I wanted a list of consonant clusters 2 to 5 consonants long that are phonetically possible, in other words, possible for the human speech mechanism to produce. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find these on the Internet. I kept finding articles about possible consonant clusters in English, which is apparently a matter of controversy and in any case not what I wanted.

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    Could you give an example of a consonant cluster that you believe isn't phonetically possible?
    – Draconis
    Feb 28, 2022 at 22:55
  • I'll take a stab at it with [ʔkq] (glottal plosive, voiceless velar plosive, voiceless uvular plosive). Feb 28, 2022 at 23:02
  • "Phonetically impossible consonant clusters" vary from language to language. English speakers have trouble with initial geminates, for instance, but geminating initial consonants is a meaningful morpheme in Lushootseed (it applies to group names and produces a verb meaning 'speak like X', so duhobishub 'Snohomish (person)' becomes dduhobishub 'speak Snohomish' and qajutub 'Skagit' becomes qqajutub 'speak Skagit').
    – jlawler
    Mar 2, 2022 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


There aren't any "phonetically impossible clusters". If you can articulate [ʔ], you can do that and they articulate [k], followed by [q], then [g], and so on. "Phonetically impossible" is an undefined concept.

Perhaps you have in mind clusters that cannot be perceived. Some clusters are fairly vulnerable, for example initial [kt], because you can't perceive the [k]. But there are ways to get around that, for example simply by releasing the /k/. See Wright (1996) for a phonetic study of Tsou, which has a lot of consonant clustering that should be challenging. The problem of clusters is not articulation, it is perception.

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    There are clusters that cannot be produced without a gap or intervening movement that takes so long it is arguably not a cluster. So, for example, it's not possible to move the tongue from a dental position to a retroflex position immediately. Most of what will be heard is the transition from the first to the second, not the first target and then the second. Same for a transition from an alveolar trill to a post-alveolar approximant or retroflex. Mar 1, 2022 at 16:44
  • Russian has кто [kto] “who” and то [to] “that” and they never make any confusion, the same is with the one-consonant preposition к: к тебе [ktʲiˈbʲe] “towards you” vs. тебе [tʲiˈbʲe] “for you”. In short, [kt] is a common initial cluster in Russian and it never sounds as [t], the initial [k] is always clearly audible.
    – Yellow Sky
    Mar 4, 2022 at 16:05

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