries, dies, pie, tied, lie, friend
oa/oa/, /or/ Toad, boat, broad
oe/oa/, /oo/Foe, toe, poem, woe
or/or/, /ur/, /Ə/Word, attorney, tractor
ow/ow/, /oa/How, allow, thrown
oy/oi/Annoy, toy
ye/igh/Bye, rye
ue/oo/Blue, glue
ay/ai/Play, tray
ea/ee/, /e/, /ai/Teal, clean, great
ee/ee/Sheep, cheese
eu/oo/, /y/, /oo/Sleuth, pneumonia

List of Digraphs

In a hurry, or do you already know what a digraph is? Here is a list of digraphs in an easy-to-understand table, complete with examples.

shShow, sheep, push, crash, flash, ship
chChart, catch, patch, latch, punch
thMonth, both, thumb
whWhen, which, whistle, whisk, Wheel
wrWrite, wrong, wrestle
ckClick, luck, sack, hack
mbNumb, dumb, comb
phPhonics, phone, graph, dolphin
knKnee, know, knight
ghGhost, cough
ngRang, sing, length, hang
eeFeet, beep, creek
ooBook, hook, room, moon
aiRain, pain, gain, main
owSnow, know
ieChief, fries, dies, pie, tied, lie
oaRoad, toad, boat
ueBlue, glue
eaLead, thread
oeToe, poem, woe
arArm, farm
orFork, pork, corn, born
quQuick, quiet, queen, square, queue

What Are Split Digraphs? 

Now that you know what is a digraph, how about split digraphs? Don’t worry, though. It is easy to spot and understand. 

Instead of having the two letters next to each other, they are separated by a consonant in the middle. 

For instance, in the word “code,” the digraphs “o” and “e” are separated by the letter “d.” If you look at the word “cape,” the letter “p” is in the middle of the letters “a” and “e.” And, despite being separated, the letters still produce one sound. 

Expert insight: If three letters produce a single sound, they are trigraphs. For instance, the word “right.” The middle three letters “igh” all produce the same sound.

Examples of Split Digraphs

Split DigraphsCorresponding PhonemesExamples
a-e/ai/, /i/, /a/Tale, cape, have
e-e/ee/Compete, phoneme
i-e/igh/, /i/, /ee/Give, dice, elite, machine
o-e/oa/, /u/, /ooHome, choke, nose
u-e/oo/, /y/, /ooSalute, cute, rude
y-e/igh/Style, byte

Digraph vs. Blend: Is There a Difference?

Yes, there is a difference between digraph vs. blend. Unlike digraphs, blends (or consonant clusters) represent more than one sound. Moreover, there are two-letter and three-letter blends. 

For instance, if you pronounce the word “draw,” you can quickly identify that the first two letters, “d” and “r,” are distinctively pronounced and produce two sounds. 

Try to pronounce the word “chair” by having the letters c and h pronounced individually. That will give you /s/ or /k/ air, which is incorrect.

Expert insight: If you spot the letters “ng” as a boundary between two syllables, they are not digraphs. For instance, the word “angry.” The letter “n” and “g” have separate sounds. Therefore, they are blends.

Common BlendsExamples
blBlack, blend
clClose, cluster
flFlip, flutter
glGlobal, glow
plPlug, play
slSlop, slipper
brBrother, brag
crCricket, create
drDragon, drawer
frFrosting, from
grGrow, grin
prPride, promise
trTrustworthy, try
scScab, scorpion
skSkinny, skinn
smSmudge, smell
spSpot, sponge
stStar, storage
swSweet, swindle
twTwinkle, twirl

What About Diphthongs and Digraphs?  

Many people also mistake diphthongs for digraphs and vice versa. However, these two are not the same. 

Digraphs are about two letters that can be consonants, vowels, or a combination of the two. On the other hand, diphthongs have two vowel sounds. Confusing? Here is an example.

If you have the word “toy,” we know that the letters o and y are digraphs. If we’re talking about diphthongs, the letters “oy” translates to /oi/. Isn’t this just one vowel sound, you ask? Not technically, because it emulates a long vowel sound. 

