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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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 Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. Marty Makary And H. Cody Meissner, WSJ, 8 Aug. 2021 Maguire named her after the phonetic pronunciation of author L. Frank Baum’s initials. Manuel Mendoza, Dallas News, 3 Aug. 2021 Williams specifically talked highly of Seikovits, or Psycho as some may call him because of the phonetic sounding reference. Kamryn Walker, The Arizona Republic, 3 Aug. 2021 There are two primary approaches to teaching children to read: phonetic instruction, in which the curriculum teaches children how to look at a word and sound it out, and an approach that teaches students how to identify words through cues. Adria Watson,, 24 June 2021 But the phonetic flubs that in the past have sent headline writers and his communications team into a frenzy, albeit for different reasons, have been mostly missing during his nascent presidency. Ryan Sparrow, USA Today, 22 May 2021 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, 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, 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, 9 Nov. 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

borrowed from New Latin phōnēticus "(of written characters) representing speech sounds rather than ideas," borrowed from Greek phōnētikós "of speech, endowed with speech," from phōnē-, variant stem of phōnéō, phoneîn "to speak, utter " (derivative of phōnḗ "sound made by something living, voice, speech, utterance") + -t-, verbal adjective formative + -ikos -ic entry 1 — more at phono-

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Time Traveler for phonetic

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The first known use of phonetic was in 1802

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Dictionary Entries Near phonetic

phone tapping



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Last Updated

18 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Phonetic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Sep. 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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