What is a grapheme?

A grapheme is a letter or a number of letters that represent a sound (phoneme) in a word. Another way to explain it is to say that a grapheme is a letter or letters that spell a sound in a word.

Some written scripts are simple in which 1 letter usually represents 1 sound. These letters and their corresponding sounds are consistent and transparent. For this reason languages like Italian or Spanish are easy to read. English has a complex code in which 1-4 letter graphemes can represent 1 sound.

Here is an example of a 1 letter grapheme: c a t. The sounds /k/ is represented by the letter ‘c’.

Here is an example of a 2 letter grapheme: l ea f. The sound /ee/ is represented by by the letters ‘e a’.

Here is a 3 letter grapheme: n igh t. The sound /ie/ is represented by the letters ‘i g h’.

Here is a 4 letter grapheme: th r ough. The sound /oo/ is represented by the letters ‘o u g h’.

And if that is not complicated enough think of this:
Some sounds (phonemes) can be spelled by different graphemes (spellings) e.g.:
-the sound /k/ can be spelled ‘c, k or ck’
-the sound /ee/ can be spelled ‘ee, ea, ie, ei, e, e-e, etc’

And –
Some graphemes (spellings) can represent different sounds (phonemes) e.g. the letter can spell:
/a/ in ‘apple’
/o/ in ‘want’
/ar/ in ‘fast’
/ae/ in ‘table’

/e/ in any etc.


See more tutorials by Phonic Books:

‘What is a grapheme?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsWtyKqpHko

‘What is a phoneme?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwFvD5Cv9n8

‘Synthetic Phonics tutorial’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG24BoekBGY

To see the range of reading books we publish with step-by-step introduction of graphemes visit: https://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/completerange.php


  1. A fascinating subject, like synaesthesia –
    I used to taste and smell a story when I was very little – perhaps 6 or 7, but seem to have lost this extra sensory gift with age.
    Hope it returns!

    1. When you segment a word into sounds you only consider the sounds not the spellings. So, the word honour has 3 sounds /o/ /n/ /er/. The spellings for each of these sounds are: ho-n-our. No need for silent letters. I hope this is helpful. If you are interested to learn more about this look up Sounds-Write, the programme we follow and see their online training. Can’t recommend it highly enough!

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