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English Pronunciation: Standard American English Vowel Sounds

Study the American English vowels with the chart below. This is a quick, simple guide.
To view longer word lists, go to 500 Words Practice: Short Vowels and Long Vowels.

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Short Vowels
Examples Long Vowels
Examples Diphthongs

Short A Cat, Apple Long A Late, Rain A to O ()o
Down, Ouch

Short E Pet, Fell Long E Meet, Bead

Choice, Boy

Short I Sit, Fish Long I Fight, Pie

Short O Off, Hot Long O Hope, Boat

Short U (schwa*) Up, Fun Long U Only Flute, Boot

Relaxed U 
Good, BookY + Long UCute, Music

What is a vowel?
A vowel is a sound that is created without diverting or blocking sound. The main vowels are A, E, I, O, U. Think about these sounds and compare them to the consonants (all the other letters). For instance, B is made by closing the lips (blocking sound). S is made by lightly pressing the tongue against the top of the mouth (diverting sound). When you speak the vowels, your mouth is open and fairly relaxed.

Though vowels do not divert or block sound, there is facial movement in creating them. In fact, in American English, most vowel sounds are large and we move the mouth a lot. The only vowels with little facial movement are the Short E, the Short I and the Short U.

Long vowels say the names of the letters. These sounds usually have more complicated spellings, especially a silent vowel nearby. They have long spellings. Short vowels have short spellings, no silent letters.
Only the Short E, the Short I and the Short U are short, quick sounds. All other vowel sounds are fairly large. Americans use large vowels and soft consonants.

The 750 Business Words pronunciation class includes 12 complete lessons on vowel sounds and spelling patterns. This class is great for intermediate to advanced speakers.

* The phonetic name for the short U is "schwa." This is the simplest sound you can make. Relax completely and breathe out.
Vowels in unstressed or common words sometimes reduce to the schwa sound--for instance the "a" in "around" or the "o" in "brother."
** Y is also partly a vowel. Y has three sounds: the Y in "yes," the Y in "happy" and the Y in "try."

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