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How many vowels are in the English language?

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Wiki User
2013-06-02 07:16:03

There are 5 vowels and 2 semi-vowels (Y and W).

But there are from 11 to 20 "vowel sounds" in English, made by

one or more vowels in various words.

"Vowels_in_the_English_Alphabet" id=

"Vowels_in_the_English_Alphabet">Vowels in the English


The 5 traditional vowels are A, E, I, O, and U. However, in English

the the letters W and Y can also represent vowel sounds, but they

don't always do so. Hence, they may be considered vowels


Examples with Y and W as vowels:

  • In the word "by" [ˈbɑɪ], the Y represents the vowel diphthong

    [ɑɪ], sometimes called the "Long I" sound.

  • In the word "cow" [ˈkaʊ], the W represents the vowel sound


Examples where Y and W do not represent vowels:

  • In the word "yet" [jɛt], the Y represents the semi-vowel sound


  • In the word "we" [wi:], the W represents the semi-vowel sound


"Vowel_Sounds_in_the_English_Language" id=

"Vowel_Sounds_in_the_English_Language">Vowel Sounds in the English


Depending on the accent, the English language can have anywhere

from 11 to 20 vowel sounds. As evidenced above, the English

alphabet only has 5 letters that are used exclusively to represent


Using the General American accent as an example, these are some

of the vowel sounds that exist, excluding diphthongs:

  • [ɑ] - the A in father
  • [æ] - the A in cat
  • [ə] - the A in about
  • [ɛ] - the E in bet
  • [e] - the A in pay
  • [ɜ]* - the UR in purple or the IR

    in bird, usually followed by an [ɹ]

  • [i] - the I in machine
  • [ɪ] - the I in big
  • [o] - the O in toe
  • [ɔ] - the O in cost
  • [u] - the OO in cool
  • [ʊ] - the OO in good
  • [ʌ] - the U in bug

*R-colored (rhotic) vowels:

  • [ɝ] - the OR in work
  • [ɚ] - the ER in butter

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