A lateral is an L-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth.
Most commonly the tip of the tongue makes contact with the upper teeth (see dental consonant) or the upper gum (the alveolar ridge) just behind the teeth (see alveolar consonant). The most common laterals are approximants and belong to the class of liquids, though lateral fricatives and affricates are common in some parts of the world.
The labiodental fricatives and often—perhaps usually—have lateral airflow, as the lip blocks the airflow in the center, but they are nonetheless not considered lateral consonants because no language makes a distinction between the two possibilities. Plosives are never lateral, and the distinction is meaningless for nasal stops and for consonants articulated in the throat.
Consonants are not necessarily lateral or central. Some, such as Japanese r, are not defined by centrality; Japanese r varies between a central flap and a lateral flap .