How to Spell Vowel Digraphs 

Vowel digraphs are letter combinations in which the two vowels together make a single sound. (Some, like ‘au’ or ‘oi,’ are also diphthongs, in which the combination contains the basic sounds of both vowels, but they glide together to make one sound.) Here are some suggestions for sounding them out in unfamiliar words. 

Learning how vowel digraphs are spelled in English can improve your reading comprehension, pronunciation, and spelling.

(Note: These are standard American pronunciations. British, Australian, and other Commonwealth countries-- and some regions of the U.S.-- will be different for a few of them.)

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘A’

AI or AY are almost always pronounced as long A (/eɪ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet):

  • bait, bay, daily, laid, maid, may, paid, pay, say (but NOT said-- it rhymes with red), wait, way.

AU or AW are usually pronounced /ɔː/:

  • audio, auditorium, auto, autumn, awful, cause, caught, daughter, raw, saw, taught.

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘E’

EA is often pronounced /iː/ like long E (as in the long vowel rule on the Short and Long English Vowels page with a link at the bottom of this page):

  • bean, each, heal, lead (the verb), leave, mean, reach, real, speak, team, treat.

However, EA is also commonly pronounced like a short E (/ɛ/):

  • bread, breakfast, dead, head, lead (grey substance used in plumbing), ready, spread, weather. 

There is no certain way to predict which pronunciation a word will use.

EE is pronounced with a long E (/iː/ ) :

  • bee, feed, free, need, see, seed, tree.

EI is usually pronounced with a long A (/eɪ/):

  • eight, neighbor, weigh, or with a long E (/iː/ ) after C: receive.

EU and EW are usually long U (/juː/):

  • eulogy, Europe, few, new, stew.

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘I’

IE is usually pronounced with a long E sound (/iː/ ):

  • belief, believe, grieve, piece, relieve. (See EI.)

An old spelling rhyme goes: “I before E except after C, or when pronounced A as in neighbor and weigh.”)

Vowel Combinations Beginning with ‘O’

OA is pronounced with a long O (/oʊ/):

  • boast, boat, coat, goal, soap, throat.

OI and OY make the /ɔɪ/ sound:

  • boil, boy, point, soil, toy.

OO is pronounced /uː/ as in:

  • food, room, school, soon, too, tool, zoo

or /ʊ/ as in

  • book, good, look, stood, took.

OU may be the most difficult vowel combination to guess.

Its most common sound is /aʊ/:

  • about, amount, around, count, doubt, ground, house, mountain, mouth, out, sound, south.

However, it can also make the sounds of/ɔː/ :

  • bought, cough, fought, ought, thought (see AU) ,

long O (/oʊ/):

  • dough, though, thorough (meaning complete),

short U (/ʌ/):

  • country, double, enough, rough, trouble, young,


  • through, you,

or /ʊ/ :

  • could, should, would.


is pronounced /aʊ/:

  • brown, cow, down, how, now, town,

or with a long O (/oʊ/):

  • blow, grow, know, low, own, show.

See also Short or Long English Vowels for the most common single (and occasionally double) letter vowel sounds in English, and Consonant Digraph Sounds for consonant digraphs.

For a clear, more detailed explanation of digraphs and other English vowel sounds, along with practice activities, see the videos in English with Jennifer.

HomeESL Reading> Vowel Digraphs.

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