What are Vowels and their Sounds

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.[1] 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

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