What are long and short vowels

» What’s the difference between short and long vowels?

» What’s the difference between short and long vowels?

Learning the building blocks of words - sounds, their spellings, and word parts

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Phonics teaching materials often talk about "short" and "long" vowels, as though the latter are just extended versions of the former.

The five vowels usually called "short" are:

  • "a" as in "cat",
  • "e" as in "red",
  • "i" as in "sit",
  • "o" as in "not",
  • "u" as in "bus".

The five vowels usually called "long", and which children are told "say their (letter) name", are:

  • "a" as in "paper",
  • "e" as in "be",
  • "i" as in "find",
  • "o" as in "go",
  • "u" as in "human".

But are we talking about sounds here, or particular spellings of these sounds?

If "short" vowels are sounds (regardless of spelling), then the following are short vowels too:

  • "a" spelt as in "plait", "salmon", and "Fahrenheit",
  • "e" spelt as in "bread", "said", "says", "any", "leopard", "heifer", "friend", and "bury",
  • "i" spelt as in "gym", "pretty", "busy", "sieve", and "women",
  • "o" spelt as in "want", "because", and "entree",
  • "u" spelt as in "front", "young", "blood", and "does".

Following the same logic, the following are also "long" vowels:

  • "a" spelt as in "make", "rain", "say", "they", "eight", "vein", "break", "fete", "cafe", "puree", "sundae", "gauge", "gaol", and "straight".
  • "e" spelt as in "bee", "eat", "field", "these", "ski", "funny", "turkey", "protein", "marine", "paediatric", and "amoeba",
  • "i" spelt as in "like", "by", "pie", "high", "type", "bye", "bonsai", "feisty", "height", "kayak", "eye", "iron", "tae kwondo", and "naive".
  • "o" spelt as in "home", "boat", "goes", "glow", "plateau", "mould", "mauve", "though", "folk", "brooch", "owe", "sew" and "Renault".
  • "u" spelt as in "use", "few", "cue", "feud", "you", "beauty", "nuisance", "ewe", "vacuum".

Try saying "capped-caped", "dinner-diner", "bellow-below" (stressing both syllables in "below"), hopping-hoping and "cutter-cuter".

The spoken versions don't just differ by length, and the written words with "short" vowels are actually longer, due to their double letters.

The terms "short" and "long" are misleading and confusing. These vowels are not short and long versions of each other.

They're completely different vowels

If you stretch out an "a" as in cat, you don't get an "a" as in paper.

"A" as in "cat" is a low front pure vowel, and "a" as in paper is a diphthong (two vowels run together) which moves from low to high in the front of the mouth.

The same goes for the other "short-long" pairs. The long" vowel "e" as in "be" is a pure vowel, but "i" as in "find" and "o" as in "go" are both diphthongs.

The sound "u" as in "human" is actually a consonant-vowel combination ("y" as in "yes" plus "u" as in "hula"), which makes sense of the spelling of "you", but not most of its other spellings. Which part of the letter "u" in "human" is representing the "y" sound, and which part the "ooh"? For learning-spelling purposes it's counterproductive to slice it so finely. However, children will often hear the "y" and want to write it, and teachers need to know that it's not a figment of childish imaginations, there really is a "y" sound in "new" (unless you speak American English).

Why people think "short" vowels are short

The "short" vowel sounds cannot occur at the end of a syllable in English. They must be followed by a consonant.

In linguistics, they are called "checked" vowels. We actually have six of them, the other one being "u/oo" as in "put" or "good".

Since we only have five vowel letters, but we have 20 vowel sounds, we have to use syllable position and letter-combining to get a bit of clarity around which sounds we mean.

Often we use vowel combinations like ai, ee, ea, ie, oa, oo, oe and ue.

Often we use a vowel plus a letter Y, W, R or L, as in ay, ey, oy, aw, ew, ow, ar, er, ir, or, ur, and sometimes al (as in calm or walk) and ol (as in yolk).

The letters Y, W, R and L otherwise represent consonants that are quite open and vowel-like.

Well, actually, the letter Y by itself is almost always a vowel spelling (as in "by", "baby" and "gym"), but not at word beginnings, where people writing "X is for xylophone" type alphabet books tend to focus.

A doubled consonant letter (ff, ss, ll, zz etc) usually indicates that the vowel before it is a "short" vowel, i.e. it's not an open syllable, it ends with a consonant (as per the "capped-caped" etc example above).

What about the other vowels?

