How to Pronounce & Spell Vowel Digraphs 

Vowel digraphs are vowels written with two letters. Some are a single sound. Others, like ‘au’ or ‘oi,’ are 'diphthongs'. (Diphthongs contain the basic sounds of both vowels, but they glide together.) This page has some suggestions for sounding digraphs out in unfamiliar words. 

Learning how to pronounce and spell English vowel digraphs can also improve your reading. 

(Note: These are standard American pronunciations. They may have different pronunciations in some areas.)

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘A’

AI or AY are almost always pronounced as long A -- /eɪ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. (For exceptions see AIR below the Es):

  • bait, bay, brain, daily, fail, laid, maid, may, paid, pay, praise, raise, 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.

One common exception is 'because.' At least in my California dialect, we pronounce it with a simple short 'u' sound: be-cuz. (It's the same sound as the 'ou' in cousin.)

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘E’

EA is often pronounced /iː/ like long E (as in the long vowel rule on the English Vowels page):

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

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

  • already, bread, breakfast, dead, head, instead, lead (grey substance used in plumbing), measure, 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, deep, feed, feel, free, need, see, seed, steep, tree.

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

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

EU and EW are usually long U (/juː/):

  • eulogy, few 

or /u:/

  • grew, new, stew

AIR, EAR, EER, EIR, and EUR 

As pointed out on the English Vowels page with link above, vowels and vowel digraphs followed by 'R' change their sounds. AIR, EAR, EER, and EIR can be pronounced three ways:

  • /ɛər/-- air/heir (same pronunciation), bare/bear, fair, hair, pair/pear, stair/stare, their

  • /ɪər/-- beer, career, ear, hear/here, near, stear/steer, weary, weird, year
  • /ɜr/-- earlyearnearth, heard, learn, neuron

Vowel Digraphs Beginning with ‘I’

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

  • achieve, 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, understood.
Can you pronounce these words with OU? Words with each of 8 English pronunciations of the vowel digraph 'OU,' from house, bought, dough, double, & group to you, could, & four.

OU may be the most difficult digraph to guess.

Its most common sound is /aʊ/:

  • about, amount, around, count, doubt, ground, house, mountain, mouth, out, rebound, sound, south, thousand, without.

It can also make the sound of /ɔː/ :

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

long O (/oʊ/):

  • dough, though, thorough (two syllables, meaning complete),

short U (/ʌ/):

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

/uː/:

  • group, through

/ju:/

  • you

/ʊ/ :

  • could, should, would.

or (followed by an R) /ɔr/:

  • four, fourth

OW

is pronounced /aʊ/:

  • brown, cow, down, how, now, town,

or with a long O (/oʊ/):

  • blow, grow, know, low, own, show, throw.

Vowel Digraphs of 'U'

UE  is pronounced /uː/:

  • blue, true

UI/UY can be pronounced /uː/:

  • fruit, suit

or sometimes  /ɪ/:

  • build

or /aɪ/:

  • buy, guy

A good way to learn how these digraphs sound in spoken English is to listen to a speech or podcast with a transcript you can read while you listen. Check out English Listening Practice.

Try Carol Dweck's short TED talk on that page: "The Power of Yet (Believing that you can improve)." She talks about the importance of a growth mindset. That means believing that practicing difficult skills can make you smarter, not prove that you are a failure.

I found 22 vowel digraphs in the first two minutes, or nearly 60 in all. They're almost all mentioned in the list above.

For a more detailed explanation of digraphs and other English vowel sounds, (with practice activities), see this course on English Vowel Sounds and Spellings.

You Might Also Like:

'English Vowels can have several sounds. Short vowels... sound like...' A (with an apple), E (& an elephant), I (insect), O (octopus) & U (umbrella.) Then text & pictures for long vowels.

Learn the basic rules to recognize which sounds English vowels will make in different words.

Did you know these letters are silent in English? The 'b' in lamb,  thumb (both pictured), etc. The 'h' in 'heir, hour, etc., the 'k' in knife, knock, etc. (a knife & an hourglass pictured.)

ESL Phonics lists the basic sounds of each letter, with examples.

'Do You Know These Consonant Digraph Sounds? CH: chair, church, GH: ghost, laugh, PH: phone, graph (all with pictures) + SH, TH, & more'

Learn the different sounds consonant digraphs can make.

They all can help you pronounce what you read-- or spell what you can say.

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