Long and Short Vowel Differences and Examples
If you’re just learning to read English, you may have noticed something very strange about the written language. Unlike many languages that have consistent rules for pronunciation, a lot of English words that use the same letters are pronounced differently. This is especially true with English vowels: the words “man” and “mane” are pronounced differently, while the words “mane” and “main” are pronounced the same. Why is that?
Last Updated May 2022
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In this article, we’ll go over the basic rules of long and short vowel pronunciation in English, as well as the best way to make sure you always get the pronunciation right whenever you learn a new English word.
How many vowel sounds are in English?
Depending on where you are and whom you ask, English has between 14 and 20 different vowel sounds. Most American English speakers have 15 or 16 vowel sounds.
If you’re learning English, you may already be familiar with the English alphabet, which has five vowels — a, e, i, o, u — and sometimes y. But with up to 20 different vowel sounds in English, how can just five or six vowels represent all the different sounds? Part of the solution is having short and long vowel sounds, that is, vowels that are pronounced differently depending on how and where they appear in a word.
What are short and long vowels?
In a lot of languages, short and long vowels are pronounced with the same sound but for different lengths of time. This isn’t the case in English. Instead, short and long vowel sounds get different pronunciations.
What does a long vowel sound like in English?
Long vowels in English sound just like the letter sounds in the alphabet. Some examples of long vowel sounds include:
|Vowel||Long Vowel Example|
What does a short vowel sound like in English?
Short vowel sounds, on the other hand, have very different sounds. Short sounds include:
|Vowel||Short Vowel Example|
Basic rules for long and short vowel sounds in English
There are a few rules you can use to help figure out whether a vowel should be pronounced as a short vowel or a long vowel in English.
Long vowel rules
|Vowel-consonant-e: When a word ends in this pattern, the first vowel is long and the final -e is silent||name, meme, lime, dome, plume|
|Two vowels together: When you see two vowels next to each other, the first vowel is usually long, and the second vowel is usually silent||rain, meat, pie, boat|
|i before e (except after c): When you see the vowel combination ie or cei, then the sound is usually a long e||relieve, receipt, conceive|
|e before i: When you see the vowel combination ei without a c before it, then the vowel sound is usually a long a||weight, neighbor, freight|
Short vowel rules
|Consonant-vowel-consonant: Vowels in the middle of short words are usual short vowel sounds||man, bet, tin, mom, cup|
|Vowel-consonant: Short words that start with vowels and end in consonants are usually short vowel sounds||at, in, on, up|
How to know for sure if an English vowel is long or short
Though the rules above can help you figure out which words use long or short vowels, English is full of exceptions to these rules. So, if you’re not sure whether to pronounce a vowel as short or long, we recommend you look up the word in a dictionary. Every word should come with a pronunciation guide using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). IPA is used to help people pronounce words in any language around the world, including English.
If you look up a new word, use the IPA spelling to figure out for sure what the vowel should sound like.
Long vowel examples with IPA pronunciation
|Vowel||Long Vowel Example||IPA (Vowel Only)||IPA (Full Word)|
Short vowel examples with IPA pronunciation
|Vowel||Short Vowel Example||IPA (Vowel Only)||IPA (Full Word)|
English has more than just long and short vowels
While long and short vowel sounds cover the majority of English words you’ll come across, remember that the full list of English vowel sounds can be at least 14 different sounds if you speak American English. As you improve your English skills, make sure to keep up with proper pronunciation. Our guide to improving English pronunciation will fill you in on everything you need to know to perfect your English pronunciation. And when you’re ready for more advanced English lessons, our English courses will get you speaking English like a native in no time.
Quiz on English long and short vowels
Below are 50 different English words. Can you tell whether they use long or short vowels? If you’re not sure, try using the basic rules above or looking up the IPA pronunciation in a dictionary.
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