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What is a grapheme?

What is a grapheme?

A grapheme is a letter or a group of letters that make up a single sound. Graphemes are units of writing corresponding to a single sound. A grapheme (letter) is used to represent a phoneme (sound). In other words, a grapheme is the written form of a sound. For example, the word tap consists of three graphemes t, a, and p. The word trap consists of four graphemes t, r, a, and p. A grapheme can also consist of more than one letter; for example, tch in catch is a single grapheme because it corresponds to a single sound.

A grapheme (letter or group of letters) can represent more than one phoneme (sound). For example, the letter g has a soft and hard sound as in giraffe and get. In each of these words, the letter g is pronounced differently. Further, there are even more ways to spell the soft /g/ phoneme, including j and dge. One sound can have many different spellings or graphemes.

The easy way to remember the difference between a phoneme and a grapheme:
- Graphemes are written letters or combinations of letters. When you forget, think of drawing a graph.
- Phonemes are sounds. When you forget, think of speaking on a telephone.

Deep Dive

Read our report on the Science of Reading. Research-based reading instruction must incorporate the 5 pillars of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This report provides an easy to understand overview of each of these pillars and explains the important connection between how the brain learns to read (the Neuroscience of Reading) and how we teach children to read (The Science of Reading Instruction). It also explains why helping children build connections between letters and sounds, through phonics and phonemic awareness, is so crucial for the developing reading mind. This report is perfect for sharing with colleagues and friends!