Understanding Vowels: Essential Guide & Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What are vowels?
  2. How to identify vowels in English
  3. Vowel sounds
  4. Long and short vowels
  5. Vowels in words
  6. Examples of vowels in sentences
  7. Common mistakes with vowels
  8. Practice exercises for vowels

Unlocking the mysteries of language can sometimes feel like a trek through a dense jungle. But fear not, for you're about to discover the magic that lies within the world of vowels. If you've ever wondered about the definition of vowels, you're in the right place. This guide aims to shed light on this integral aspect of language, so strap in, and let's set off on this exciting adventure together!

What are vowels?

Peek at any sentence, and you'll notice a mix of vowels and consonants. Vowels are the superstar letters that add music and rhythm to our words — they are the a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y in the English alphabet. And yes, you read that right! The letter 'y' sometimes moonlights as a vowel, depending on its role in the word. But we'll get to that later.

If you're seeking a textbook definition of vowel, here it is: A vowel is a speech sound which is produced by a relatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction. It's a unit of the sound system of a language that forms the nucleus of a syllable. In simpler terms, vowels are the sounds you can make without closing off any part of your mouth or throat.

Now, let's break that down. Imagine you're singing your favorite song in the shower — we've all been there. You're belting out the lyrics, and you notice that some sounds require you to open your mouth wide, like when you say 'aaah'. Those are your vowels. They are the free-flowing sounds that form the heart of every word and sentence.

Here's another fun fact: Every word in English has at least one vowel. Go ahead, try to think of a word without a vowel—I'll wait. Can't come up with one, can you? That's because vowels are the indispensable heroes of the English language, the unsung warriors that give meaning to our words.

So now that you know the definition of vowel, it's time to dive deeper into the fascinating realm of vowel sounds, the difference between long and short vowels, how to identify vowels in words and sentences, and common mistakes to avoid. And most importantly, you'll get some practice exercises to hone your new-found understanding of vowels. So, are you ready to continue the journey?

How to identify vowels in English

Now that you know what vowels are, let's talk about how to identify them in English. You might be thinking, "Well, isn't it as simple as looking for the letters a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y?" It's a bit more complex than that, but don't worry, we'll tackle this together.

First off, when we say 'sometimes y', we mean that the letter 'y' acts as a vowel when it's making a sound that the other vowels usually make. Take the word 'sky', for example. Feel how the 'y' makes a sound similar to 'i' or 'ee'? That's 'y' in its vowel form. Sneaky, isn't it?

Remember the definition of vowel we mentioned earlier? The part about the "open configuration of the vocal tract"? Let's put that into practice. Try saying the words 'eat', 'it', 'out', 'at', and 'you'. Notice how your mouth and throat remain open and free-flowing as you pronounce them? Those are all vowel sounds.

But here's where it gets a bit tricky. Sometimes, two vowels come together to make one sound, as in the words 'boat', 'rain', or 'see'. This is called a vowel digraph. It's like a team-up of vowels, where they join forces to create a whole new sound. Isn't that cool?

And then there are the silent vowels. These are vowels that don't make a sound but are still crucial to the word. For example, in the word 'cake', the 'e' is silent, but without it, we'd just have 'cak', and that's just not right, is it?

So, identifying vowels in English isn't just about spotting the right letters—it's also about listening to the sounds and understanding how vowels function in different words. But don't worry, the more you practice, the easier it becomes!

Vowel Sounds

Alright, let's dive into the heart of the matter—the sounds that vowels make. This is where the "definition of vowel" really comes to life. Did you know that English actually has more vowel sounds than it does vowel letters? It's true!

Let's start with the basics. Each vowel letter has at least two sounds: a short sound and a long sound. The short sounds are like the 'a' in 'cat', the 'e' in 'bed', the 'i' in 'sit', the 'o' in 'pot', and the 'u' in 'cup'.

Then, we have the long sounds. These sound like the name of the vowel letter itself. So, the long 'a' sounds like 'ay', as in 'day'. The long 'e' sounds like 'ee', as in 'see'. The long 'i' sounds like 'eye', as in 'like'. The long 'o' sounds like 'oh', as in 'go', and the long 'u' sounds like 'you', as in 'use'.

But wait, there's more! There are also sounds called diphthongs, where two vowels come together to make a unique new sound. For instance, 'oi' in 'coin' and 'ou' in 'cloud' are diphthongs.

Then, we also have the schwa sound, which is a sort of "default" vowel sound that's usually found in unstressed syllables. It sounds like 'uh', and you can hear it in the first 'a' in 'about' or the 'o' in 'lemon'.

Phew! That’s quite a variety of sounds, isn't it? But don't fret, the more you listen and practice, the more these sounds will become second nature. So, let's keep learning and exploring the fascinating world of vowels!

Long and Short Vowels

Now that we've explored the broad range of sounds a vowel can make, let's look a bit more closely at the difference between long and short vowels. You might be wondering—what makes a vowel long or short? It's all about the sounds, not the length of time you hold the vowel when you speak.

When we talk about the short sounds of vowels, we're referring to the simple, single sound that a vowel can make. This is the sound that a vowel makes in a word when it's not being influenced by any other letters. For instance, think about the word "tap". The 'a' here is a short vowel because it makes its simplest sound, like the 'a' in 'apple'.

