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Nasal consonant

consonant that's pronounced by letting air escapes through the nose but not through the mouth

A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to come out through the nose, while the air is not allowed to pass through the mouth because something (like the tongue or the lips) is stopping it. Examples of nasal consonants in English are [n] and [m], in words such as nose and mouth.


Nearly all nasal consonants are nasal stops (or nasal continuants), where air comes out through the nose but not through the mouth, as it is blocked by the lips or tongue.

Most nasals are voiced, and, in fact, the nasal sounds [n] and [m] are among the most common sounds used in languages of the world. Voiceless nasals are used in a few languages, such as Burmese and Welsh.

In terms of acoustics, nasal stops are sonorants, meaning that they do not significantly stop the flow of air (as it can come out the nose). However, nasals are also stops in their articulation because the flow of air through the mouth is blocked completely. So nasal consonants sound both like sonorants and like obstruents.

Acoustically, nasal stops have bands of energy at around 200 and 2,000 Hz.

Voiced Voiceless
Description IPA SAMPA Description IPA SAMPA
voiced bilabial nasal [m] [m] voiceless bilabial nasal [m̥] or [m̊] [m_0]
voiced labiodental nasal [ɱ] [F] voiceless labiodental nasal [ɱ̥] or [ɱ̊] [F_0]
voiced dental nasal [n̪] [n_d] voiceless dental nasal [n̪̥] or [n̪̊] [n_d_0]
voiced alveolar nasal 1 [n] [n] Voiceless alveolar nasal 1 [n̥] or [n̊] [n_0]
voiced retroflex nasal [ɳ] [n`] voiceless retroflex nasal [ɳ̥] or [ɳ̊] [n`_0]
voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] [J] voiceless palatal nasal [ɲ̥] or [ɲ̊] [J_0]
voiced velar nasal, commonly written ng. [ŋ] [N] voiceless velar nasal [ŋ̥] or [ŋ̊] [N_0]
voiced uvular nasal [ɴ] [N\] voiceless uvular nasal [ɴ̥] or [ɴ̊] [N\_0]

Examples of languages containing nasal consonants:

The voiced retroflex nasal is [ɳ] is a common sound in Indic languages.

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages, such as: Spanish ñ; or French and Italian gn; or Catalan, Hungarian and Luganda ny; or Czech and Slovak ň; or Polish ń; or Occitan and Portuguese nh; or Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin nj.

English, German and Cantonese have [m], [n] and [ŋ]. Tamil possesses distinct letters to represent [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ɲ] and [ŋ] (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

Catalan, Occitan, Spanish, and Italian have [m], [n], [ɲ] as phonemes, and [ɱ] and [ŋ] as allophones. (In several American dialects of Spanish, there is no palatal nasal but only a palatalized nasal, [nʲ], as in English canyon. In Brazilian Portuguese nh is frequently pronounced as a nasalized [ j ], that is, as a nasal glide. This vowel also exists in Guaraní.)

The term 'nasal stop' will often be abbreviated to just "nasal". However, there are also nasal fricatives, nasal flaps, nasal glides, and nasal vowels, as in French, Portuguese, Catalan (dialectal feature), Yoruba, Gbe, Polish, and Ljubljana Slovene. In the IPA, nasal vowels are indicated by placing a tilde (~) over the vowel. : French sang [sɑ̃].

A select few languages use voiceless nasal consonants. Among them are Icelandic, Burmese, Jalapa Mazatec, Kildin Sami, Welsh, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik.


  • Ferguson (1963) 'Assumptions about nasals', in Greenberg (ed.) Universals of Language, pp 50–60.
  • Saout, J. le (1973) 'Languages sans consonnes nasales', Annales de l Université d'Abidjan, H, 6, 1, 179–205.
  • Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Niger–Congo overview', in Bendor-Samuel & Hartell (eds.) The Niger–Congo Languages, 3–45.