The Phonetics of English Vowels

If you want to learn to speak English well, you should pay close attention to phonics. In fact, English pronunciation is quite difficult for many speakers of other languages, especially since it is full of exceptions to its own rules. After having struggled to learn the basic concepts of English grammar and phonetics, vowels and consonants are not always pronounced as you might have expected.

There are many exceptions and, above all, the spelling of a word does not directly correspond to its pronunciation. To keep you from making mistakes, we present all of the different ways to pronounce each vowel along with the respective examples. Let’s begin!

The Vowels



  • /ɑ/ Short vowel. This sound is present in all words that have a single vowel between two consonants and, generally, in closed tonic vowels.

Examples: at, can, stamp, bad, cat, matter.

  • /ɔ/ When it is a long vowel, it has a sound that is between an “a” and an “o.” We find this sound when an “a” is followed by “l,” “ll,” or “lk” and also when it is between a “w” and another consonant.

Examples: all, fall, law, war, small.

  • /a:/ Long vowel. This is found in all words that end with a silent consonant or vowel, that is, one that is not pronounced. It is also found in single syllable words where the “a” is followed by an “r.”

Examples: walk, arm, wasp, lager, black, hand, Paris, car, farm.

  • /eɪ/ When it is a diphthong.

Examples: ate, flavor, case.



  • /i:/ Long “e.”

Examples: to be, English, sea, evil, feet.

  • /e/ Short and accented “e.” These are generally found in single syllable words.

Examples: bed, dress, red, head, them.

  • /ə:/ Schwa. This is a very common phoneme in English and can be found in many words. It is a reduced vowel that is present in the final syllable of many words or can be found in other words when it is the only vowel located between two consonants. (Consult ABA English’s article )

Examples: father, mother.

  • /ɪə/ Diphthong.

Examples: here, fear.



  • /ai/ Diphthong in open tonic syllables, when followed by “ld,” “nd,” “gh,” or “gn.”

Examples: mild, night, fight, mine, right.

  • /i/ Short “i” in closed tonic syllables.

Examples: kidneys, kit, minute, to hit, in.

  • /ə:/ Schwa in closed atonic syllables.

Examples: president, experiment.

  • /aiə/ Followed by an “r” in an open syllable.

Examples: hire, fire, to require.


Pronunciation in tonic syllables

  • /ɒ/ Short “o.”

Examples: hot, on, off.

  • /ɔ:/ Long “o,” if it is followed by an “r.”

Examples: north, lord, more, short, store, storm, pork.

  • /ə:/ Schwa, if it is preceded by a “w” and followed by an “r.” Also occurs in some final vowels.

Examples: word, world, for, preparation.

  • /ʌ/ If it is preceded by a “w” or a “c” and followed by an “n.”

Examples: onion, wonderful, money, monk, month.



  • /u:/ In tonic syllables, if it is preceded by an “l” or an “r.”

Examples: rude, flu, spruce.

  • /u/ In tonic syllables, if it is followed by an “l” or “ll.”

Example: pull.

  • /ʌ/ As seen before, it is pronounced like an open “a.” In this case there are also many exceptions, but these are just the main rules.

Examples: up, cut, luck.

  • /ju:/ o /ju/ In an open and atonic syllable.

Examples: volume, revenue.

Vowel Groups and Diphthongs



  • /au/ This is the most common pronunciation.

Examples: ground, sound.

  • /u:/ o /ʌ/

Example: cousin.

  • When it is not followed by a vowel, ous is pronounced /əs/.

Examples: courageous, gorgeous.



  • /ou/

Examples: boat, coat, toast, coach.



  • Usually /i:/

Examples: team, stream, cream.



  • /ʊə/ Diphthong. This is the correct pronunciation, except for door and floor which are pronounced /ɔ:/, and blood y flood which are pronounced /ʌ/.

Examples: soon, moon, cool, fool.

These are the key rules for pronouncing vowels in English. You can practice reading the examples we have given you in the article aloud, paying attention to each sound in order to pronounce it correctly. Listening exercises are another effective way to train your ear, to recognize the nuances of spoken English, and to learn to express yourself correctly. If this interests you, ABA English short films and our video classes with native teachers will be very useful to you. Our short films are based on everyday situations and are designed to help you learn English in a natural and simple way. Start now!

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  1. Thank you very much ABA team for sharing such useful inofrmation

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