Long and short vowels cover many vowel sounds in English…but not all of them! There are many more vowel sounds that Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online acknowledges. Let’s explore some of them.
The short o sounds
If you studied phonics in grade school, you may remember the short o, as in the word lot. (It looked like this: ŏ.) Merriam Webster actually splits this sound into two distinct sounds. Though these sounds are still quite similar, it is good to dwell on their differences.
The first sound is represented by an a with an umlaut over it. (It looks like this: \ä\.) I like to think that this one sounds like a happier “ah” sound, and that the two dots of the umlaut represent two hands raised up in joy. To pronounce this sound correctly, try to open your mouth wide, almost as if you were yawning. Words with this sound include cot, father, mop, and honest.
The second sound is represented by an o with a single dot over it. (It looks like this: \ȯ\.) I like to think that this one sounds like a sadder “aw” sound, and that the one dot represents a head hanging down in disappointment. To pronounce this sound correctly, drop your jaw a bit more, and make your mouth into a bit of a smaller o shape. Words with this sound include brought, long, law, and saw.
Many words can actually be pronounced correctly with either of these sounds. If you look up words such as belong, wasp, and strong, you’ll see both sounds represented. Try pronouncing them with both sounds so you can become more adept at both hearing and saying these sounds. It is good training for your ear, and may make a difference in your spelling career!
The u sounds
There are actually three vowel sounds that appear in the MWU represented by the letter u. Let’s look at them one at a time.
The first vowel sound is simply the sound of the letter u, or the word you pronounced clearly. (It appears in the dictionary as \yü\.) In grade school phonics, you would see the symbol ū representing this sound. Examples of words with this sound include fume, butte, cue, and spew.
The second vowel sound sounds like the second part of the first vowel sound. It’s represented by the letter u with an umlaut over it (appearing as \ü\), and simply sounds like “ooh” instead of “you.” Words with this sound include to/too/two, soon, rude, and blew/blue.
The third vowel sound is less common than the first two, yet still seen in many simple words. It’s represented by the letter u with a single dot over it (appearing as \u̇\). Words with this sound include book, hook, foot, and wood.
One last one…
There is a last vowel sound that is linked to the letter u, but it deserves its own post. And it’s a doozy of a sound. Why? Uh…we’ll explore it on our very next post. Stay tuned!
Photo credit: Pentecostalsofoc – a picture of a very beloved father, representing the sound \ä\.