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. 

For Vowels plus 'R' (in words like CAR, CARE, VERY, AWARE, EAR, BIRD, FUR, BETTER, MORE, etc.), see the 'Other Vowel Sounds' section of  the English Vowels' page as well as "vowel digraphs with 'R'" below. 

Click here to watch a video near the bottom of this page that discusses the ways to pronounce AU, AW, OI, OY, OO, OU, and OW.

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 in much of the U.S. (The IPA symbols given here are common pronunciations in the U.S., but they don't apply everywhere!  For another 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.

(See the video after OI for this sound plus other digraphs of O and U.)

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’

Photo of people eating outside by the sea. Text: EA with a long E sound: Jean will lead our team on a beach retreat...EA with a short E sound: If the weather is good, we’ll breakfast outside...

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

  • beans, cheat, dream, each, easy, heal, lead (the verb), leaf, leave, meat, peas, reach, real, speak, team, treat.

However, EA is also commonly pronounced like a short E (/ɛ/), especially words with 'ead':

  • 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


6 boxes: 3 with a phonetic spelling & a picture of something with that pronunciation (/ɛər/- a pear; /ɪər/- an ear; & /ɜr/- the earth. Opposite each of those 3 boxes with words for each sound.

 When vowel digraphs are followed by 'R,' their sounds change.

(The exact changes depend on the type-- dialect-- of English. The sounds given below are for general American English.)

AIR, EAR, EER, EIR, & EUR are usually pronounced in one of three ways:

  •    /ɛər/-- air, chair, flair, pair/pear, their
  •    /ɪər/-- clear, fear, gear, jeer, peer/pier, sneer, volunteer
  •   /ɜr/-- early, heard, learn, year

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.

OE is also usually pronounced with a long O:

  • goes, hoe, poem, toe, woe

but it can also make a  /uː/ sound (canoe or shoe)or a short u (/ʌ/) sound (does).

AU or AW, OI or OY, OO (sometimes) and OU or OW (sometimes) can be pronounced with sounds other than the more common short and long vowel sounds. 

OU can be especially confusing, as it can be pronounced at least six different ways.

The easiest way to understand them is to watch the video below, which demonstrates how to pronounce them (and the schwa) and gives some examples.

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,

long U (/uː/):

  • group, through

or (/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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