American English Vowels

How many vowels are there in English? If you said 5, you're like most people. But the truth is, we have many more vowel sounds than that. In Standard American English, there are either 14 or 15 vowels.  People in the Western US have 14, and most people in the Eastern US have 15. Yes, that's a lot! Here they are:


  1. /eɪ/ --long A as in play

  2. /æ/ --short A as in apple

  3. /i/ --long E as in see

  4. /ɛ/ --short E as in met

  5. /ɑɪ/ --long I as in hi

  6. /ɪ/ --short I as in hit

  7. /u/ --long U as in shoe

  8. /ʌ/ --short U as in cut

  9. /o/ --long O as in go

  10. /ɑ/ --short O as in hot

  11. /ɔ/ as in caught (Eastern USA. In Western USA we just say /ɑ/ for this sound.)

  12. /ʊ/ as in foot

  13. /ɔɪ/ as in boy

  14. /aʊ/ as in cow

  15. /ə/ --schwa, the lazy vowel as in about

And we sometimes include the vowel R as well:

  • /ɝ/ (or /ɚ/) as in her


So American English has to spell 14 or 15 vowel sounds with only 5 vowel letters. We don't have enough letters! We therefore have to use our vowel letters to represent more than one sound. For example, letter A can sound like:


a as in apple /æ/

a as in table /eɪ/

a as in father /ɑ/

a as in about /ə/

a as in talk /ɔ/ (Eastern)


This is one reason English spelling is so hard to learn and pronounce! Hope this helped you to understand English a bit better. Keep on learning English!

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