Difference between phoneme and allophone/definitions

Phoneme vs Allophone

In studying the speech sounds of a language, called phonetics, students often confuse between phoneme and allophone. This is due to their similarities. A phoneme is a unit of sound in a language that cannot be further divided. It is the most basic sound unit. If the sound made by the letter T in English is the most basic unit of sound, it is called a phoneme. A phoneme is an expression or a sound that cannot be altered if one wants the meaning to remain the same. The same phoneme can lead to a different allophone, as there may be different sounds of the same phoneme. Many believe that phoneme and allophone are the same or identical. Here we will describe the Difference between phoneme and allophone.


The smallest unit of sound that can be used in many different words, but sounds the same in all words, as the smallest / p / sound in words like pot, spot, spit, phase, etc. Although the sound made in all these words is not identical, the sound of the p phoneme is perceived as the same and is believed to make use of the same / p / phoneme.


For a single phoneme, there may be a number of different sounds that can be made. These sounds become clear when we place a piece of paper in front of our mouths and we see the reaction when we make different sounds with the same phoneme. Thus, the different sounds made with the same phoneme are called allophones.

Difference between Phoneme and Allophone

  1. Phonemes are basic units of sound. They are significant and not predictable.
  2.  In different positions, in different words, the phonemes have different sounds. This is when allophones are called that are not meaningful and predictable.
  3. The main distinction between a phoneme and an allophone lies in what is in your mind and what comes out of your mouth.
  4. Phonemes are placed between slashes // and allophones in square brackets [].
  5. Allophone is the realization of a phoneme, its variant, conditioned by a specific phonetic environment. Unlike a phoneme, it is not an abstract concept, but a concrete speech sound.
  6.  phonemes can occur in the same phonetic positions, an allophone cannot
  7. Allophones can be in a relationship of complementary distribution (typically) and in a relationship of free variation
  8. allophones of the same phoneme do not occur in the same position

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