Vowels in English: Spelling vs. Pronunciation
There are 11 vowels & 3 diphthongs in English; 8 of these vowels also exist in French.
IPA Symbol English Examples French Examples
[ i ] seat, feet, be, field, funny vie, midi, lit, riz
[ ɪ ] sit, did, with, this - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
[ e ] cake, hate, rain, play blé, nez, cahier, pied
[ ɛ ] get, help, red, head lait, aile, balai, reine
[ æ ] cat, hat, that, after - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
[ a ] not, stop, fond, want, father chat, ami, papa, salade
[ ə ] sun, but, today, sofa fenêtre, genou, cheval, cerise
[ u ] spoon, new, glue, fruit loup, cou, caillou, outil
[ ʊ ] put, would, good, look - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
[ o ] those, bone, goes, coat eau, dos, escargot, hôtel
[ ɔ ] dog, talk, caught, saw sol, pomme, cloche, horloge
[aw] cow, town, house, found - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
[aj] I, buy, why, high, night - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
[ɔj] toy, boy, oil, soil - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
→ Words that end in a silent -e are usually pronounced with a "long" vowel or diphthong. Notice that the pronunciation of the vowel is the same as the name of the letter when reciting the alphabet.
• cake [e] • these [i] • bike [aj] • home [o] • tube [u]
→ Words that do not end in a silent -e, but rather with a consonant, are usually pronounced with a "short" vowel:
• cat [æ] • yes [ɛ] • sit [ɪ] • log [ɔ] / not [a] • run [ə] / put [ʊ]
Sort these words according to the pronunciation of their vowel or diphthong:
did these lime soap found jump ate
cat play buy toy home not toe
knee run fog yes why soil spoon
night cow knew meat up rat law
red late fruit with book want stove
my talk man men mouse goes taught
clown queen cake hat sun help took
Some Exceptions to the Rules
1. Rule: EA pronounced as [i]: speak, eat, sea, teach, leave, dear, fear, read (present)
EA can also be pronounced as [ɛ]: head, sweat, threat, read (past)
EA can also be pronounced as [e]: break, great, bear, pear
2. Rule: OW and OU pronounced as [aw]: now, town, clown, house, mouse, found
OW/OU can also be pronounced as [o]: know, snow, show, own, flown, dough, though
OU can also be pronounced as [ɔ]: cough, fought, bought, brought, thought
OU can also be pronounced as [ə]: rough, tough, enough
OU can also be pronounced as [u]: through, you
3. Rule: OO pronounced as [u]: spoon, moon, food, choose, loose, goose, boot, zoo
OO can also be pronounced as [ʊ]: look, cook, book, hook, good, wood, foot
OO can also be pronounced as [o]: door, floor, poor
The most common words in English do not follow the rules!
have is pronounced [æ], as in hat
says / said are pronounced [ɛ], as in red
give & live are pronounced [ɪ], as in did
gone is pronounced [ɔ], as dog
what / was / come / some / done / does are pronounced [ə], as in run
lose is pronounced [u], as in new
would / could / should / put is pronounced [ʊ], as in good
find is pronounced [aj], as in buy
Practice saying these sentences:
1. What have you gone and done now?
2. I live in a white house that my father owns.
3. You always read so much that your head hurts.
4. I know now what he said and did.
5. We're going to lose if you choose to wait.
6. Tim and Dan said there was no time to waste.
7. This suit looks good on you.
8. These and those should go well together.
9. Could you talk to my sister for me?
10. They bought some dough to make cookies, but it wasn't enough.
11. Please close the door. The heat will make us sweat.
12. The man said the train was late because of the snow.
13. I thought you said that rugby was too rough to play.
14. Jane went to the store because she wanted to buy some peaches.
15. This cat hates to eat meat but he loves other good food.
16. Don't yell at me because I won't help you cook.
17. An apple fell on the ground, and another fell in the pond.
18. The plural of mouse is mice, but the plural of goose is geese.
19. Why didn't you read this book last night? You had enough time.
20. I have a big fear of bears and snakes, but not spiders or wolves.
21. What is this blue and green fruit? Is it ripe enough to eat?
22. The queen sat on her throne and ate grapes from a plate.
23. The cat and dog fought all day until I brought one inside the house.
24. First I made the bed and then I had some tea and bread with jam.
25. I didn't hear what you said, my dear. Is it over here or over there?