What is a Diphthong? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 What Is a Syllable?
  • 1:18 What Is a Diphthong?
  • 2:46 Diphthong Examples
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

The diphthong is a grammatical term that relates to vowel sounds and how they change within the same word. Read on for a short definition and a few examples of what a diphthong is!

What Is a Syllable?

Sometimes, non-native speakers have difficulties with saying or identifying diphthongs, but with a bit of practice at counting syllables and listening for vowel sounds in words, anyone can identify a diphthong! In order to understand what a diphthong is, it is important to understand what a syllable is and to know how syllables are formed.

Syllables can be defined as a single letter or a group of letters that include a distinct vowel sound. For example, consider the word water:

In this word, there are two syllables: ''wa'' and ''ter.'' Each group has its own specific vowel sound, in this case the ''ah'' sound in ''wa'' and the ''eh'' sound in ''er.''

For another example, look at the word blackberry :

  • There are three syllables here: ''black'', ''ber'', and ''ry''. There's the ''a'' sound in ''black'', the ''eh'' sound in ''ber,'' and the hard ''ee'' in ''ry,'' created by the letter ''y.''

Typically, if you want to check how many syllables a word has, you can say it out loud and clap each time that you may say another distinctive vowel sound. Try it with the example words: water - hear the two syllables? Blackberry: this word has three syllables.

What Is a Diphthong?

A diphthong is a sound that is made up of two separate vowel sounds within the same syllable. The word is derived from Greek for ''having two sounds.'' If we go back to our syllable examples, you may notice that each syllable only has one distinctive vowel sound within it.

However, there are some syllables that have two distinctive vowel sounds within them. For example, the word sound. This word only has one syllable. However, that syllable has two vowel sounds that run together, and each sound is just a bit different. There is the ''ow'' vowel sound that the ''o'' makes, and that sound turns into something of an ''ooh'' sound made by the ''u''. SoundSound…hear it?

Let's take another word with a diphthong in it:

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