kids encyclopedia robot

Approximant consonant facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

An approximant consonant is a consonant that sounds in some ways like a vowel. For example, lateral approximants like the sound for "l" in the English word "like", the sound for "r" in the English word "right", and semivowels like the sound for "y" in "yes" and the sound for "w" in "wet" are all approximants. These sounds are pronounced by bringing two parts of the mouth, for example the tongue and the roof of the mouth, close to each other. However, it is not close enough to cause the air to be blocked, like in a fricative consonant. Also, the parts are not far apart enough to become a vowel.


Semivowels are a type of approximant consonant, which sound like vowels if you pronounced them alone. However, many languages use them as consonants. Here are the common semivowels in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Approximant-vowel correspondences
Vowel Corresponding
Place of
Palatal Spanish amplío ('I extend') vs. ampliamos ('we extend')
Labiopalatal French aigu ('sharp') vs. aiguille ('needle')
Velar Korean 다 ('wear something') vs. 우다 ('someone makes somebody wears something')
Labiovelar Spanish actúo ('I act') vs. actuamos ('we act')
Retroflex American English waiter vs. waitress

Central approximants

  • bilabial approximant (usually transcribed)
  • labiodental approximant
  • dental approximant (usually transcribed)
  • alveolar approximant
  • retroflex approximant (a consonantal)
  • palatal approximant (a consonantal)
  • velar approximant (a consonantal)
  • uvular approximant (usually transcribed)
  • pharyngeal approximant (a consonantal usually transcribed)
  • epiglottal approximant (usually transcribed)

Lateral approximants

In lateral approximants, only the centre of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. So, air can only flow through the sides of the tongue, like the sound "l" in "like".

  • voiced alveolar lateral approximant
  • retroflex lateral approximant
  • palatal lateral approximant
  • velar lateral approximant
  • velarized alveolar lateral approximant

Coarticulated approximants with dedicated IPA symbols

  • voiced labialized velar approximant (a consonantal)
  • voiceless labialized velar approximant(a consonantal)
  • labialized palatal approximant (a consonantal)
kids search engine
Approximant consonant Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.