In phonetics, a triphthong (UK: /ˈtrɪfθɒŋ, ˈtrɪpθɒŋ/, US: /-θɔːŋ/) (from Greek τρίφθογγος, "triphthongos", 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 that are 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 nucleusEdit

Bernese GermanEdit

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 thriphthongs:[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 hour (compare with disyllabic "shower" [aʊ̯.ə])
  • [aɪ̯ə̯] as in fire (compare with disyllabic "higher" [aɪ̯.ə])
  • [ɔɪ̯ə̯] as in "loir" (compare with final disyllabic sequence in "employer" [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". Other instances are loanwords, such as boa.

[aʊ̯ə̯, aɪ̯ə̯, ɔɪ̯ə̯] are sometimes written with ⟨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 nucleusEdit


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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Vokale" (in German).


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