A grapheme is a representation of a phoneme (sound). There are 3 key facts to remember about graphemes:
- A grapheme can be represented by 1/2/3/4 letters. The following are all graphemes
p, t, ai, ll, ck, sh, igh, eigh, ough
- A phoneme can be represented by different graphemes. The following words all contain the /ai/ phoneme (sound), but it is represented by a different grapheme in each word:
angel, late, train, lay, eight, straight
- A grapheme can represent more than one phoneme.
‘ea’ makes a different sound in ‘bread’ and ‘mean’
‘i’ makes a different sound in ‘milk’ and ‘mind’
The simplest graphemes are single letters of the alphabet eg 's', 't'. These are usually taught first.
A digraph is a grapheme in which 2 letters represent 1 sound eg ea in 'sea', ch in 'chin'.
A trigraph is a grapheme in which 3 letters represent 1 sound eg igh in 'night'.
Click here to go to a page listing the most common graphemes. Click on a grapheme to hear the sound(s) it represents.
Don't confuse digraphs with blends/clusters. A blend/cluster is a group of 2 or 3 letters making 2 or 3 separate sounds eg the letters in bold in lost, sprite.
You can distinguish a digraph (1 sound) from a blend/cluster (2/3 sounds) by noticing what happens in your mouth when you say the sound(s). Generally if your mouth, throat or lips move, your body is producing a different sound. Eg
When you say 'st', you will notice that your tongue moves up to the roof of your mouth to say the /t/, therefore the /s/ and /t/ are 2 separate sounds (a blend/cluster).
When you say ‘ip’, your lips move together to pronounce /p/, so /i/ and /p/ are separate sounds (a blend/cluster).
When you say 'oo', nothing moves, so it is 1 sound (a digraph).