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.)
AI or AY are almost always pronounced as long A (/eɪ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet):
AU or AW are usually pronounced /ɔː/:
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):
However, EA is also commonly pronounced like a short E (/ɛ/):
There is no certain way to
predict which pronunciation a word will use.
EE is pronounced with a long E (/iː/ ) :
EI is usually pronounced with a long A (/eɪ/):
EU and EW are usually long U (/juː/):
IE is usually pronounced with a long E sound (/iː/ ):
An old spelling rhyme goes: “I before E except after C, or when pronounced A as in neighbor and weigh.”)
OA is pronounced with a long O (/oʊ/):
OI and OY make the /ɔɪ/ sound:
OO is pronounced /uː/ as in:
or /ʊ/ as in
OU may be the most difficult vowel combination to guess.
Its most common sound is /aʊ/:
However, it can also make the sounds of/ɔː/ :
long O (/oʊ/):
short U (/ʌ/):
or /ʊ/ :
is pronounced /aʊ/:
or with a long O (/oʊ/):
For a clear, more detailed explanation of digraphs and other English vowel sounds, along with practice activities, see the videos in English with Jennifer.