Worksheets: Maximal Oppositions

This resource page contains many examples of picture-and-word work sheets intended for use in speech-language pathology intervention.

The sheets were made in Microsoft Word, using copyright-free pictures from Microsoft Clip Art and Media and converted into portable document files (pdfs) with Adobe Acrobat.

The vocabulary represents (non-rhotic) Australian English pronunciation, and although most of the words and minimal pairs will 'work' in other dialects of English you may need to discard some. For example, pairs like saw-shore, and spa-star are minimal pairs in Australian English and in other non-rhotic varieties of English, but not in rhotic dialects such as Canadian, Irish, Scottish and most US 'Englishes'.

SLPs/SLTs and students are invited to use these worksheets and other resources when working with children with speech sound disorders. You are free to save them to your computer and to customize them to suit individual clients and to fit your service delivery model. Restrictions that apply to their use are stated in the copyright notice.

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On this page you will find pictures and words for minimal pairs in which the contrasts are maximally or nearly maximally opposed. There are more minimal pair and near minimal pair pictures here and here.

How many exemplars?

There are many pictures to choose from here, but in selecting target words for phonological therapy it is definitely not a case of 'more is better'. Elbert, Powell and Swartzlander (1991) found that they could teach as few as 3 to 5 minimal pairs in order for their participants to show spontaneous generalisation to other words containing the target sounds.

Elbert, M., Powell, T. W., & Swartzlander, P.  (1991). Toward a technology of generalization:  How many exemplars are sufficient?  Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 81-87.

Minimal Pairs: Maximal Oppositions

Early, Middle and Late Eight Developing Consonants (Shriberg, 1993)

Early Eight Contrasts

/m/ Contrasts

/m/ vs. /f/ SIWI
man fan mat fat mine fine mail fail meat feet meal feel money funny make fake mix fix mole foal mountain fountain mate fête maid fade

/m/ vs. /s/ SIWI
mine sign mail sale meat seat meal seal money sunny mix six milk silk mouth south mole sole

/m/ vs. 'ch' SIWI
mop chop mat chat mix chicks merry cherry mare chair meter cheetah

/n/ Contrasts

/f/ vs. /n/ SIWI
fat gnat fine nine fail nail feel kneel fight night fit knit foam gnome forty naughty fun nun

/j/ Contrasts

/j/ vs. 'ch' SIWI
ewe chew year cheer yellow cello yes chess

/j/ vs 'dg' SIWI (1)
yam jam yak jack yay! J

/j/ vs. 'dg' SIWI (2)
yay J yet jet yak jack yolk joke yam jam ute jute yeti jetty yacht jot yell gel

/j/ vs. 'sh' SIWI
U shoe yell shell yawl shawl ewe shoe yurt shirt yawn shorn ute shoot yak shack yabby shabby U shoe ewe shoo you choux

/j/ vs. /s/ SIWI
ute suit yell cell yap sap yum sum yak sack yay say yet set yam Sam yolk soak U Sue ewe Sioux you sue

/b/ Contrasts

/b/ vs. /s/ SIWI
bean scene bun sun bee sea beet seat back sack bead seed band sand bale sale balloon saloon bell cell billy silly box socks b-c-b-c-b-c

/b/ vs /f/ SIWI
bus fuss bin fin bite fight big fig bun fun bowl foal ball fall bell fell bone phone bead feed box fox bat fat

/b/ vs /f/ SFWF
cub cuff tub tough rub rough pub puff grub Gruff cob cough Serb surf ebb F

/w/ Contrasts

/w/ vs. 'ch' SIWI
wick chick win chin Wayne chain west chest whip chip walk chalk

/w/ vs. 'dg' SIWI
weep jeep whale gaol/jail wig jig weigh J wet jet worm germ wade jade

/w/ vs. /s/, 'sh' and /f/ SIWI
one sun weed seed wheel seal whale sail wing sing wok sock wink sink well shell wok shock wake shake wall shawl wag shag whip ship wall fall weed feed walk fork wig fig one fun wait fete

/w/ vs. 'sh' SIWI
wok shock well shell wall shawl whip ship wheat sheet wake shake wed shed weep sheep wine shine wave shave Y shy wag shag win shin wade shade whale shale

