Long and Short Vowels Sounds
English grammar contains 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, and u – and long and short vowels sounds. Actually, each vowel can have many different sounds. Learning which vowel sound to use in English grammar is made easier if you know the rules.
Long and Short Vowel Sounds
There are 15 different vowels sounds in the English Language. In phonetics – the study of the relationship between letters/spelling and sounds – the use of terms such as short vowels and long vowels, as well as symbols which are related to a certain sound – helps us pronounce a word properly.
While a, e, i, o, and u make up most of these sounds, the letters w, y, and gh are also used to spell some of those vowel sounds.
Let’s break up the vowel sounds into 3 broad categories:
Short Vowel Sounds
Generally speaking, when a vowel occurs between 2 consonants, we get a short vowel sound. For example:
short a: /æ/ hat
short e: /ɛ/ sled
short i: /ɪ/ bin
short o: /ɑ/ dot
short u: /ʌ/ fun
When the last consonant is followed by another consonant, the short vowel sound remains. But when the consonant following the vowel is then followed by an e, the vowel sound changes, and it becomes a long vowel sound with the ‘e’ silent. For example:
short a: hat
short a: hatter
long a: hate
Long Vowel Sounds
Long a /eɪ/ hate
Long e /i/ deep
Long I /ɑɪ/ like
Long o /oʊ/ alone
Long u /yu/ cute
A long vowel sound is easier for English language learners to understand because the pronunciation is the same as the letter name.
A vowel at the end of a word is usually long: Potato, we, I
Igh and ight are usually the long ‘e’ sound: sight, high
Exceptions and Vowel Sounds which use Non-Vowel Letters
There are many exceptions, but even within these exceptions there are rules which apply!
If a vowel is followed by the consonant ‘r’, the vowel sound is neither long nor short. For example:
/ɑr/ — arm
/ɛər/– bare/bear, hair
/ɪər/– beer, ear
/ɜr/ — bird, burn, thirst, fur, nerd, earth, burn, worse
/ər/ — baker, better, bigger, doctor, smaller, summer
/ɔr/ — for, more, north
Other vowel sounds – the ‘oi sound’ and ‘ow sound,’ are two-sound vowels. They are called dipthongs, meaning they are a vowel sound that also includes either consonant: /w/ or /y/.
Understanding all the 15 vowel sounds, long, short, those with consonants and exceptions in English grammar will help your pronunciation of vocabulary words.