What are Vowel Sounds

What are Vowel Sounds

Speech sounds in a language can be basically categorized into vowels and consonants. A vowel sound is made by the vocal cords. A vowel can be defined as a speech sound produced by a relatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with the vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction.

The letters that represent the vowel sounds in the English alphabet are a, e, i, o, and u. The letter y can also sometimes act as a vowel. (Vowel: cry, sky, my) These 5/6 letters represent about 20 sounds in English.

 A vowel letter can have different vowel sounds.

Ex: cat(/kat/), hate (/heɪt/),  all(/ɔːl/), art(/ɑːt/)

The same vowel sound can be also represented by different vowel letters as well.

Ex: weigh (/weɪ/), clay (/kleɪ/), bake (/beɪk), opaque (/ə(ʊ)ˈpeɪk/)

Given below is a chart of vowel sounds in English. The vowel sounds are represented by their IPA symbols.




truck, up


calm, father,


cat, rack


met, said


array, survey


burn, learn


sit, admit


agree, me


hot, allot


all, law, more


foot, put, could


brood, include, blue


five, eye

allow, out

stray, eight

home, go


destroy, join


affair, where,


adhere, near


cure, tourist

Since vowels need continual sound flow and sound shaping, they can be described in terms of

Height: describes the position of the tongue – high, mid or low in the mouth

Advancement: describes whether the tongue is in the back or front of the mouth

Rounding: describes whether the lips are protruded or not.What are Vowel Sounds

Another way to describe vowels is to describe the place of articulation and manner of articulation.

There are some special terms in relation to the articulation of vowels.

Diphthong: A sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable. Here, the sound begins as one vowel and moves towards another. Ex: loud, boy

Monophthong: A vowel that has a single sound quality. The tongue is in one position when these sounds are made. Ex: cat, bit

Open vowel: A vowel that is pronounced with the tongue on the bottom of the mouth.

Close vowel: A vowel sound made with the  tongue near the top of the mouth.

Vowel Sounds – Summary

  • A vowel can be defined as a speech sound produced by a relatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with the vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction.
  • The letters A, E, I, O and U (sometimes Y) represent the 20 vowel sounds in English.
  • Vowels can be classified according to the manner and place of articulation.

Image Courtesy:

“IPA Vowels” by –  via

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