/d/ Contrasts

/d/ vs /s/ SIWI
dip sip D C dock sock duck suck dough sew die sigh door d sea deep seep

/d/ vs /s/ SFWF
bud bus slide slice mad Mass kid kiss lead lease loud louse

/d/ vs 'sh' SIWI
door shore dip ship dot shot dark shark dock shock dough show dye shy dirt shirt deep sheep

/d/ vs 'sh' SFWF
mad mash hard harsh sad sash blood blush

/p/ Contrasts

/p/ vs. 'dg SIWI
peep jeep pay J pump jump pet jet pug jug punk junk pig jig pail gaol/jail P G  pack jack paid jade pa jar pane Jane poke joke

/p/ vs. /l/ SIWI
pick lick pine line punch lunch pot lot peg leg peach leech peep leap pop lop park lark pay lei pane lane pink link peak leak

/p/ vs. /r/ SIWI
peach reach pane rain peep reap pink rink peak reek pack rack pail rail peel reel pat rat peck wreck pest rest post roast pig rig pocket rocket pool rule pa Rah pug rug Pope rope pen wren pestle wrestle pie rye Ping ring pod rod pose rose

/h/ Contrasts

/t/ vs. /h/ SIWI (1)
teat heat, tip hip, toot hoot, tart heart, till hill, ten hen, toe hoe, tie hi, top hop, tub hub, tug hug

/t/ vs /h/ SIWI (2) Contributed by Stacy Fietz
tea he ten hen tie high two hoo tip hip tear hair

/k/ vs. /h/ SIWI
cart heart corn horn calf half cat hat coal hole cook hook

/g/ vs. /h/ SIWI
gate hate go hoe goal hole

/h/ vs. /r/ SIWI
heap reap hail rail heel reel hat rat host roast hug rug hen wren hose rose hand rand hash rash hoe row hook rook habit rabbit head red hi rye hole roll hope rope hush rush hut rut hot rot hay ray

Middle Eight Contrasts

/t/ Contrasts

/t/ vs. /r/ SIWI
teach reach teak reek tack rack tail rail test rest toast roast tool rule toes rose ta Rah tug rug ten wren tie rye toe row tag rag two roo Ted red toad road

/k/ Contrasts

/k/ vs. /r/ SIWI
kale rail keel reel cat rat coast roast cash rash cook rook coal roll cane rain car Rah king ring code road cake rake case race camp ramp coach roach kite right cut rut cot rot

/k/ vs. /l/ SIWI
cook look cash lash cane lane code load cake lake case lace camp lamp cot lot cap lap kite light kick lick keg leg K lei cab lab calf laugh card lard cast last kid lid

/k/ vs. 'dg' SIWI
cane Jane cot jot K J key G kale gaol/jail car jar cog jog coin join cob job cab jab coot jute

/k/ vs. /z/ SIWI
cap zap coo zoo cone zone key Z kit zit king zing kipper zipper

/k/ vs /v/ SIWI
cast vast cane vein coal vole key V cat vat can van cow vow Kale veil cane vane

/g/ Contrasts

/g/ vs. 'ch' SIWI (1)
guy chai guess chess guest chest gum chum

/g/ vs. /f/ SIWI (1)
gale fail goal foal gate fête gig fig gun fun ghee fee game fame gable fable go foe

/g/ vs. /f/ SIWI (2)
go foe game fame Gus fuss gate fete gold fold gale fail goal foal gig fig gun fun ghee fee gable fable

/g/ vs. /s/
go sew game same Guy sigh gum sum give sieve gold sold gun sun ghee C goal sole gale sail gap sap

Late Eight Contrasts

/r/ Contrasts

/s/ vs. /r/ SIWI
sail rail seal reel sand rand sash rash sew row soap rope sing ring sink rink sack rack sock rock sale rail sip rip

/r/ vs. /d/ SIWI
rock dock roar door rig dig ray day rip dip Rome dome run done reel deal red dead ram dam rice dice wreck deck rug Doug rust dust row dough

New to maximal oppositions? Read on...

