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.
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:
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
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/
- 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,
or /ʊ/ :
- 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
Home> ESL Reading> Vowel Digraphs.
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