For example, the IPA Help page for English lists these consonants:

hw whine
lj lute
nj new
sj consume
θj enthuse
zj Zeus

Is there a name to refer to this type of double consonants?

I'm thinking "double articulations" but I don't perceive it as quite accurate. Seems I could just say those as two consecutive consonants; it's the same ambiguity as for affricates:

It is often difficult to decide if a stop and fricative form a single phoneme or a consonant pair. (Wikipedia)

Or maybe "consonant cluster", but now this seems too broad.

  • 2
    Doesn't it occur to you that the choice of the sound combinations on that Help page is caused by something? They didn't choose anything like /gr/ or /st/, or /bj/, but they do have /dj/, no /mj/, but there's /lj/ and /nj/. Why so? There's footnote symbol 3 after the examples for the combinations of a consonant with /j/. Have you noticed it and read that and the other footnotes there? Don't they explain anything?
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29, 2020 at 13:47
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    a side note: lj lute seems so strange to me, it's usually lute homophonous with loot.
    – Alex B.
    Sep 29, 2020 at 14:19
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    @AlexB. - Since you mentioned “more than one way of looking at something”, I can tell you about one more interpretation of those sound combinations. Have you ever noticed that after those cons. + [j] combinations only [u] can follow? Only. This is a sign that it's not that the cons. + [j] is an entity, but that [j]+[u] is. There's an interpretation of the English phonology in which there's a diphthong /i ̯u/ (/ju/) which is in variation with [u]/[uː], according to the dialect. As you can see, those are not merely consonant clusters, there's something more behind them.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29, 2020 at 17:29
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    @AlexB. - I don't think it's necessary to put it as an answer to this question, since that [ju] thing I mentioned affects not only the con.+[j] combinations mentioned on the IPA Help page, but the others, too, like [bj, vj, fj, mj, hj] etc. If you have questions, you can move this discussion to chat and we'll continue there.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29, 2020 at 20:15
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    @FabienSnauwaert - The aim of my first comment was to draw your attention to the rest of the content on that IPA Help page beside the transcription chart. You still haven't read it all up to diaphonemes.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:04

3 Answers 3


These are (mostly) consonant clusters and not reasonably analysed as single phonemes in English

For people who distinguish wh from w though, this is still a single consonant, /ʍ/ not a cluster /hw/. I.e. it is the voiceless counterpart of the usual labiovelar approximant /w/, not a sequence of /h/ and /w/

Double articulations would usually refer to phonemes produced in more than place of articulation simultaneously, e.g. /w/ or /ɡ͡b/ (both labial-velar)

  • 1
    Have you noticed and read footnote [3] on that Help page?
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29, 2020 at 13:50
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    I don't see the relevance of yod-dropping/coalescence. The phonotactics are clear, the yod is either its own phoneme, or part of a single phoneme with the following vowel (as is its historical origin), not part of a single phoneme with the preceding consonant. This holds in all major dialects, whether yod-preserving, dropping, coalescing, or some combination
    – Tristan
    Sep 29, 2020 at 14:06
  • But is the number of phonemes in a morpheme of any relevance for you?
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29, 2020 at 16:15
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    @ruakh: not a typo, it says both articulations in the sentence: /w/ has both labial and velar articulations. The IPA describes w as the "voiced labial-velar approximant"; Wikipedia says for some reason that [w] is specifically a "labialized velar" as opposed to a "true labial–velar" consonant Sep 30, 2020 at 0:55
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    @YellowSky I don't follow
    – Tristan
    Sep 30, 2020 at 9:09

One reason why these are considered by some to be single segments is that they simplify to [w l n ...] in some dialects. There are sub-trends in phonology which treat consonant plus glide sequences as rounded or palatalized consonants. I am not persuaded by those claims, but that's not the question. If we assume that these are single segments, then the best standard term that unifies them is "complex". More often, we talk about them with a phrase, like "consonant with a secondary / vocalic articulation". "Double articulation is usually reserved for consonants with two primary articulations, such as kp, gb, and clicks. "Double consonant" is usually reserved for geminate consonants, which are two exactly same consonants, or a "long" consonant.

The evidence for the analysis of "hw" is very weak. It only appears where [h] can appear. It varies with plain w. There is also "hj" as in human, hubris. I know that some people pronounce human as "Yuman", so this simplification may be broader than just applying to h. The variable glide [j] in new is missing my dialect, but I have the voiceless or aspirated glides in white and human. The peculiar distribution of postcontinental palatal glides as in human, where the following vowel is always [u], has led some people to treat that as a diphthong [iu], so "new" would be [niu]. There is not a particularly strong reason to treat all of these consonant plus glide sequences the same way in English.


As the help page explains, the combinations of symbols you mentioned represent Wikipedia's own diaphonemes, not single phonemes or phones. They are listed separately because, in that particular system, e.g. /sj/ represents a unit that can be /sj/ (/s/ + /j/), /s/, or /ʃ/ depending on variety.

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