pho·​nics ˈfä-niks How to pronounce phonics (audio)
sense 1 is also
ˈfō- How to pronounce phonics (audio)
plural in form but singular in construction
: the science of sound : acoustics
: a method of teaching beginners to read and pronounce words by learning the phonetic value of letters, letter groups, and especially syllables

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How Do You Teach phonics?

In the field of beginning reading, there are two basic schools of thought in the U.S. today. One emphasizes "whole language" teaching, which relies on teaching a lot of reading; the other emphasizes phonics, teaching how letters and syllables correspond to sounds. Phonics instruction may be especially difficult in English, since English has the most difficult spelling of any Western language. Consider the various ways we create the f *sound in *cough, photo, *and *giraffe, or the sh sound in special, issue, vicious, *and *portion, or the k sound in tack, quite, and shellac, and how we pronounce the o in do, core, lock, *and *bone, or the ea in lead, ocean, idea, and early. Teaching phonics obviously isn't an easy job, but it's probably an important one.

Examples of phonics in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web That led to more systematic phonics instruction, but only for a while. Natalie Wexler, Forbes, 29 Dec. 2022 The Hillsboro school district uses McGraw Hill’s Wonders curriculum and its Spanish language counterpart, Maravillas, which emphasize phonics and guided reading. oregonlive, 25 Dec. 2022 The better answer is to use the latest educational strategies and, and phonics, obviously, because that’s back. Laura Johnston, cleveland, 2 June 2022 This iPad-compatible learning tool for preschoolers comes with four introductory games that develop skills in phonics, drawing abilities, creativity, and problem solving skills. Kathleen Willcox, Popular Mechanics, 11 Jan. 2023 As in North Clackamas, all of these districts have added supplementary phonics instruction in recent years. oregonlive, 8 Jan. 2023 Partly, that’s a function of mechanics: Formal phonics instruction, which builds literacy from letters and sounds, is only newly in vogue among today’s grade-schoolers, after decades of disfavor in American education. Sonja Sharpstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 28 Dec. 2022 Some learned phonics partly on their own — or simply memorized different letter patterns. Sarah Carr, Washington Post, 27 Dec. 2022 At the third-grade level, teachers emphasize learning phonics and expanding students’ vocabulary. Dallas News, 14 Feb. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'phonics.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin phōnicus phonic + -ics

Note: The word was most likely reformed on several occasions. Its earliest use appears to be in an essay by the English-born Church of Ireland cleric Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713) ("An introductory Essay to the Doctrine of Sounds, containing some proposals for the improvement of Acousticks," Philosophical Transactions [of the Royal Society], vol. 14, no. 156, February 20, 1684, p. 473): "In like manner Hearing may be divided into Direct, Refracted, and Reflex'd; whereto answer three parts of our doctrine of Acousticks; which are yet nameless, unless we call them Acousticks, Diacousticks, and Catacousticks, or (in another sense, but to as good purpose) Phonicks, Diaphonicks, and Cataphonicks." The application of phonics to a method of teaching reading appears to date from the first half of the nineteenth century; see the anonymous review of the phonic reading books sponsored by the British educator Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth in The Quarterly Review, vol. 74 (June & October, 1844), pp. 26-38, in which the reviewer refers contemptuously to a sound-based teaching system as "Shuttleworth's phonics."

First Known Use

circa 1684, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of phonics was circa 1684

Dictionary Entries Near phonics

Cite this Entry

“Phonics.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a method of teaching beginners to read and pronounce words by learning the characteristic sounds of letters, letter groups, and especially syllables

Medical Definition


noun, plural in form but singular in construction
ˈfän-iks, 1 is also ˈfō-niks
: the science of sound : acoustics
: a method of teaching beginners to read and pronounce words by learning the phonetic value of letters, letter groups, and especially syllables

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