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Term Definition

In English spelling, the five letters A E I O and U can represent a variety of vowel sounds, while the letter Y frequently represents vowels (as in e.g., "gym", "happy", or the diphthongs in "cry", "thyme"). 

Vowel - A main part of speech

A vowel is a speech sound made by the vocal chords in the human throat. It is also a kind of letter in the English alphabet. There are five main vowels in the English language, A, E, I, O, and U, and sometimes Y. From these six letters, 20 vowel sounds can be made in most English accents. Since there are some that difficult for people to pronounce in certain English dialects, not to mention other dialects and languages, pronunciation is often difficult for those learning English as well as native speakers. The remaining letters in the English alphabet are known as consonants.

Usage rules

The vowel A can be pronounced in a variety of ways, and in conjunction with other vowels and consonants to sound different. For example, the “a” sound in “rat” is different than the “a” sound in “label”; the “a” sound in “goat” combines with the “o” sound to produce yet another sound; and the “a” sound at the beginning and ending of the word “agenda” sounds like “uh.”

The same is true for all of the other vowels, E, I, O, and U, which are all pronounced differently depending on the word, the English dialect, and the letters adjacent to them.

The reason Y is sometimes a vowel and sometimes not depends on its use within a word. If it is used at the end of a word, as in “candy,” it is a vowel; if it is used at the beginning of a word, as in “yellow,” it is a consonant.

More information on vowels

We have already seen that vowels and consonants are inextricably linked, and may vowels are linked together in words in order to generate more unusual sounds like diphthongs and monophthongs. A diphthong is a vowel that requires a person to move his or her mouth into two different positions. Two different vowels can usually be heard when a diphthong is pronounces, as in the words waist, die, noise, road, house, sure, bear, and fierce. 

Diphthongs are often pronounced differently in different dialects or accents. The word diphthong is derived from the old Greek diphthong in which di means “two” or “double,” and phthong means “sound” or “tone.” The word is derived from the Greek word phthalein meaning “speak” or “create sound using the voice.” A monophthong is a very simple vowel sound that does not require dual mouth movement, such as in the words book, took, look, feet, tweet, and caboose.

It is important to note that all vowels can have more than one sound, unlike consonants, and can also be completely silent in pronunciation. There are also two more specific and linguistic descriptions and definitions of what a vowel is. The first definition is a sound pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. In the phonological definition, the vowel is a syllabic sound, which forms at the peak of a syllable. In oral languages, the peak, nucleus, or center of a syllable is formed using vowels, and consonants start and end the syllable (a portion of a word).

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Synonyms: vowel

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