pho·​net·​ic | \ fə-ˈne-tik How to pronounce phonetic (audio) \

Definition of phonetic

1 : representing the sounds and other phenomena of speech: such as
a : constituting an alteration of ordinary spelling that better represents the spoken language, that employs only characters of the regular alphabet, and that is used in a context of conventional spelling
b : representing speech sounds by means of symbols that have one value only
c : employing for speech sounds more than the minimum number of symbols necessary to represent the significant differences in a speaker's speech
2a : of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds
b : of or relating to the science of phonetics

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Did You Know?

The English alphabet is phonetic—that is, the letters represent sounds. The Chinese alphabet, however, isn't phonetic, since its symbols represent ideas rather than sounds. But even in English, a letter doesn't always represent the same sound; the "a" in cat, father, and mate, for example, represents three different sounds. Because of this, books about words often use specially created phonetic alphabets in which each symbol stands for a single sound in order to represent pronunciations.

Examples of phonetic in a Sentence

the phonetic units of a language This dictionary uses the International Phonetic Alphabet. Spanish is a more phonetic language than English.
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Recent Examples on the Web Though the role required Yeun to act in Korean, the skill demanded was not so much phonetic expressiveness as an ability to bracket each moment with an unvarying tone that reflects Ben’s muted insanity. Sheon Han, The New Yorker, "Steven Yeun’s Perfect Accent in “Minari”," 23 Apr. 2021 The difference is that while infants pick up an incredible library of phonetic sounds between 14 and 20 months, dogs never progress any further. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Dogs Can’t Tell the Difference Between Similar-Sounding Words," 11 Dec. 2020 Under the Japanese Kanji writing system, which originates from China, characters often have an array of different phonetic readings. Jennifer Hassan, Washington Post, "Joe Biden had quite the week. So did Japanese mayor Jo Baiden.," 9 Nov. 2020 No matter — even in purely phonetic form, his remarkable voice functioned as another instrument, cutting through the din of the guitars. Keith Spera,, "Missing Voodoo Fest this weekend? Remember these highlights from years past," 30 Oct. 2020 These travelers, sharing no common tongue, communicated in a form of creole whose words were then disassembled into phonetic characters which could be written as sounds required. Katherine A. Powers, WSJ, "‘A Place for Everything’ Review: Ordering the Universe," 16 Oct. 2020 The invention of the alphabet dates to some 4,000 years ago, when merchants and mercenaries in Egypt’s Western Desert developed a phonetic system of symbols that could be rearranged into words. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "How the Alphabet Got Its Order, Malcolm X and Other New Books to Read," 9 Oct. 2020 Sometimes the English spellings of these words adhere to conventionalized phonetic transliteration. Sarah Bunin Benor, The Conversation, "The Scripps spelling bee is off this year, but the controversy over including foreign words is still on," 21 May 2020 The campaign has made a virtue of the confusion, printing its go-to phonetic aide-mémoire — BOOT-edge-edge — on T-shirts. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, "America Has Had a Year to Learn How to Say Buttigieg. And Yet.," 3 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'phonetic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of phonetic

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for phonetic

New Latin phoneticus, from Greek phōnētikos, from phōnein to sound with the voice, from phōnē voice

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Learn More about phonetic

Time Traveler for phonetic

Time Traveler

The first known use of phonetic was in 1802

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Statistics for phonetic

Last Updated

27 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Phonetic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for phonetic



English Language Learners Definition of phonetic

: of or relating to spoken language, speech sounds, or the science of phonetics
: representing each speech sound with a single symbol
: using a system of written symbols that represent speech sounds in a way that is very close to how they actually sound


pho·​net·​ic | \ fə-ˈne-tik How to pronounce phonetic (audio) \

Kids Definition of phonetic

: of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds


pho·​net·​ic | \ fə-ˈnet-ik How to pronounce phonetic (audio) \

Medical Definition of phonetic

1a : of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds
b : of or relating to the science of phonetics
2 : representing the sounds and other phenomena of speech

Other Words from phonetic

phonetically \ -​i-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce phonetic (audio) \ adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on phonetic

Nglish: Translation of phonetic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of phonetic for Arabic Speakers

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