Nonsense words for use in training phonemic awareness

Why use nonsense words to train phonemic awareness?
You do not absolutely have to use nonsense words to train phonemic awareness, but I do recommend at least starting with them for a number of reasons.



First, it gets rid of interference having to do with the meaning of the word. Using a word that has a meaning familiar to the child can lead to off-topic discussions and narratives that slow down the process. For example, when I use the word foot, there's a pretty good chance I'll be treated to a story about how the child's friend stepped on something and hurt her foot, or how the child's daddy has really big feet and wears boots to shovel snow. Such stories, while delightful, consume time that could otherwise be devoted to training phonemic awareness.

Using nonsense words gets rid of interference having to do with the spelling of the word. This is especially important when dealing with a language like English, with its silent letters, digraphs, and other chaotic spelling conventions. For example the first sound in knife is nnn, not k, and the last sound is fff, not ee. Life is full of opportunities to discuss how weird English spelling is; I prefer not to go into that while training phonemic awareness, but if you'd like to take a moment to sing along with my friend Larry about it, here's your chance.





Finally, children who have already started learning to read and spell tend to give me letter names rather than sounds when I use familiar words. That's not phonemic awareness, that's orthographic awareness. The focus here needs to be on sounds, rather than letters. If I use nonsense words like fooj or fij, the fff sound could be spelled with the letter F or with ph, and the final sound could be a letter j or dge. With nonsense words, it's a lot easier to get the child making sounds rather than naming letters, since they've never memorized nonsense words for their spelling tests.

The challenge with using nonsense words is that it's difficult to come up with them on the spur of the moment. To save you the trouble of coming up with nonsense words of your own, I've compiled a selection of words (below) that could exist in American English, but do not. Feel free to print them out and use them as you see fit.

My list includes words of the following "shapes":

CV (Consonant-Vowel)

VC (Vowel-Consonant)

CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant)

CCV (Consonant-Consonant-Vowel)

VCC (Vowel-Consonant-Consonant)

If you want or need nonsense words with more complex shapes, such as CVCC, CCVC, or CCVCC, you should quite easily be able to make your own based on this list by adding consonants to the beginning or end of the words on this page.

CV (Consonant-Vowel)
PuhPoeBuhBawMuhMoyFoo
FawFahFowVawVahVoyThoo
ThahTayTuhTawTahDawSuh
ZuhZawZahZowChayChoyJuh
JowJyeKuhKoeGuhGawGah


VC (Vowel-Consonant)
IpEpOopEebIbUbObe
EemImAwmObOmeEefAff
OifOveAwvOivUtOotIte
EedOodIdeOidIneOinEece
OceAuceUtchOachOtchOogeOwge
OidgeEckOokOwkOikEegOog


CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant)

As you can see from this list, there are an awful lot of CVC nonsense words. In fact, I have a lot more than I've listed here! If there is interest, I may make the full list available on a PDF file, but this list should keep you busy for a while. Obviously, there are no standard spellings for any of these words. In creating this list, I tried to use spellings that would make sense to literate speakers of English without being overly misleading or ambiguous. This is easier said than done. For example, to spell a “long A” sound followed by /p/, as in cape, we use a “silent E” after /p/; however, if we do that with the letter G, we get words like cage, rage, page, and sage, in which we pronounce the G as the /j/ sound.

I ended up choosing spellings like rayg, payg, and sayg, although rague, pague, and sague could also have worked. I’m not really thrilled with either choice, so it was pretty much a toss of the coin. I could have gotten around this altogether by using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but I’m betting that most of my readers have not studied IPA. Feel free to use whatever spelling works for you. These are, after all, nonsense words.

To minimize confusion, I have arranged these words by vowel sound first, then initial consonant sound, then final consonant sound. The consonants are arranged by place of articulation, starting with the bilabials /p/, /b/, and /m/, and ending with the velars /k/ and /g/, and glottal /h/.


