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In phonetics, a triphthong (UK: /ˈtrɪfθɒŋ, ˈtrɪpθɒŋ/ TRIF-thong, TRIP-thong, US: /-θɔːŋ/ -⁠thawng) (from Greek τρίφθογγος, "triphthonggos", literally "with three sounds," or "with three tones") is a monosyllabic vowel combination involving a quick but smooth movement of the articulator from one vowel quality to another that passes over a third. While "pure" vowels, or monophthongs, are said to have one target articulator position, diphthongs have two and triphthongs three.

Triphthongs are not to be confused with disyllabic sequences of a diphthong followed by a monophthong, as in German Feuer [ˈfɔʏɐ] 'fire', where the final vowel is longer than those found in triphthongs.


Triphthongs that feature close elements typically analyzed as /j/ and /w/ in phonology are not listed. For instance, the Polish word łój [wuj] 'tallow' is typically analyzed as /CVC/ - a sequence of a consonant followed by a vowel and another consonant. This is because the palatal approximant is resyllabified in some inflected forms, such as łojami [wɔˈjami] (instr. pl.), and also because /w/ occurs word-finally after a consonant just like /l/ does (compare przemysł [ˈpʂɛmɨsw] 'industry' with Przemyśl [ˈpʂɛmɨɕl] 'Przemyśl'), which means that both of them behave more like consonants than vowels.

On the other hand, [ɪ̯, i̯, ʊ̯, u̯] are not treated as phonetic consonants when they arise from vocalization of /l/, /v/ or /ɡ/ as they do not share almost all of their features with those three.

First segment is the nucleus[edit]

Bernese German[edit]

Bernese German has the following triphthongs:

  • [iə̯u̯] as in Gieu 'boy'
  • [yə̯u̯] as in Gfüeu 'feeling'
  • [uə̯u̯] as in Schueu 'school'

They have arisen due to the vocalization of /l/ in the syllable coda; compare the last two with Standard German Gefühl [ɡəˈfyːl] and Schule [ˈʃuːlə], the last one with a schwa not present in the Bernese word.


Danish has the following triphthongs:[1]

  • [ɛɐ̯u̯] as in færge 'ferry'
  • [iɐ̯u̯] as in hvirvle 'to whirl'
  • [œ̞ɐ̯u̯] as in Børge, a given name
  • [uɐ̯u̯] as in spurv 'sparrow'


In British Received Pronunciation, and most other non-rhotic (r-dropping) varieties of English, monosyllabic triphthongs with R are optionally distinguished from sequences with disyllabic realizations:

  • [aʊ̯ə̯] as in: flour (compare with disyllabic "flower" [aʊ̯.ə])
  • [aɪ̯ə̯] as in: byre (compare with disyllabic "buyer" [aɪ̯.ə])
  • [ɔɪ̯ə̯] as in: coir (compare with disyllabic "coyer" [ɔɪ̯.ə]), loir (compare with disyllabic "lawyer" [ɔɪ̯.ə])

As [eɪ̯] and [əʊ̯] become [ɛə̯] and [ɔː] respectively before /r/, most instances of [eɪ̯.ə] and [əʊ̯.ə] are words with the suffix "-er", such as player and lower. Other instances are loanwords, such as boa.

[aʊ̯ə̯, aɪ̯ə̯, ɔɪ̯ə̯] are sometimes written as awə, ajə, ɔjə, or similarly. On Wikipedia, they are not considered to feature the approximants /w/ and /j/, following the analysis adopted by the majority of sources.

Second segment is the nucleus[edit]


The last two are mostly restricted to European Spanish. In Latin American Spanish (which has no distinct vosotros form), the corresponding words are cambian [ˈkambi̯an] and cambien [ˈkambi̯en], with a rising-opening diphthong followed by a nasal stop and initial, rather than final stress. In phonology, [u̯ei̯, u̯ai̯, i̯ai̯, i̯ei̯] are analyzed as a monosyllabic sequence of three vowels: /uei, uai, iai, iei/. In Help:IPA/Spanish, those triphthongs are transcribed wej, waj, jaj, jej: [ˈbwej], [uɾuˈɣwaj], [kamˈbjajs], [kamˈbjejs]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vokale" (in German).


  • Gütter, Adolf (1971), Nordbairischer Sprachatlas, Munich: R. Lerche
  • Wells, John C. (1982), Accents of English, Vol. 2: The British Isles (pp. i–xx, 279–466), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-52128540-2