In the dialect I speak, there are twenty vowel sounds, not ten. The missing-in-action ones in the five-short-five-long classification are:

  • "oo" as in "good", "put", "could", "wolf".
  • "ooh" as in "moon", "flute", "chew", "soup", "hula", "blue", "fruit", "to", "lose", "shoe", "sleuth". This tends to get lumped in with "long u" as it shares some spellings and is one of the two sounds in the letter name U ("y" + "ooh").
  • "ar" as in "car", "pass", "calm", "heart", "are", "baa", "aunt", "galah" and "clerk".
  • "er" as in "her", "first", "nurse", "works", "early", "journal", "were", "masseur" and "myrtle".
  • "aw" as in "for", "saw", "more", "all", "launch", "four", "warm", "door", "walk", "bought", "caught", "board", "dinosaur", "broad", "sure" and "awesome".
  • "ou" as in "loud", "cow", "drought", "Maori", "sauerkraut" and "miaow".
  • "oy" as in "boy" and "coin".
  • "air" as in "care", "hair", "there", "bear", "parent", "aeroplane", "millionaire", "their", "prayer" and "mayor".
  • "ear" as in "deer", "hear", "fierce", "here", "bacteria", "weird" and "souvenir".
  • The unstressed vowel in words of more than one syllable, or unstressed grammatical words like "a" and "the", which can be spelt using any vowel spelling. Think of the last syllable in "butter", "actor", "collar", "sofa", "centre", "flour", "tapir", "murmur" and "picture". As long as children get a solid grounding in the other vowel spellings, they can then use this knowledge to tackle the unstressed vowel, and in their "spelling voice" say "buttER", "actOR", "collAR" etc. There is no need to teach the unstressed vowel as a separate Thing, like this (this is from a THRASS chart):

If the other 19 vowel sounds and their spellings are not all taught systematically and well, expect some students to have a lot of trouble spelling the unstressed vowel. It's what signwriters get wrong all the time.

Adults can use the terms "short vowel" and "long vowel" among ourselves if we like, but I don't think it's helpful to teach this misleading and confusing terminology to children.

Instead, we can just say the sounds ("the sound ay", "the sound oy" etc) and teach children all the main spelling patterns for each sound, systematically and explicitly, before the end of their third year of schooling. This will be extremely bad for my business, but hey, the people at school will be among the ones giving out pills in my nursing home. I want them literate.

« Reorganising high-frequency word lists

All About Short and Long Vowel Sounds for Preschoolers

Have you ever wondered or been asked by your child why ‘a’ in ‘cat’ and ‘cake’ sound different? Or why words like ‘cub’ and ‘cube’ are pronounced differently though their spellings are almost similar? Well, you are not alone!

The sounds of the letters of the English alphabet can vary quite a bit. In some cases, it can get tricky. Not all letters make the same sound in all words. Teaching preschoolers to read English can be challenging as the letters can make different sounds depending on how they are used. A case in point is the short and long vowel sounds for preschoolers. Read on to find out how your child can learn vowel sounds and recognize their differences.

Learning short and long vowel sounds- what are they?

Learning phonics sounds is getting to know all about all vowel and consonant sounds that make up the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Each of the 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) can make at least 2 sounds. For example, the vowel ‘a’ sounds different in ‘cat’ and ‘cake’. How we spell with vowels does not always determine the sound it makes. 

Each vowel makes two sounds- a short sound and a long sound. In some cases, they can be silent too! When a vowel makes the sound of a particular letter, then it is a short sound. However, when the vowel sounds like the letter’s name, then it makes a long sound. The sound the vowel makes depends on its position in the word and the letters that surround it. 

For example:- the ‘a’ in ‘fat’ and ‘e’ in ‘bed’ make short vowel sounds. While in ‘fate’ and ‘wheat’ they make the long vowel sounds. 

So, based on where and the vowel is placed in a word, its length and sound can change. When teaching preschoolers to read, you must help them understand the rules for what sound the vowels make in different instances. Yes, short and long vowel sounds for kids can be confusing at times. However, regular practice with them to recognize the distinctions will help.

Rules to bear in mind while learning short and long vowel sounds

Here are some basic rules to help you introduce short and long vowel words for preschoolers. Do remember that rules have exceptions too.

Rule No.

