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?

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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:

VowelLong Vowel Example
aname
emeet
itime
oknow
ucute

What does a short vowel sound like in English?

Short vowel sounds, on the other hand, have very different sounds. Short sounds include:

VowelShort Vowel Example
aapple
eegg
ibit
ofog
ubut

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

RuleExamples
Vowel-consonant-e: When a word ends in this pattern, the first vowel is long and the final -e is silentname, 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 silentrain, 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 erelieve, 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 aweight, neighbor, freight

Short vowel rules

RuleExamples
Consonant-vowel-consonant: Vowels in the middle of short words are usual short vowel soundsman, bet, tin, mom, cup
Vowel-consonant: Short words that start with vowels and end in consonants are usually short vowel soundsat, 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

VowelLong Vowel ExampleIPA (Vowel Only)IPA (Full Word)
acake/eɪ//keɪk/
esteam/i//stim/
iknife/aɪ//naɪf/
ocoat/oʊ//boʊt/
ufume/yu//fyum/

Short vowel examples with IPA pronunciation

VowelShort Vowel ExampleIPA (Vowel Only)IPA (Full Word)
abat/æ//kæt/
eget/ɛ//gɛt/
ipin/ɪ//pɪn/
otop/ɒ//tɒp/
upup/ʌ//pʌp/

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.

  1. ate
  2. maze
  3. flute
  4. bit
  5. sit
  6. hot
  7. moat
  8. hone
  9. cube
  10. bone
  11. came
  12. knit
  13. kite
  14. cone
  15. aim
  16. pop
  17. same
  18. It
  19. meek
  20. mean
  21. oat
  22. bait
  23. leaf
  24. cop
  25. pat
  26. oar
  27. taint
  28. flue
  29. win
  30. fine
  31. din
  32. stump
  33. wine
  34. hope
  35. fine
  36. prop
  37. help
  38. prep
  39. gin
  40. gong
  41. gene
  42. fit
  43. plop
  44. zig
  45. zag
  46. bin
  47. seen
  48. sleigh
  49. fun
  50. Udemy

Answer key

  1.  long
  2. long
  3. long
  4. short
  5. short
  6. short
  7. long
  8. long
  9. long
  10. long
  11. long
  12. short
  13. long
  14. long
  15. long
  16. short
  17. long
  18. short
  19. long
  20. long
  21. long
  22. long
  23. long
  24. short
  25. short
  26. long
  27. long
  28. long
  29. short
  30. long
  31. short
  32. short
  33. long
  34. long
  35. long
  36. short
  37. short
  38. short
  39. short
  40. short
  41. long
  42. Short
  43. short
  44. short
  45. short
  46. short
  47. long
  48. long
  49. short
  50. long

Page Last Updated: August 2021

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