Overview of Vowels

Do you know the total number of different vowel sounds in English?

Beginners often think the answer is “five”, because there are five vowel letters in the alphabet. Of course, anyone familiar with this blog already knows that each vowel letter has at least one Long-vowel and one Short-vowel sound. So is it ten vowels total? Nope! The answer is… fifteen different vowel sounds!

The English vowel system is complex, and almost every learner of English has trouble with at least a few of the vowels. The vowel system is the most difficult part of figuring out how to pronounce new words. So, mastering the vowel system can make a huge improvement in the way you sound in English, and it can help you be better at figuring out how to say new words.

All of the vowel sounds have been explained in other posts, so here is the complete list.
(not on audio)

#1 Long-A
#2 Short-a-1
#3 Short-a-2 and Short-o
See: The Sounds of A

#4 Long-E and Long-I-2
#5 Short-e
See: The Sounds of E

#6 Long-I
  — Long-I-2 (Old-style Long-I) — same as Long-E
#7 Short-i
See: The Sounds of I

#8 Long-O
  — Short-o — same as Short-a-2
  — Short-o-2 (Alternate Short-o) — same as Short-u
See: The Sounds of O

#9 Long-U-1
#10 Long-U-2 and Long-OO
#11 Short-u and Schwa
See: The Sounds of U and The Sound of Schwa

  — Long-OO — same as Long-U-2
#12 Short-oo
See: Long-OO and Short-oo? What’s that?

#13 Vowel /aw/
#14 Vowel /oy/
See: Two Other Vowels

#15 R-vowel
See: The Power of R

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Long-OO

There is no letter “OO” in the English alphabet, but Long-OO and Short-oo are part of the vowel system.

Short-oo

Short-oo is a unique vowel sound that is not represented by any other vowel letter. This vowel is explained in “Short-oo? What’s that?”

Long-OO

Long-OO does not have its own sound. It uses the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO is really more of a “helper” to Long-U — it’s an alternate way to spell the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO takes the place of the letter “U” in words that need a Long-U-2 instead of Long-U-1. (see Long-U: 1 or 2?). Here are some examples,

fool  — If we spelled this word with a “U”, the “F” would trigger a Long-U-1, and the word would end up sounding like the word “fuel”. So, in order to have a Long-U-2 sound in “fool”, the “OO” is used instead of a “U”.

boot — If this word had a “U” it would be “bute” — because a “B” also requires Long-U-1. So again, the “OO” helps out to keep a Long-U-2 sound.

coo — This word would sound like “cue”, if it had a “U” instead of “OO”.

Spelling Patterns

Long-OO and Short-oo also sometimes follow spelling patterns used by the other vowels. For example, the spelling rule in which an [-e] at the end of a word indicates a long vowel, can also be seen in some words with “OO”:

  • If you see an [-e] at the end of a word with “OO” you know for sure that it is Long-OO, as in the words “soothe”,  “goose” and “snooze”.
  • However, if you see a word that does not have an [-e] at the end, it could have either sound. Some have Long-OO, such as “food”, “school” and  “moon”. Some have Short-oo, such as “hook”, “wool” and “good”.

So that’s the scoop on Long-OO.