What Are Vowels? Definition and Examples

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What are vowels? Vowels are one of the crucial elements of language, as they form the basis for meaningful spoken and written communication. When we think about vowels, what typically comes to mind is the five commonly accepted letters: A, E, I, O, and U. However, did you know that dozens of other vowel sounds exist in various languages?

Depending on the language being spoken, those same five letters can be used to make different and distinct vowel sounds – it’s all in how they’re pronounced!

What Are Vowels

What are Vowels?

Vowels are the “voiced” sounds of a language. They help to give words their unique sound and make them distinct from one another. Voiced sounds are produced by pushing air out of the mouth via the vocal cords, as opposed to stopped or voiceless sounds, which are formed by pushing air through the mouth without involving the vocal cords.

Generally speaking, there are five main vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, and U (though there can be variations on vowel sounds depending on dialect). In English, vowels have different long and short forms.

For example, some words have an ‘ee’ sound for the long form (bee) and an ‘eh’ sound for their short form (bet). These nuances of pronunciation enable us to communicate effectively with others.

Short Vowels

Short vowels are immensely useful for mastering English pronunciation. These short vowels can be grouped into three main categories.

  • The first is an application of the open ‘a’ vowel that is present in words like “cat,” “bat,” and “hat”.
  • The second application is that of the schwa sound, represented by an upside-down ‘e.’ This sound is at the heart of many common words, including “about,” “again,” and “above”.
  • And, there are the various ‘o’ sounds which usually come at the end of a syllable and are represented in the words “cot,” “drop” and “hot”.

Understanding how each of these vowels functions is a great skill to have for any student of English!

The Short ‘a’ Sounds

Short ‘a’ sounds are an important part of the English language and can make a huge difference to speech clarity. Short ‘a’ is produced when a speaker pronounces a word while keeping the jaw, tongue, and lips relaxed; this creates a vowel sound which is shorter and more “closed” than its long ‘a’ counterpart.

Take the words “cat” and “caught” for example; both include an ‘a’ sound but the first one has a much shorter pronunciation of that sound thanks to its relaxed production. Knowing how to accurately pronounce short ‘a’ is paramount in making sure your communication is clear, especially in speaking situations when you don’t have time or space to repeat yourself.

The Short ‘e’ Sounds

The short ‘e’ sound is often denoted in the International Phonetic Alphabet by the symbol /ɛ/, and is one of the most commonly used sounds in the English language. It can be found in words like “test,” “bed,” and “head,” as well as being used to form many other words (e.g., ‘element’ contains two short e sounds). When making a short ‘e’ sound, the tongue should slightly rise up, while the lips are pursed together and make an outward shape.

While these guidelines may be helpful to some, it is important to note that native speakers will not always produce speech elements perfectly according to the rules of phonetics. Therefore, it is more beneficial for a learner of English to listen closely for variations of the same sound than trying hard to adhere strictly to rules.

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The Short ‘i’ Sounds

The short ‘i’ sound is commonly found in the English language and likely forms a regular part of speech for many speakers. This sound usually comes at the beginning or end of a syllable and is typically spelled with an “i” preceded or followed by another consonant. Examples of words with a short ‘i’ sound include ‘bit’, ‘fit’, and ‘hug’.

In some cases, it can be difficult to differentiate between a short ‘i’ sound and its long counterpart, but it’s important to know the difference so that we don’t unintentionally change the meaning of words when attempting to pronounce them properly! Understanding this phoneme will also greatly increase one’s fluency when discussing all sorts of topics over the conversation.

The Short ‘o’ Sounds

The ‘short o’ sound is one of the most commonly used vowel phonemes in the English language. Pronounced with a relatively neutral tone around the lips, this sound can be found in many words like “hot,” “tock,” and “spot.” While there are many accepted pronunciations for this phoneme, it generally produces what some phoneticians refer to as a bunched [ɒ]: i.e., mouth corners raised or bunched together for a tighter articulation than its sister sound [ʌ].

  • An example of the former is “top” and an example of the latter is “cotton.”

For learners, it is important to learn that while some variations exist when placing word stress on words containing short o’s, it rarely changes the pronunciation of this specific sound itself.

The Short ‘u’ Sounds

The short “u” sound is a vowel that can be heard in words like ‘sun’, ‘cup’, ‘dug’ and ‘fun’. It is observed as the unstressed form of the “ū” diphthong when it follows W, Y, or V. Additionally, it’s also used to replace a regular “u” sound in some circumstances as well.

