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How many vowels are in the English language?

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Answered 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 AlphabetThe 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 "sometimes".

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" [ˈkaÊŠ], the W represents the vowel sound [ÊŠ].

Examples where Y and W do not represent vowels:

  • In the word "yet" [jÉ›t], the Y represents the semi-vowel sound [j].
  • In the word "we" [wi:], the W represents the semi-vowel sound [w].
Vowel Sounds in the English LanguageDepending 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 vowels.

Using the General American accent as an example, these are some of the vowel sounds that exist, excluding diphthongs:

  • [É‘] - the A in father
  • [æ] - the A in cat
  • [É™] - the A in about
  • [É›] - the E in bet
  • [e] - the A in pay
  • [Éœ]* - the UR in purple or the IRin bird, usually followed by an [ɹ]
  • [i] - the I in machine
  • [ɪ] - the I in big
  • [o] - the O in toe
  • [É”] - the O in cost
  • [u] - the OO in cool
  • [ÊŠ] - the OO in good
  • [ÊŒ] - the U in bug
*R-colored (rhotic) vowels:
  • [ɝ] - the OR in work
  • [Éš] - the ER in butter
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