I am able to say "no" clearly while simultaneously holding my tongue down at the bottom of my mouth.

How is the n sound made?

2 Answers 2


n in English is produced by raising the tongue to contact the palatine process of the maxilla, also by adducting the vocal folds and opening he velopharyngeal port. The exact point of contact on the tongue and on the hard palate is open to some variation, even within one language. Without an audiovisual record, it would be impossible to comment on what you are doing or how canonical a pronunciation of "no" you are producing.

  • "raising the tongue to contact ..." - which part of the tongue makes contact?
    – James
    Dec 15, 2017 at 0:40
  • Normally the tip or blade, however it would be possible to front the dorsum, especially if the tip of the tongue is lowered behind the lower teeth.
    – user6726
    Dec 15, 2017 at 0:48

The consonant [n] in IPA is an an alveolar nasal stop, which by definition means that it is made by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth. The word "no" in English is pronounced with this consonant, /noʊ/.

However, since English only contrasts two nasals in word-initial position ([n] and [m]), there are a lot of ways to make a sound resembling [n] without being an alveolar consonant. For example, you might have pronounced [ŋoʊ] or [ɴoʊ] (velar and uvular nasals respectively). Since English doesn't have [ŋ] (for instance) in word-initial position, you wouldn't naturally detect a difference between it and [n] without speaking a language that distinguishes between the two sounds in that position. This means that you perceive the consonant you pronounced to be /n/, but a speaker of a language that contrasts would perceive them to be two entirely different phonemes.

  • I used /oʊ/ as indicated on this page as the most representative option. As most dialects have some kind of diphthong, a plain /o/ is not indicative. As the second paragraph is about what is actually spoken, square brackets are appropriate.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 17, 2017 at 0:45

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