Tip: When in doubt, say the word aloud. If the sound is extended or doesn’t stay consistent, you have a diphthong. If it is the same, for instance, in the word “hop,” you have a monophthong.

Four Activities for Learning Digraphs

Kids doing an activity about digraphs

Now that we’ve uncovered the answer to the question of what a digraph is and its difference from diphthongs and blends, here are some effective strategies you can use to master digraphs and improve your phonics skills. 

These methods are also excellent for teaching digraphs to kindergarten or first-grade students.

1. Read the Word Out Loud 

One of the easiest ways to master digraphs is to read the word aloud, specifically, the sound. What does that even mean, you ask? 

For instance, in the word “cheese.” Say the word out loud but emphasize the initial digraph “ch.”

2. Identify the Digraph 

Another fun activity to improve phonics skills is identifying the digraph in a sentence. You can circle, highlight, or underline it. But don’t read the suspected word out loud! This will help you identify digraphs faster. 

3. Fill in the Blanks 

On a piece of paper, write down all the digraphs (preferably in a different pen color) on the left side. In the right portion, list down words associated with the digraphs on the left column. This is a great activity not only for familiarity with digraphs but also to expand your vocabulary.

4. Picture Match 

If you want to distinguish different sounds of digraphs easily, you can have a picture match practice. The rules are simple; put the photos underneath the correct digraph. 

For instance, if you have an image of cheese, you’ll put it under the “ch” digraphs. 

Since this activity includes some visual aids, it’s a perfect choice if you’re teaching students or your kids.

4 Tips for Teaching Digraphs 

Teacher helping a student.

Teaching digraphs can quickly become confusing and frustrating. Here are some tips you should always keep in mind to ensure students can identify digraphs and learn how to read and spell words with digraphs. 

 1. Use Child-Friendly Language 

Leave the jargon and complicated explanations outside the classroom. Children are more receptive if you explain it as it is. As a matter of fact, you don’t necessarily have to say digraph over and over again. 

Instead, you can say something like, “These first two letters produce one sound” or “These two letters are the perfect pair.” 

2. One at a Time 

As you might have probably noticed, there are many digraphs. So, discussing them in one session can become too overwhelming for children. Ideally, you should focus on one or two digraphs daily, lasting around 20 minutes. 

If you are wondering what digraphs should you teach first, always start with the easiest – homogenous digraphs or digraphs with identical letters. You can then move on to “ck” digraphs because the letter pair have the same sound. 

3. Daily Reviews 

Since there are a lot of digraphs, children can easily forget them! So, make it a point to revisit the last digraphs lesson for at least 10 minutes. Don’t forget to incorporate the activities we’ve mentioned above to make digraph learning more exciting! 

4. Use Visual Cues 

Don’t just rely on text-heavy worksheets or verbal lectures. In a study, students that participated in an illustrated lecture, a combination of verbal and visual teaching, can recall 80% of the lesson after three hours. This percentage increases to 90% if the session includes participatory activities like practice. 

Digraphs FAQ

How Many Letters Make a Digraph?

Two letters make a digraph. The letter pair can be both consonants or vowels. However, some words like “word” use a consonant and a vowel. If there are three letters, it is called a trigraph. For four letters in a word, you will refer to them as quadgraphs

How Do You Identify a Digraph?

You can identify a digraph by checking the two letters. If the letters together only produce one sound, it is a digraph. The word uses a blend if the letters represent two or more sounds. 

Why Learn Digraphs?

Skipping digraphs can lead to mispronunciations and misspellings. For instance, “cheese” consists of homogenous digraphs “ee.” For a young student, he may spell the word as “chis,” solely relying on how the word is pronounced. Or, instead of /greɪt/ for great, he may say “gre-at.”

Digraphs: The Perfect Pair 

So, what is a digraph? It’s a pair of letters that makes one sound. These two letters can be consonants, vowels, or a combination. They can appear at the beginning, middle, and end of the word. 

And, they don’t necessarily have to be next to each other. As we saw in split digraphs, they can also be separated by a consonant. 

We hope our guide has helped expand your phonic skills. Let us know if you have questions by leaving a comment below.

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