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Long & Short Vowels: Sounds & Word Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Vowel?
  • 0:38 Long vs. Short Vowels
  • 2:55 Using Long & Short…
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

You're probably familiar with all 26 letters in the alphabet, A to Z...but what do you know about the five vowels? This lesson explores the various sounds that A, E, I, O, and U make.

What is a Vowel?

First things first: what's a vowel? There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, but there are only five vowels: A, E, I, O, and U.

What about vowels makes them so special? Of the 26 letters, A, E, I, O, and U are the only ones that represent sounds you can make just by using your voice and opening your mouth. Try saying the letter A, but hold the sound for five seconds. Notice how your mouth does not need to move to say it out loud. You can do the same thing for the letters E, I, O, and U.

Long versus Short Vowels

Look at the words 'bug' and 'bugle.' How are they similar? How are they different?

The words are similar because they both include the letters B, U, and G. The way the U sounds in each word is different. Why is this the case? Vowels can be used in words to make more than one sound. These sounds are described as 'long' and 'short.'

Long Vowels

A long vowel sounds like the name of the letter. For example, a 'long A' sounds like the letter A. A 'long E' sounds like the letter E. So when does a vowel make a 'long vowel' sound? This usually happens one of two ways:

The first way to make a long vowel sound is to put two vowels next to each other. When two vowels appear next to each other, the word usually makes a long sound of the first vowel. This is the case in words like 'bead,' 'seed,' 'mail,' and 'boat.' Notice how the word 'bead' makes the long E sound and the word 'mail' makes the long A sound.

The second way to make a long vowel sound is to place an E at the end of a word. Placing an E at the end of a word also creates a long vowel sound. This happens in words like 'bake,' 'bike,' 'mote,' 'mute.'

Notice how the word 'mute' makes the long 'U' sound and the word 'bike' makes the long 'I' sound.

Short Vowels

In many words, vowels do not make a long sound. They make a short vowel sound instead. How can you tell the difference? Finding short vowels is actually pretty easy: if it doesn't sound like any of the vowel letters, then you know it's a short vowel! Short vowels usually sound like the following:

  • A = 'ah' as in 'apple'
  • E = 'eh' as in 'egg'
  • I = 'ih' as in 'insect'
  • O = 'awe' as in 'bog'
  • U = 'uh' as in 'tug'

Let's take another look at our example words from before: 'bug' and 'bugle.' Notice how the word 'bug' does not have the long U sound that the word 'bugle' does. The word 'bug' has a short vowel sound.

Using Long and Short Vowels Together

There are so many words in the English language that use more than one vowel. It's very common for words to have more than one long vowel sound, more than one short vowel sound, or both long and short vowel sounds together!

Examples of words with multiple long vowel sounds include:

  • 'Betray,' which has a 'long E' and a 'long A' sound
  • 'Behind,' which has a 'long E' and a 'long I'

Examples of words with multiple short vowels include:

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