kids encyclopedia robot

Nasal consonant facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to come out through the nose, while the air is not allowed to pass through the mouth because something (like the tongue or the lips) is stopping it. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and in words such as nose and mouth.


Nearly all nasal consonants are nasal stops (or nasal continuants), where air comes out through the nose but not through the mouth, as it is blocked by the lips or tongue.

Most nasals are voiced, and, in fact, the nasal sounds and are among the most common sounds used in languages of the world. Voiceless nasals are used in a few languages, such as Burmese and Welsh.

In terms of acoustics, nasal stops are sonorants, meaning that they do not significantly stop the flow of air (as it can come out the nose). However, nasals are also stops in their articulation because the flow of air through the mouth is blocked completely. So nasal consonants sound both like sonorants and like obstruents.

Acoustically, nasal stops have bands of energy at around 200 and 2,000 Hz.

Voiced Voiceless
Description IPA SAMPA Description IPA SAMPA
voiced bilabial nasal [m] voiceless bilabial nasal or [m_0]
voiced labiodental nasal [F] voiceless labiodental nasal or [F_0]
voiced dental nasal [n_d] voiceless dental nasal or [n_d_0]
voiced alveolar nasal [n] Voiceless alveolar nasal or [n_0]
voiced retroflex nasal [n`] voiceless retroflex nasal or [n`_0]
voiced palatal nasal [J] voiceless palatal nasal or [J_0]
voiced velar nasal, commonly written ng. [N] voiceless velar nasal or [N_0]
voiced uvular nasal [N\] voiceless uvular nasal or [N\_0]

Examples of languages containing nasal consonants:

The voiced retroflex nasal is [ɳ] is a common sound in Indic languages.

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages, such as: Spanish ñ; or French and Italian gn; or Catalan, Hungarian and Luganda ny; or Czech and Slovak ň; or Polish ń; or Occitan and Portuguese nh; or Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin nj.

English, German and Cantonese have and. Tamil has its own different letters for the sounds and (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

Catalan, Occitan, Spanish, and Italian have as phonemes, and and as allophones. (In several American dialects of Spanish, there is no palatal nasal but only a palatalized nasal as in English canyon. In Brazilian Portuguese nh is frequently pronounced as a nasalized [ j ], that is, as a nasal glide. This vowel also exists in Guaraní.)

The term 'nasal stop' will often be abbreviated to just "nasal". However, there are also nasal fricatives, nasal flaps, nasal glides, and nasal vowels, as in French, Portuguese, Catalan (dialectal feature), Yoruba, Gbe, Polish, and Ljubljana Slovene. In the IPA, nasal vowels are indicated by placing a tilde (~) over the vowel. : French sang.

A few languages use voiceless nasal consonants. Some of these are Icelandic, Burmese, Jalapa Mazatec, Kildin Sami, Welsh, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik.

  • Ferguson (1963) 'Assumptions about nasals', in Greenberg (ed.) Universals of Language, pp 50–60.
  • Saout, J. le (1973) 'Languages sans consonnes nasales', Annales de l Université d'Abidjan, H, 6, 1, 179–205.
  • Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Niger–Congo overview', in Bendor-Samuel & Hartell (eds.) The Niger–Congo Languages, 3–45.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Consonante nasal para niños

kids search engine
Nasal consonant Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.