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 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 One of Buttigieg’s Nevada ads translates the phonetic pronunciation of his name – Boot-edge-edge – into Spanish: Bt-ech-ech. John Fritze, USA TODAY, "Bloomberg put on defensive during combative two-hour Democratic debate," 20 Feb. 2020 So Fat Panda became Saffron De Twah — a phonetic interpretation of the original (French) pronunciation of Detroit. Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press, "Best New Restaurant No. 3: Saffron De Twah, Detroit," 14 Feb. 2020 The Aztecs had a pictographic writing system of their own, and as a result, were fascinated when the Spanish friars first taught them the phonetic Roman alphabet. Camilla Townsend, Time, "We Learned About the Aztecs From Their Conquerors—But New Research Is Letting Them Speak for Themselves," 1 Nov. 2019 Kids under six don’t need to be sitting in college-seminar-like atmospheres completing phonetic assessments designed for first graders. Annabelle Timsit, Quartz, "An innovative preschool in Qatar is teaching toddlers empathy," 10 Sep. 2019 Others worried that the new policy might harm firms with foreign-sounding names, or result in clumsy efforts to translate Western names into Chinese rather than using phonetic approximations. The Economist, "China is waging war on Western names for buildings and places," 29 June 2019 As such, the team settled on phonetic parameters that commonly apply to Nigerian English as part of guidelines for the project. Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, "How Google created a Nigerian voice and accent for Maps," 31 July 2019 Examples given by the ministries included the phonetic renderings in Chinese of foreign names as well as Chinese names using Roman letters. The Economist, "China is waging war on Western names for buildings and places," 29 June 2019

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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Time Traveler for phonetic

Time Traveler

The first known use of phonetic was in 1802

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Cite this Entry

“Phonetic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for phonetic


How to pronounce phonetic (audio)

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 phonetically (audio) \ adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on phonetic

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with phonetic

Spanish Central: Translation of phonetic

Nglish: Translation of phonetic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of phonetic for Arabic Speakers

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