'Long E'sound, as in feet

Peeb
Beeth
Meeb
Meeg
Weeb
Weem


Feep
Feeb
Feen
Feeg
Theet
Theek


Teeve
Deece
Deetch
Neek
Seef
Zeeb


Zeet
Leet
Reen
Cheeth
Cheen
Jeet


Jeed
Keev
Keeg
Geep
Geet


'Short I' sound, as in fit

Pim
Pif
Biv
Biss
Mib
Fiss


Vit
Vitch
Widge
Thit
Nib
Ning


Siff
Sig
Zib
Zik
Lig
Yit


Yin
Yig
Chid
Jiss
Kiv
Kig


Gip
Gith
Gid


'Long A' sound, as in fate

Payf
Baym
Mayf
Mayg
Vayf
Thayb


Thaych
Tayv
Dayth
Dayce
Dayk
Sayb


Zayk
Raym
Yayd
Chayth
Chayt
Chayg


Jayf
Kayb
Kayf
Gaych
Gayk
Hayp


Hayd
Hayn


'Short E' sound, as in pet

Peff
Pedge
Pell
Meb
Mezz
Feth


Fet
Vem
Vess
Wetch
Weg
Thed


Thek
Tedge
Deg
Neth
Neng
Sen


Setch
Seng
Zem
Zet
Lep
Reb


Rem
Redge
Yed
Yezz
Cheth
Ched


Jek
Jeng
Kep
Ket
Ged
Gez


Hef
Het


'Short A' sound, as in pat

Pag
Mab
Fap
Fazz
Fatch
Vam


Vatch
Wath
Thap
Thazz
Taf
Dat


Dazz
Nass
Nadge
Zam
Zatch
Lan
Lazz


Rass
Ratch
Yazz
Yag
Chadge
Chak


Chag
Jad
Kazz
Gatch
Hab
Han


'Short U' sound, as in bus

Pum
Bup
Mun
Fuv
Vup
Vud


Vun
Wum
Wuf
Thuzz
Thutch
Tudge


Dup
Nutch
Nuck
Sug
Zuth
Zut


Zung
Luff
Rup
Ruck
Yun
Chuv


Chuzz
Jum
Juzz
Kun
Gub
Hup


'OO' sound, as in boot (or foot)

Poom
Boop
Moof
Foob
Footch
Voof


Vooz
Woob
Wootch
Thoob
Thoon
Thoog


Tooce
Doov
Noop
Nootch
Soom
Soog


Zood
Loof
Roop
Yoom
Yoot
Choom


Choodge
Joob
Koom
Koog
Gooz
Hoon


'AU' sound, as in sauce

Paub
Pauk
Baun
Mauf
Mauk
Fauv


Faung
Vaut
Vauk
Wauth
Waudge
Thauce


Thaug
Taud
Daup
Dauz
Nauce
Sauv


Zaum
Lauth
Raun
Yauf
Yaug
Chauth


Chaug
Jauce
Jautch
Gaum
Gaudge
Hauz


'Short O' sound, as in pot

Poth
Pon
Bok
Motch
Foth
Vop


Vob
Wom
Wodge
Thoss
Tob
Tozz


Doss
Som
Sodge
Zot
Zok
Lozz


Lotch
Yob
Yozz
Chob
Chot
Chog


Jod
Kom
Kotch
Goss
Hod
Hotch


'OW' sound, as in pout

Powd
Bowp
Bowce
Mowp
Mown
Fowp


Fowdge
Vowt
Vown
Wowf
Wowk
Thowd


Thowg
Towv
Towk
Dowf
Downg
Nowth


Nowk
Sowm
Sowtch
Zowb
Zown
Lowp


Lown
Rowf
Rowch
Yowm
Yowze
Chowf


Chowdge
Jowb
Jowt
Jowk
Kowf
Kowg


Gowth
Howb
Howd


'Long I' sound, as in pipe

Pive
Bipe
Bime
Bice
Mibe
Myche


Fide
Vipe
Wime
Wike
Thite
Tibe


Tife
Dite
Nibe
Nize
Sime
Sife


Zipe
Zide
Lipe
Libe
Rine
Rike


Yife
Yine
Chibe
Chize
Jife
Jize


Jike
Kytche
Gife
Gice
Hithe


'OI' sound, as in point

Poif
Poith
Poik
Boiv
Boydge
Moiv


Moych
Foim
Foize
Voip
Voin
Thoip


Thoin
Thoig
Thoiv
Thoych
Doib
Doin


Noip
Noit
Noig
Soiv
Soych
Zoit


Zoin
Loim
Loit
Loig
Roith
Roig


Yoith
Yoych
Choip
Choid
Joif
Joik


Koid
Koing
Goith
Goik
Hoiv
Hoize


CCV (Consonant-Consonant-Vowel)

Proy
Bruh
Blaw
Froo
Flah
Vroo


Thray
Throy
Druh
Snoo
Smee
Smah


Slee
Spaw
Staw
Skaw
Skoy
Krou


Gree
Gry
Glou


VCC (Vowel-Consonant-Consonant)

Eemp
Eelth
Eeps
Eenz
Ilp
Int


Ips
Isk
Ayft
Aynz
Esp
Elt


Ets
Esk
Anth
Amz
Usp
Und


Uks
Usk
Oomp
Oonth
Oond
Ooks


Oodz
Oothk
Ausp
Aunth
Aups
Audz


Osp
Ots
Osk
Ound
Ouks
Ougz


Oint
Oifs
Oidz
Olb
Oant
Oast


Oaft
Oaps
Oask




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