For the IPA transcription of a whole sentence, does it matter in terms of readability if it only has a pair of brackets encompassing the whole transcription?

For instance the transcription for "as soon as possible" would appear like this:

/əz sun əz ˈpɑsəbəl/

...instead of:

/əz/ /sun/ /əz/ /ˈpɑsəbəl/

  • 9
    It would be preferable to have just two: bracketing each word is distracting, and misleadingly implies that the sentence if composed of a number of distinct utterances.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:38
  • What sounds do the blank spaces stand for? After all, it's supposed to be a phonetic transcription (the P in IPA).
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 2:30

2 Answers 2


Generally, one set of slashes or brackets would be used, with or without spaces in between the words.

As far as whether you should use slashes or brackets, generally slashes suggest a broad transcription, meaning you're aiming more for showing phonemes than exact phonetic detail, whereas brackets suggest a narrow transcription, meaning you're aiming to show a lot of phonetic detail, regardless of whether any of the phonetic traits form natural classes.

In actual practice, neither slashes nor brackets are actually necessary if it's clear what type of transcription you are going for and can even be something to avoid depending on how you feel about the theoretical foundation of the phoneme/phone distinction.

This is a good example of a transcription of more than a single word by a well respected phonetician: John Wells, Three Cheers

If you're writing something for a publication, however, I would follow that publications style guide. If you're writing something for a class, I would follow the instructor's preferences.


You should only have two brackets -- some people separate words in a sentence with pound signs (#).

/əz sun əz ˈpɑsəbəl/ is not /əz sun əz ˈpɑsəbəl/ or /əz/ /sun/ /əz/ /ˈpɑsəbəl/, but is rather: /əz#sun#əz#ˈpɑsəbəl/.

Now here is a thing, it is personal preference, but some people, like me, use forward slashes (/) for just phonemes, and square brackets ([]) for words and sentences. I would type that sentence or handwrite it as [əz#sun#əz#ˈpɑsəbəl].

In speech, words slur together and the boundaries are not easily divisible, unless you are a speaker, and so it is best to use just two brackets. The "#'s," though not needed technically, shew forth the division between the words and still allow the sounds to be next to each other, if that makes sense.

  • 1
    Incidentally, the standard use of '/' and '[' is that '[]' goes around more suface-oriented transcriptions and '//' goes around phonemic or underlying forms. Also, if you look at the illustrations of the IPA, words are separated with space (as sanctioned by IPA); '#' is not an IPA symbol, which is an import from SPE rule-writing practice, and isn't a phonetic symbol (since it has no sound value).
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 23:23
  • Exactly "#" has no phonetic value: I remember in my gatherings that "#" is used to separate words for convenience's sake: easier to see than a space, and it preserves the separation of words. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 23:45
  • 2
    I've never seen # used in this way. It might be better to edit this to say that some people use the # sign.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 10:32
  • Done, certainly an interesting case. Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 15:08

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