Vowel Position

Vowel Sound



When a word has only one vowel and ends with a consonant

Vowel makes a short sound

‘a’ in ‘jam’

‘e’ in ‘west’

‘o’ in ‘hot’

‘i’ in ‘fish’

‘u’ in ‘cup’


When a word has two vowels separated by two or more letters

The first vowel makes a short sound

as in ‘apple’

as in ‘octopus’

as in ‘basket’

as in ‘elephant’

as in ‘umbrella’


When a word ends with the letter ‘e’ (magic ‘e’/ silent ‘e’)

The first vowel makes a long sound

‘cap’ becomes ‘cape’

‘kit’ becomes ‘kite’

‘tub’ becomes ‘tube’ 

as in ‘game’

as in ‘time’


When a word has two vowels walking together the first one does 

the talking

The first vowel makes a long sound

The second vowel remains silent

as in ‘tie’

as in ‘boat’

as in ‘rain’

as in ‘value’

as in ‘feet’

Here's a long and short vowel sounds list: few more examples


Short Vowel

Long Vowel


‘fat’, ‘map’, ‘hand’, ‘lamp’, ‘glass’

‘fate’, ‘pain’, ‘game’, ‘mail’, ‘whale’


‘egg’, ‘red’, ‘nest’, ‘bell’, ‘smell’

‘ear’, ‘sea’, ‘heal’, ‘weak’, ‘three’


‘pig’, ‘rib’, ‘fist’, ‘milk’, ‘swim’

‘hide’, ‘tile’, ‘lime’, ‘wipe’, ‘prize’


‘fox’, ‘hop’, ‘rod’, ‘drop’, ‘pond’

‘road’, ‘goat’, ‘bone’, ‘note’, ‘roast’


‘bud’, ‘gun’, ‘hug’, ‘dump’, ‘puff’

‘rule’, ‘true’, ‘dune’, ‘flute’, ‘fruit

Ways to teach short and long vowel soundsHere are some simple long and short vowel activities to introduce and practice the vowel sounds with your kids.

  1. Fun with Songs

Learning the different vowel sounds can be more fun with songs. They are one of the best ways to teach short and long vowel sounds, as their catchy rhythms can help kids learn vowel sounds and remember them easily. Check out Kutuki’s ‘Short and Long Vowel Song’ . This song is great for kids learning short and long vowel sounds.

For more such fun and engaging songs, download the Kutuki kids learning app now!

  1. Use hand motions or movements

Use simple gestures for every vowel. This can help kids associate the vowels with the motions and the sound they are making. In addition to working on their muscle memory, the kinesthetic activity makes learning more engaging for kids. For instance, have your child bend their knees when they hear a short vowel sound. For a long vowel sound, ask them to jump up and clap. 

  1. Mark the vowels

It is useful to place a mark on top of the vowels. It indicates the vowel sound to be used. For instance, a short vowel sound is indicated by a curved symbol above the vowel-like ‘ă’ in ‘măn’. While a long vowel sound is represented by a small horizontal line above it, like ‘ā’ in ‘māin’. Such symbols will reinforce your kid’s ability to recognize and use the appropriate vowel sound effectively. 

  1. Create Practice Sheets

Have your child practice the short and long vowel sounds using activity sheets. These help kids recognize, understand, and distinguish words with a long vowel sound from those with a short vowel sound.

Please Note: These worksheets are subject to copyright. They are exclusively available only for students enrolled in Kutuki’s Phonics Program. 

Kutuki’s Live Phonics Program has an extensive collection of such worksheets. For instance, one such activity has kids circle given pictures that match the vowel sound. While another, have them add magic ‘e’ to the given word and match the word with the right image.

These are just a few activities to help you get started with short and long vowel sounds for preschoolers. If your child is struggling to learn vowel sounds, do not stress or overwhelm the child about it. Remember, every child learns at their own pace!

If you are looking for expert guidance on phonics for your child, enroll in Kutuki’s Live Phonics Program today. 1000s of students have become active readers. Your child could too! The Kutuki kids learning app offers interactive stories, engaging rhymes, and games with attractive animations and illustrations to meet the learning needs of preschoolers

Long and short vowels in English

Longitude is one of the characteristics of a vowel sound, which shows the relative duration of its sound compared to other sounds.

Longitude can be positional and phonemic. In the first case, the duration of the vowel depends on the position in the word and stress, while this characteristic does not affect the meaning. The phonemic length of a vowel has a semantic function, that is, depending on the length of the sound, the meaning of the word changes. nine0003

Length of vowel sounds in English

In Russian, the length of vowel sounds does not affect the meaning of words and changes only depending on stress. In English, vowels differ not only in positional but also in phonemic length. This means that long and short sounds, similar in other characteristics, represent different phonemes. Words that differ only in these phonemes have different meanings: ship - sheep , fit - feet , pull - pool . Therefore, it is so important to pronounce long and short sounds correctly.