  • For example, saying the word ‘nothing’ results in four consecutive short “u” sounds (nuh-ah-thuh-ng).
  • Other examples include: ‘pudding’, ‘tune’, ‘cupboard’ and ‘popcorn.’ The short “u” sound is also considered a counterpart to two additional sounds – the long ʊ sound and the schwa u sound.

When words featuring any of these three sounds are spoken quickly in succession and with a single stress they all blur together into one seamless yet distinct sound.

Long Vowels

Long vowels are an essential part of English spelling and pronunciation, as they allow us to tell the difference between two words that would otherwise sound the same. A long vowel is longer in duration than a short vowel and generally has the same sound as its name. For example, the long ‘a’ sounds like ‘ay’, while the short ‘a’ sounds like ‘uh’.

Similarly, long ‘e’ makes the sound of ‘eee’ while short ‘e’ sounds like ‘eh’. Learners of English need to become fluent with distinguishing between long and short vowels if they wish to build their vocabulary and understand conversations easily. Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful resources online that allow you to practice this skill!

The Long ‘a’ Sounds

The long ‘a’ sound is the independent vowel sound in the English language and can be represented with either the letter “A” or “E”. The classic example of a long ‘a’ sound is found in words like “make”, “fate” and “bake”. It’s a bit more complicated than that though.

  • For instance, double vowel combinations such as “aim”, “beat” and “reat” also use a long ‘a’ sound.

There are even longer phrases that use this same bleat, like remaining, sustaining and claiming. Familiarizing yourself with these nuances of pronunciation can really help you master your English!

The Long ‘e’ Sounds

The long ‘e’ sound, also known as the ‘ee’ sound, is common in the English language. It can be hard to master if you are not a native speaker, but with some practice and understanding, it can become second nature! A great way to measure the accuracy of your pronunciation of this sound is to find words where only the length of the ‘e’ differs from another word – for example, between ‘bee’ and ‘be’. It’s always good to compare yourself with a professional pronunciation guide too.

One final thing to remember about the long ‘e’ sound is that it can be spelled in many different ways. Examples include ‘spear’, ‘deed’, and ‘read’, so it pays to keep an eye on the spelling as well as listen out for the sound.

The Long ‘i’ Sounds

The “long i” sound is a vowel sound that is created when saying certain words. It has what is known as a “diphthong,” meaning the combination of two different vowel sounds into one syllable.

  • An example of this would be the word “fight.” In this word, both the long “i” and the long “e” can be heard.
  • Other examples include words like “color,” “bright,” and even “write.”

Each of these words contains two elements of vowel sounds; the first being a short “uh” sound (like in cup) and the second transitioning to a purer, longer “ee” sound (like in bee). This unique combination creates a distinctively different way of pronouncing certain words that will make them stand out in any context.

The Long ‘o’ Sounds

The long ‘o’ sound is used in many words and can often be difficult to recognize. It is a diphthong, which means that two vowel sounds need to be joined together to make the final sound. The most common combination for this sound is a combination of the ‘a’ and ‘u’ sounds.

  • Examples of words that use this pronunciation are howl, owl, tomato, and load.

Additionally, you may notice some words have different pronunciations depending on context or region. For instance, in some dialects the word “road” may be pronounced as a long ‘o’ while other people say it as one syllable with more of an ‘ah’ sound. In any case, the long ‘o’ moves through both vowel sounds when spoken correctly.

The Long ‘u’ Sounds

The phonetic long ‘u’ sound is something you’ll find throughout many words in the English language. When speaking or reading aloud, you produce this sound by saying “yoo”. This sound can also be represented in writing with the letter combinations “ue”, “ew” and sometimes, “ou”. To help remember how it sounds, think of the word “blue”.

Listen to yourself saying it – that’s the long ‘u’ sound. This vowel has a few different spellings depending on the context. If you were trying to convey the idea of an animal giving off an intimidating noise, you could write and pronounce it as “grrrowl”. If you were making a joke about getting dirty while playing outside, however, you might say and write it as “schmoo”. No matter what it’s spelled like in any given word, though, pronouncing the long ‘u’ requires forming your mouth into the same shape each time.


Diphthongs are an interesting aspect of language that many people don’t know much about. In English, they occur when two adjacent vowel sounds are blended together to create one syllable. It’s a bit like mashing up two words into one sound. The word “sword” is an example of a diphthong; the “oo” syllable is made up of the two separate vowels “o” and “u”.

Many languages have diphthongs, including Spanish, French, and German. It can be tricky to hear and pronounce diphthongs correctly, but with practice you can learn how to use them in conversation with ease. Diphthongs help to create a true representation of how speech should sound in certain languages, so understanding how to use them it can go a long way for boosting your language proficiency.


