What are Graphemes?

What are Graphemes?

A grapheme is a written symbol that represents a single phoneme (sound). Graphemes can be a single letter, a pair of lettters (digraph), or three letters (trigraph). You can even use four letters, such as 'ough' in dough, which are called quadgraphs, which I think sounds goofy.

Grapheme Examples
SingleDigraphTrigraphQuadgraph😛
a
b
c
d
e
f
g
and so on...
ay
ea
oa
oo
ck
ng
sh
th
igh
ure
dge
gue
tch
augh
eigh
ough
ngue

We combine graphemes to spell words. There will be one grapheme for every phoneme in a word.

Examples
OneTwoThreeFourFive
a
I
at
see
she
they
itch
bat
fell
when
look
tongue
send
stuff
great
school
highway
stand
branch
friend
reading
straight

But What About Silent E Words?

'Silent E' words are using digraphs! The digraph is split up by another letter, but it is still just two letters that represent a single sound. For example, the digraph 'ie' represents a single sound in the word 'pie' (), and so does the split digraph 'i_e' in the word 'pine' ().

Teaching Kids Graphemes Can Be Tricky

Our brains are setup to know that when you look at objects from a different angle, it's still the same object. For example, look at this image of a chair.

If you flip the chair to face the other way (horizontally) or upside down (vertically) or both, then ask little three-year old Jenny, 'What is this?' Jenny would say it's a chair.

So what happens when Jenny looks at these letters?

bdpq

Jenny will often mix up these letters because they're the same shape just flipped or rotated in a different direction. When teaching writing we need to tell Jenny that a 'b' flipped horizontally ('d') is actually a whole different letter. It represents a different sound!

Combine Graphemes and Phonemes to get Reading

Graphemes are half of the puzzle of reading. The other half is phonemes: the sounds that graphemes can represent.

However, the really sneaky thing is that graphemes can be used to represent different phonemes, such as how the letter 'a' has a short sound and a long sound . This is where correspondences come in. They bridge graphemes and phonemes. Learn more in our article about Correspondences!