In transcription, long vowels are indicated with a colon: [i:], [α:], [ɔ:], [u:], [ә:]. In some cases, long vowels in an unstressed position are reduced and become semi-long, which in transcription is indicated by one dot from above: [α ].

The long vowels listed above are opposed to short vowels, forming the following pairs in English:

  • [i:] - [ı]
  • [uː] - [u]
  • [ɔ:] - [ɒ]
  • [α:] - [ʌ]
  • [ә:] - [ə]

The pronunciation of long and short English vowels often causes difficulties for Russian learners of English, since in Russian vowels do not have phonemic longitude, and we are not used to distinguishing the length of a vowel sound by ear. We often do not hear the difference between long and short vowels when listening to English speech. It is still not clear how long you need to draw a sound when speaking, so very unnatural, or almost inaudible, or too long vowels are obtained. It is impossible to correctly pronounce short and long sounds so that a native speaker hears the difference, even if you diligently shorten short vowels and stretch out long ones. nine0003

Sometimes it seems that native speakers themselves do not know the difference between short and long sounds, they seem to pronounce them the same way - but they themselves understand each other. But it's not. Let's see what are the differences between long and short English vowels, how to learn to hear them and how to train their pronunciation.

Differences between long and short English sounds

It is logical to assume that if vowels are called long or short, they differ in sound length. This is the main difference between them, but not the only one. It is important to understand that long and short sounds have other differences, which consist in articulatory features. This means that the sounds are not just of different lengths, they are also different in sound. And most often it is these articulatory features that determine the length of the vowel sound: the duration of the sound depends on the position of the tongue and the tension of the vocal apparatus. nine0003

Long and short English vowels differ in such a characteristic as tension. Long vowels are tense, in English they are also called tense . When they are pronounced, the root of the tongue seems to be tense, under tension. The sound is pronounced, bright, rich, clear.

Short vowels are called lax – relaxed. The tongue in the region of the root is relaxed, the vowel sound is articulated quickly, easily, without additional effort, as if bursting. It turns out short, inconspicuous, faded and fuzzy. nine0003

Qualitative differences in sounds in different pairs of English vowels range from pronounced to almost imperceptible. It is easy to notice the difference between long and short sounds a: pay attention to how the words cart and cut are pronounced, they differ not only in duration, but also in sound. But the differences between long and short u are almost imperceptible: pool and pull sound very similar, only slightly different in length. The Scots generally pronounce them the same way, differing only in context. nine0003

In addition, the duration of the pronunciation of vowels is also affected by positional longitude - for example, stressed or unstressed position in a word. As a result, a short vowel sound in one word may sound longer than a long sound in another word.

Thus, it is not enough to rely only on the subjective duration of a vowel sound. All the features of short and long vowels described above must be taken into account when learning English. It remains to understand how to master the pronunciation of long and short sounds in practice. nine0003

How to learn to pronounce long and short English vowels

The main mistake foreigners make when pronouncing long and short English sounds is focusing only on duration. But with this approach, it is intuitively incomprehensible where the boundary between a long and a short sound passes: you can’t measure the length of a sound with a stopwatch. When trying to artificially lengthen or shorten a vowel, the sounds are unnaturally short or drawn out. nine0003

To learn how to pronounce long and short English sounds, you need to forget about the usual terminology "long" and "short". Try not to think about the duration of the sound at all. To correctly pronounce long and short vowels, you need to focus on their articulation, and not on duration. If we correctly reproduce the pronunciation of the vowel, then the duration will turn out to be correct automatically. Remember that long vowels require more tension at the root of the tongue, while short ones are pronounced without additional effort, easily and without tension. nine0003

Pay attention to how native speakers pronounce vowels - don't watch how long they draw them out, but watch the pronunciation, the articulation, the quality of the sound. Repeat, imitate, practice. For practice, it is best to use video lessons or a conversation with a native speaker, since audio materials do not make it possible to see articulation.