Triphthongs are an important part of learning linguistics. They are a combination of three vowel sounds strung together in the same syllable, and they often challenge learners of English. These particular types of sounds can be difficult to master since they involve the use of various mouth positions while pronouncing them correctly.

That said, having a good understanding of what triphthongs are and how to say them correctly can pay off in the long run as it can greatly improve communication skills as well as overall pronunciation proficiency.

Silent Letters and Vowels

Whether or not silent letters or vowels make an appearance in a word can change the way it sounds and it’s meaning. This is especially true for English which relies heavily on silent letters and vowel combinations both as part of spelling and pronunciation. Aside from changing a word’s pronunciation, silent letters and certain vowels may be used to form numerous homophones which have different spellings but maintain the same sound when spoken.

Knowing which letters are silent and how to correctly pronounce vowels within words allows readers to have an easier time distinguishing between very similar terms that otherwise may not look much different on paper. This should lead to greater fluency with language while also a better understanding of both written and spoken English.

Double Vowels

Double vowels are a fun and often a tricky feature of the English language. When two equal vowels come together consecutively in a word, it changes the pronunciation as well as the meaning.

  • For example, when “ea” appears in the middle of a word, like “break,” we pronounce it as one syllable (brake).

Whereas if those same two letters appear at the end of the word, pronounced separately (bre-a-k), it changes its meaning to an action involving something breaking. If you catch yourself mispronouncing double vowel words, don’t worry—you’re far from alone! Once you get some practice in learning these fascinating variations it’ll become second nature.

Vowels and Syllables

Vowels and syllables are fundamental building blocks of language that play an intricate role in communication. A vowel sound is created when the vocal cords vibrate while the mouth remains open; syllables, on the other hand, refer to units of spoken or written language made up of one or more consonants with a single vowel sound at its core.

The combination of these sounds promotes clarity when speaking as they come together to form words which make it easier to process what other people are saying. Furthermore, without vowels and syllables, spoken words would be indistinguishable from each other making comprehension extremely difficult. It is therefore essential to pay special attention to them in order to be able to express ourselves correctly and understand one another fluently.


Vowels are an essential part of the English language and, as such, they should be taken seriously when learning it. Knowing what are vowels , their definition and examples, types, how to teach them to children and more is key to becoming proficient in linguistics. By understanding the various ways that vowels can appear and change a word’s pronunciation or meaning, you will have a better grasp of speaking and reading English.

The practice of distinguishing between diphthongs, triphthongs, silent letters, double vowels and syllables may not come easy at first but with enough dedication, it can become second nature over time. Ultimately having a good command of these vowel-based aspects of language is sure to pay off in the long run.


What is a vowel?

A vowel is a sound created when the breath flows out of the mouth, without any obstruction from the teeth, tongue, or lips. It typically has an open quality that allows it to be heard clearly and distinctly.

What are the types of vowels?

There are five main types of vowels: short (or monophthong), long (or diphthong), nasal, voiced, and unvoiced vowels. Each type produces a different sound and has its own specific rules for usage in certain words or phrases.

How can I teach my child about vowels?

Teaching your child about vowels can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience:

  • Start by introducing them to the five types of vowels and their sounds, then let your child practice saying each one.
  • Then have them practice spelling words with vowels in them.
  • And, encourage your child to experiment with combining different vowel sounds to create new words or sentences.

What are some examples of vowel sounds?

Vowel sounds include “a” as in the word “cat”; “e” as in the word “egg”; “i” as in the word “ice”; “o” as in the word “odd”; and “u” as in the word “under”. There are also many variations of these basic vowel sounds, such as nasal, voiced, and unvoiced vowels.

For example, the “oo” sound in the word “moon” is a nasal vowel. The “e” in the word “meow” is a voiced vowel. And lastly, the “u” in the word “butterfly” is an unvoiced vowel.

What other examples of vowels can I use to help my child learn?

Other examples of vowels include words such as apple, elephant, igloo, orange, and umbrella; or even longer words like astronaut, ostrich, unicorn, volunteer, and zebra. You can also find many online activities that will help your child understand how to pronounce different vowel sounds correctly. With a little practice, your child will soon be able to recognize and use all types of vowels.

Are there any other tips for teaching my child about vowels?

Yes! When teaching your child about vowels, it is important to remember that each vowel has its unique sound and associated rules for pronunciation and usage. Be sure to explain these rules clearly and provide plenty of examples so that your child can better understand them. You may also want to incorporate some fun activities into your lesson plan such as singing songs with vowel sounds or having them draw pictures of things with the same vowel sound in them. Above all else, have patience when teaching what are vowels – it takes time for children to learn and remember these concepts.

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