phonetic

adjective

pho·​net·​ic fə-ˈne-tik How to pronounce phonetic (audio)
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
2
a
: of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds
b
: of or relating to the science of phonetics

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.

Example Sentences

the phonetic units of a language This dictionary uses the International Phonetic Alphabet. Spanish is a more phonetic language than English.
Recent Examples on the Web To assist non-Polish-speaking performers, Pecak recorded himself saying the entire libretto, created a complete English translation and sent out a phonetic guide for the piece. Hannah Edgar, Chicago Tribune, 14 Nov. 2022 Much like Rude, Aoki listened to elders speak and transcribed their words into phonetic symbols. Wil Phinney, oregonlive, 12 Nov. 2022 Unlike Ptolemy, Cleopatra and other non-Egyptian names deciphered to date, the name Ramses was Egyptian—a fact that Young believed precluded his cartouche from containing phonetic hieroglyphs. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Sep. 2022 His most important conclusion was that some hieroglyphs appeared to give phonetic cues, signs of a word’s sound. The New Yorker, 22 Nov. 2021 Combining his Coptic skills and Young’s decipherment method, Champollion managed to translate additional cartouches and determine the phonetic values of a dozen hieroglyphs. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Sep. 2022 Another dress on display was devised in the 1990s by the designer known as Icinoo (a phonetic contraction of Lee Shin-woo), one of the first South Koreans to present a collection in Paris. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 6 Sep. 2022 Creative phonetic renderings — attempts to convey the brainfeel of a sound — are all over TikTok, especially when the sound in question involves a human voice. New York Times, 17 Aug. 2022 Also, the spelling is entirely phonetic, so you’ll never be confused by silent letters or letters that make different sounds in different contexts. Joshua Holzer, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 July 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

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-

First Known Use

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of phonetic was in 1802

Dictionary Entries Near phonetic

Cite this Entry

“Phonetic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phonetic. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

phonetic

adjective

pho·​net·​ic fə-ˈnet-ik How to pronounce phonetic (audio)
1
a
: of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds
phonetic differences between Old English and Modern English
b
: of or relating to phonetics
2
: representing speech sounds
phonetic spelling
phonetically adverb

Medical Definition

phonetic

adjective

pho·​net·​ic fə-ˈnet-ik How to pronounce phonetic (audio)
1
a
: 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
phonetically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on phonetic

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