IPA symbols for English vowels

The IPA vowel symbols are typically more difficult than consonants for speakers of English to learn, since they seldom represent the sounds that the corresponding English letters (usually) do. The major vowel symbols, [a], [e], [i], [o], and [u], represent the sounds that the corresponding letters do in the spelling systems of many European languages, such as Spanish and Italian or, to a lesser extent, French or German.

(The symbols actually correspond pretty well to the way the letters used to be used in English too. But about five hundred years ago in a major historical change, the Great English Vowel Shift, English speakers changed the way they pronounced many vowels, but kept the spelling the same.)

The table below is a quick summary of the symbols used for English vowels. Click on the example words to get the individual pages for each vowel, where you'll find more examples (with sound files) and explanations.

(If you're not from western North America, then you'll probably pronounce at least some of the words differently from how they're transcribed on the following pages. A few of the words that are most likely to vary between dialects have been marked with a % or a *, but all transcriptions on this web-site are subject to dialect variation without notice.)

heed, beat [i]
hid, bit [ɪ]
hate, bait [e]
head, bet [ɛ]
had, bat [æ]
hot, bought [ɑ]
hoe, boat [o]
who, boot [u]
hood, book [ʊ]
hut, but [ʌ]
hide, bite [aj]
how, bout [aw]
boy [ɔj]
heard, Bert [ɹ̩]
ahead [ə]


Next:  The [i] sound  | Previous:  Broad vs. narrow transcription  | Up:  Transcription  | Home:  Home