Hausa consonant sounds

Hausa has 23 to 25 consonant sounds, depending on the speaker. See Hausa Writing for discussion of special symbols in the Hausa spelling system.  

Glottalized Sounds (“hooked letters”, ts, and ‘y)

From the point of view of European languages, Hausa has five unusual consonant sounds. Linguists refer to these as “glottalized” sounds because the glottis (basically, the space between the vocal cords) is constricted when one pronounces these sounds. Two of the glottalized sounds are implosive, i.e. air is sucked inward as the sound is produced, the other two are ejective, i.e. the air is “ejected” or forced out with a “squeezed” sound. The fifth combines glottal stop with “y”. Compare the glottalized sounds with their non-glottalized counterparts by clicking on the words in red below:

‘one at a time’d’aid’ai.aiff ‘exactly’daidai.aiff


‘baobab tree’




‘children, offspring’


Can you hear the differences between the glottalized and the non-glottalized consonants? Test yourself!

The Two “r’s” of Hausa

Hausa has two “r” sounds:

  • “tapped r” or “trilled r” which resembles the “r” sounds of Spanish, Arabic, and many other languages of the world. This sound is produced by tapping or trilling the tongue against the ridge just behind the upper teeth.
  • The other r is called a “retroflex flap”. This is similar to the r of Japanese, which is “l-like”. It is produced by curling the tongue back, then flipping it forward across the ridge behind the upper teeth.

The distinction between the two r‘s is particularly clear when they are pronounced as geminate or doubled. The “doubled” tap/trill is heard as a strong trill, whereas the “doubled” retroflex flap begins as a prolonged “errr” sound, something like the “r” in American English ‘bird’, and ends with the tongue flap. The standard Hausa orthography does not distinguish the two types of r. On this Web page, when we want to show the distinction in writing, we will write the tap/trill with a tilda above the “r” and leave the retroflex flapunmarked. Listen to the difference between the two r‘s by clicking on the words in red below:












Not all Hausa speakers distinguish the two r‘s in their speech. This seems to be more of an individual speaker difference than a regional dialect difference, because even within one area, such as Kano city, one finds speakers who distinguish the two r‘s and those who do not. Speakers who do not distinguish the two r‘s invariably use the tap/trill variant.

The pronunciation of f

The Hausa sound written “f” is not pronounced like the “f” typical of European languages such as English or French. Speakers of these languages pronounce “f” by bringing the lower lip next to the upper teeth (producing a “labio-dental” sound). In Hausa, “f” is a bilabial sound. The lips are brought near each other and air is blown between them. For some Hausa speakers, the constriction of the lips is so tight that “f” sounds very much like English “p”. Click on the words in red to hear the Hausa pronunciation of the “f” sound, then say a word with an English “f” to see if you can hear the difference.

‘woven tray’

‘open area, field’

‘balls of millet flour used for making gruel’ The sounds f and h are closely related in Hausa. Some dialects do not have an f sound at all. Even in dialects like that of Kano, which do have an f sound, this sound almost never falls before “o” and is rare before “u”. Thus, English words which have “f” before “o” are pronounced with “h” instead when they come into Hausa, and words in Hausa which have f in one form may have h in other forms if the consonant comes before “o” or “u”. Note the following: from English ‘photo’ ‘to cook’ vs. the related form ‘cooking’ ‘go’ vs. the related form‘come hither’ 

Geminate or “Doubled” Consonants

Hausa has many words which contain geminate or “doubled” consonants. These are produced by holding the tongue and/or lips in the position of the consonant for a longer period of time than for the corresponding simple consonants. All consonants can be pronounced as simple or geminate. In the pairs of words below, concentrate on the difference between the simple consonant and its geminate counterpart. See the section on the two r’s of Hausa above for examples of single and geminate “r’s”):



‘Hi!; Sorry!’

‘monitor lizard’

‘head pad’

‘durbar, parade’



‘deceit, guile’

Consonants which change in pronunciation: palatalization

Hausa has four consonants which usually alternate in pronunciation depending on the vowel that follows them. This alternation is referred to by linguists as palatalization, that is the change of a sound to its “palatal” counterpart when occurring before the vowels i or e, which involve raising the tongue toward the palate. Note the variation of the second consonant in the following words depending on the vowel which follows the consonant.

 BEFORE a, o, u BEFOREe, i
‘theft’ ‘women’
‘he stole money’ ‘woman’
‘inheritance’ ‘running’
‘I inherited from her’ ‘to run away’
‘spears’ ‘to transplant’
‘spear’ ‘transplanting’
‘chicken’ ‘to scatter (here)’
‘chickens’ ‘to scatter around’

Some dialect differences in pronunciation

There are several differences in the pronunciation of consonants which distinguish speakers of different regions of the Hausa speaking area. See Hausa dialects for comments on the main dialect areas of Hausa country. Below are some of the more noticeable dialect differences in the pronunciation of consonants. This section mentions only general differences in the way certain consonants are pronounced. There are also many dialectal differences in pronunciation of individual words, e.g. the word meaning ‘marriage’ is pronounced amrearme, or aure depending on dialect.

j vs. zh

In the northern parts of the Hausa-speaking area, particularly in Niger Republic, Hausa speakers pronounce the sound written “j” as zh, i.e. the sound that the letter “s” represents in English in a word like measure. The representation with “zh” in the “NIGERIEN” examples shows the pronunciation. These words would be written with “j” in the standard writing system.


It has been observed that Niger is an area where French is the official language and that the letter “j” in French represents the zh sound. Hence, this may be an influence of French on Hausa pronunciation. This cannot possibly be the case. ALL Hausa speakers in this region have the zh pronunciation of “j”, whereas the number of Hausa speakers who knew French or even had daily contact with the French language by the time of independence in 1960 was relatively small. It is inconceivable, first, that those speakers of Hausa who knew French would systematically shift the way they pronounced “j” in their native language to a “French model”, and second, that this foreign pronunciation would spread to the speech of the vast majority of Hausa speakers who did not know French.

f vs. hw or h

The northern and western areas of the Hausa speaking region do not have the bilabial f-sound of the eastern and southern areas, including the Kano area. The table below shows the correspondences in pronunciation. In the written Hausa of Niger, words containing these sounds will usually be written as pronounced. In Nigeria, because the Hausa of Kano is the written standard, these words will usually be written with “f”, the sound found in the Kano pronunciation.

Before a
‘hope’ ‘foot’
Before other vowels
‘field’ ‘health’

The f-sound is rare before the vowels “o” and “u” even in “Kano” Hausa. See notes on the pronunciation of f. 

“c” for “ky” and “j” for “gy” in non-native Hausa

All native speakers of Hausa have the sounds ky and gy (palatalized “k” and “g” respectively) in their speech. Some speakers of other languages who use Hausa as a second language pronounce ky as “c” and gy as “j”. Although the writing system does not show it, Hausa speakers also always pronounce “k” and “g” as ky and gyrespectively before the the vowels “i” and “e”. The c and j pronunciations thus also show up in the speech of some non-native speakers of Hausa in words where “k” and “g” come before these vowels.

‘beauty’ ‘fish’
‘repair’ ‘house’

In addition to speakers of some languages other than Hausa in Nigeria and Niger, the pronunciations of ky and gydescribed here are a feature typical of Ghanian Hausa, a variety of Hausa which has become the native language of numerous Ghanians.

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