Place-Voice-Manner Chart

Consonants are classified in terms of their place of articulation, manner of articulation and voicing. The chart at the foot of this page is a PVM Chart showing the consonants of English. The voiced glide /w/ is included twice because it has two places of articulation, bilabial and velar. The glottal stop is also there because it occurs in some dialects of English.

Place of Articulation

Consonants are made by obstructing or constricting airflow at some point in the vocal tract. The point of obstruction or constriction is called the place of articulation. The ‘places’ of articulation are Bilabial, Labiodental, Interdental, Alveolar, Palatal, Velar and Glottal. Note that there are other classification systems that differ slightly.

Manner of Articulation

Consonants are classified in terms of their Place-Manner-Voice. The manner of articulation is the type of obstruction that occurs in the production of a particular consonant. The ‘manners’ of articulation are: Stop, Fricative, Affricate, Nasal, Liquid and Glide. The Stops, Fricatives and Affricates are termed obstruents, and the Nasals, Liquids, Glides, AND VOWELS are termed sonorants. The consonants /l/, /r/, /w/ and /j/ are also referred to as approximants.

Non-Major Class Distinctions

The Non-Major Class Distinctions are in place: differentiating labial, coronal and dorsal consonants; in manner: differentiating stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals, liquids, glides; and in voice: differentiating the voiced-voiceless cognate pairs.

Major Class Features

Major Class Features distinguish between the main groupings of sounds in a language: consonants vs. vowels, glides vs. consonants, and obstruents (stops, fricatives, and affricates) vs. sonorants (nasals, liquids, glides, and vowels).

Bake-make illustrates a major class distinction between obstruents and sonorants; make-wake illustrates the major class distinction between consonants and glides.

In the minimal pair silly-billy the contrast is not quite maximal, but it is ‘maximal enough’ to be highly salient for a child receiving intervention. In silly-billy we have labial /b/ vs. coronal /s/, stop /b / vs. fricative /s/, voiced /b/ vs. voiceless /s/, and unmarked /b/ vs. marked /s/. It crosses many featural dimensions but /b/ and /s/ are obstruents so there is no obstruent vs. sonorant opposition (i.e., no Major Class Feature distinction).

Maximal Opposition

A maximal opposition cuts across many featural dimensions. For example the word pair bun-sun differs in place (labial is distinct from coronal), manner (stop is distinct from fricative) and voice (/b/ is voiced and /s/ is voiceless). The contrast fat-gnat is in place, manner, voice and major class (/f/ is an obstruent and /n/ is sonorant), and markedness (/f/ is marked, /n/ is not).

Target Selection and Maximal Oppositions

"Known" vs. maximally distinct "unknown" sound

In the Maximal Oppositions approach (Gierut, 1989, 2001, 2007) Minimal Pair therapy the treatment sets consists of words that are minimally contrasted and which have maximal or near maximal feature differences between each word pair. One word in a pair represents a sound the child "knows" (can say at word level) and the other represents a sound the child does not know (cannot say).

For example, a child may "know" /m/ and be able to say words like man, mat and mine. However, the same child may be unable to say /f/ as in fan, fat and fine. The consonants /f/ and /m/ are maximally opposed as follows.

Non-Major Class Distinctions
Place NO - /m/ and /f/ are both labial, however /m/ is bilabial and /f/ is labiodental
Voice YES - /m/ is voiced and /f/ is voiceless
Manner YES - /m/ is nasal and /f/ is fricative
Major Class Features
Obstruent vs. Sonorant YES - /m/ is sonorant and /f/ is obstruent
Unmarked (simple) vs. Marked (complex) YES - /m/ is unmarked and /f/ is marked

/m/ vs. /f/ SIWI
man fan mat fat mine fine mail fail meat feet meal feel money funny make fake mix fix mole foal mountain fountain mate fête maid fade

Employing this target selection strategy, Gierut and co-workers have demonstrated widespread cross-system generalisation in suitable children with phonological disorder.


Gierut, J. (1989). Maximal opposition approach to phonological treatment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 9-19.

Gierut, J. (2001). Complexity in phonological treatment: Clinical factors. Language, Speech, and Hearing in Schools, 32, 229-241.

Gierut, J. (2007). Phonological complexity and language learnability. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 16(1), 6-17. CLICK HERE

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