A vowel is classified as a speech sound produced by a comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction.
The letters A, E, I, O, and U are called vowels. The other letters in the alphabet are called consonants.
A vowel sound (but not necessarily a vowel in the actual spelling) will be present in a syllable.
The letter Y can be a vowel (as in the words “cry”, “sky”, “fly” or “why”), or it can be a consonant (as in “yellow”, “yacht”, “yam” or “yesterday”).
These five or six letters stand for about 20 vowel sounds in most English accents. This important fact helps to explain why pronunciation can be difficult for both native speakers and learners of English.
- The rest of the letters of the alphabet are consonants:
B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y (sometimes), and Z
When a vowel sounds like its name, this is called a long sound. A vowel letter can also have short sounds. Whether a vowel has a long sound, a short sound, or remains silent, depends on its position in a word and the letters around it. Click on the following vowel letters to hear their long and short sounds.
a pronounced in the alphabet as ay (as in the word mate)
e pronounced in the alphabet as ee (as in the word edict)
i pronounced in the alphabet as ei (as in the word life)
o pronounced in the alpbabet as oh (as in the word only)
u pronounced in the alphabet as yu (as in the word union)
y pronounced in the alphabet as why is usually considered to be a consonant (as in yet). But it also is used as a vowel (as in merry), and then functions as a letter i.
The vowel a may be pronounced:
1. a as in apple (short a)
2. a as in father (long a)
3. ay as in mate (peculiarly English a)
4. as a schwa*.
5. “e” as in many.
6. “aw” as in mall.
7. “o” as in alter.
8. “eh” as in Mary.
The vowel e may be pronounced:
1. e as in get (short e)
2. e as in beta [“bay-ta”] (long e)
3. ee as in edict (peculiarly English e)
4. as a schwa*.
5. “uh” as in mercy.
6. or it may be silent as in life.
The vowel i may be pronounced:
1. i as in pit (short i)
2. i as in machine (long i)
3. ei as in life (peculiarly English i)
4. as a schwa”
The vowel o may be pronounced:
1. o as in font (short o)
2. oh as in only (long o)
3. “uh” as in some.
4. as a schwa*
The vowel u may be pronounced:
1. u as in full (short u)
2. u as in brute (long u)
3. yu as in union (peculiarly English u)
4. “uh” as in cup