On the other hand, long vowel sounds are a bit more complex. They sound like the name of the vowel itself. For instance, in the word "tape", the 'a' is a long vowel because it sounds like 'ay'—which is the name of the 'a' itself. Notice how the 'e' at the end of the word is silent? That's a common pattern in English that can indicate a long vowel sound.

It's like a game of hide and seek—sometimes vowels hide their true sounds, and other times they reveal themselves fully. But don't worry, the more you play with words, the better you'll get at identifying these cunning vowel sounds. So, are you ready to play?

Vowels in Words

In our English language journey, let's now turn our attention to how vowels appear in words. You see, vowels are not solitary creatures. They love to mingle with other letters to create the words we use daily. In fact, every word in English must contain at least one vowel. Yes, you heard it right! Whether it's a simple 'a' in 'cat' or a complex 'ou' in 'cloud', vowels are the lifeblood of words.

Let's take the word 'read' as an example. This word has a single vowel 'e', which makes a long vowel sound, like 'ee'. Now, if we add another 'e' to make 'reed', the vowel sound remains the same. But, if we replace 'e' with 'a' to make 'rad', the sound changes entirely. This is the magic of vowels—they can transform words and their meanings.

Also, did you know that vowels can hang out together in words? We call these vowel teams. For instance, in the word 'boat', the 'oa' is a vowel team making a single sound. It's like vowels having a party in the middle of a word!

So, as you can see, understanding the definition of vowel is not just about knowing the five letters. It's about understanding how they interact within words to create unique sounds and meanings. It's a fascinating world, isn't it?

Examples of Vowels in Sentences

Alright, let's take this vowel voyage a step further. We've seen how vowels work in words. Now, let's see them in action within sentences. This will give you a clearer understanding of the definition of vowel in the context of English language usage.

Consider this simple sentence: "The cat sat on the mat." Notice that every word contains at least one vowel. Without these vowels, the sentence would become a jumbled mess of consonants. Imagine trying to read "Th ct st n th mt." It's a tongue-twister, isn't it?

Now, let's examine a more complex sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This sentence is unique because it uses every single letter in the English alphabet. Look closely, and you'll see that each word contains at least one vowel. These vowels are the glue that hold the words together, enabling us to pronounce them clearly.

Finally, think about this sentence: "A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor." Aside from being a great life lesson, this sentence showcases how vowels can change the sound of words. The 'oo' in 'smooth' and 'ea' in 'sea' are vowel teams, making unique sounds that differentiate these words from others.

So, recognizing the importance of vowels in sentences is a vital part of understanding the definition of vowel. It's not just about knowing the letters 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u'. It's about appreciating the role they play in our language—creating sounds, forming words, and expressing meaning. Isn't that amazing?

Common Mistakes with Vowels

Okay, now that we're getting the hang of the definition of vowel, it's time to discuss some common pitfalls. Even the best of us can stumble over vowels from time to time. They may be small, but they can sure be tricky!

One of the most common mistakes is confusing the short and long sounds of vowels. For example, the 'a' in 'cat' is short, while the 'a' in 'cake' is long. It's a subtle difference, but it can change the meaning of a word entirely. Remember: practice makes perfect!

Another common error is forgetting that the letter 'y' can sometimes act as a vowel. Yep, you heard that right! When 'y' is at the end of a word, like 'sky' or 'fly', it's acting as a vowel. Don't let that sneaky 'y' fool you!

Lastly, many people struggle with vowel teams. These are instances where two vowels work together to make a unique sound. Think 'ee' in 'tree' or 'oa' in 'boat'. These aren't your everyday vowel sounds, so they can throw you for a loop.

But don't worry! Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to keep learning, and you're already doing that by reading this guide. Keep practicing, and soon you'll be a vowel virtuoso!

Practice Exercises for Vowels

Alright, now that we've gone through the ins and outs of the definition of vowel, let's put that knowledge to the test. It's like my old music teacher used to say, "To master your scales, you need to practice."

Ready? Let's dive in!

1. Sound Sorting: Write down a list of words. For each word, identify the vowels and whether they make a short or long sound. Try this with words like 'bed', 'cake', 'sit', 'note', and 'sun'. This will help you get familiar with different vowel sounds.

2. Y or Not: Challenge yourself to find words where 'y' is acting as a vowel. Hint: look for words where 'y' is at the end. How many can you find?

3. Teamwork: Vowel teams can be tricky. Find words where two vowels work together to make a unique sound. Try words like 'rain', 'seat', 'boat', and 'fruit'.

4. Word Hunt: Choose a vowel and see how many words you can find that use it. This can help you see how versatile vowels can be in English.

Remember, the key to mastering vowels is practice, practice, practice. Don't worry if you make mistakes—that's part of learning. Keep at it, and before you know it, you'll have the definition of vowel down pat.

If you're interested in improving your understanding of vowels and how they impact your vocal performance, be sure to check out the workshop 'In the Studio: The Recording Vocals Process' by Ami Miller. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques on how to make the most of your vocals in a recording setting, including a deep dive into the role of vowels in your singing.