It is best to train long and short sounds not separately, but as part of words. First, this way you will note the influence of positional longitude on the duration of the sound in specific examples. Secondly, just as words are best learned in context, sounds are also best learned in the environment. nine0003

Practice pronunciation of long and short vowels in pairs of words to notice the difference between sounds, for example:

  • Sport – hot
  • Arm-cut
  • See-hit
  • Food-put
  • Fur – ago

When you learn how to pronounce long and short vowels correctly in English, it will become easy to distinguish between them in speech. When listening to speech, forget about the differences in duration, pay attention to the qualitative differences in sounds - how intensely the vowel is pronounced, how bright or faded it sounds, how pairs of sounds differ from each other, except for duration. nine0003

Long and short vowels in German: long and short sounds

Photo: suju / pixabay.com

So, voiceless and voiced consonants can form pairs. What about vowels? Of course, vowels cannot be voiceless or voiced, but they can be pronounced long or short and form pairs in longitude. Let's see how it works in German!

What are long and short vowels for?

In modern Russian and most Slavic languages, all vowels are pronounced short, and their lengthening may seem strange or even funny to us (for example, in Finnish or Estonian). nine0003

Long and short vowels are common in German and English. Their sound is not as noticeable as in the languages ​​​​from the example above, but it is extremely important in conversation and perception of oral speech. The thing is that two words that are completely different in meaning can differ in a single, long or briefly pronounced letter.

For example:

Long and short vowels in German: basic rules

There are a whole bunch of rules on this topic that have one thing in common: it seems incredible to fit them in your head and apply them. Let's try to figure it out so that you remember most of it the first time! nine0003

Long and short vowels in stressed and unstressed syllables

Stress/unstress can be used as a basic rule for determining vowel length. Stressed vowels are usually long, unstressed - short. This dependency seems perfect! In fact both long and short vowels can be stressed or unstressed. When determining the length of a vowel, not only the stress is important, but also the openness/closedness of the syllable.

Long and short vowels in open and closed syllables

Depending on what letter the syllable ends with, it can be classified into one of three categories:

  1. Open - end in a vowel (Ma | ma, Pa | pa)
  2. open" when changing the form of the word, for example in the plural (Bal | kon - Bal | ko | ne)
  3. Closed - end in a consonant (Klas | se, Mund)

Vowels in open and conditionally closed syllables are usually long . In closed - short. nine0008 To summarize:

  • Stressed vowels in open and closed syllables are long, and unstressed vowels are short.
  • Vowels in closed syllables, regardless of stress, are short.

Long vowels in German: when?

In order not to bother with special cases, let's take the rules with the "maximum guarantee". German vowels are always pronounced long:

  1. When they are doubled: -aa-, -ee-, -oo- (-uu- and -ii- are rare, usually in compound words, double umlauts do not occur at all)
  2. Before “mute “H” (such an “H” is not pronounced, but only gives a long vowel)
  3. Before ß
  4. In letter combinations -ie-, -ieh-
  5. In monosyllabic, invariable words ending in “R”
  6. Stressed open syllable
  7. Stressed closed syllable

Good news! 4 rules out of 7 are easy to recognize in the text, and the rest after a little training will begin to be used intuitively.

Let's look at examples of how and when long German vowels are pronounced. In the table below, for each word, two Russian transcriptions will be given: correct and incorrect. Having said both, you can in practice compare the sound of words and feel in what situations a long vowel occurs. nine0003

Short vowels in German: when?

Long vowels are clear, let's move on to short ones. There are only three basic rules at work here. German vowels are read briefly:

  1. In a closed syllable
  2. If they are followed by two or more consonants (that is, before letter combinations like -ch-, -sch-, -ck-, doubled and any other consonants that follow each other after another)
  3. Before the letter “X” - [x] (since “X” is read as [ks], formally this rule can be attributed to the previous one)

Consider short vowels with examples. As in the previous table, each word has one correct and one incorrect transcription.

Long and short vowels in monosyllabic words - a controversial case

In addition to monosyllabic words ending in "R" (with long vowels), there are many other short words in German in which only one consonant follows a vowel. It can be articles, adjectives, nouns and other parts of speech. For example: dem, gut, Lid, Typ. nine0003

On the one hand, these are closed syllables, which means that the vowels in them are short. But it's not! There is no need to memorize anything here, you just need to understand that in such words both short and long vowel sounds can occur.

How to pronounce long and short vowels?

There is no secret here! Long vowels are pronounced longer than short vowels. That's why "you're not speaking correctly because my [a:] is longer than yours" doesn't work here.😎

The pronunciation of long and short vowels depends entirely on the speech apparatus, accent, dialect used, and other little things. Someone likes to "pull" sounds and even short letters sound like long ones. Someone pronounces short vowels so abruptly that long vowels sound like ordinary ones. nine0003

In general, as you like. The most important thing is that the difference between long and short sounds can be heard in speech.

Learn more