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PRONOUNCING VOWELS

The 5 vocalic letters of the English alphabet (A, E, I, O, U) have usually two different kinds of pronunciation. English people call these pronunciations "short" or "long" vowel. We are not talking about combinations of vowels here, it is only when they go alone in a syllable, and specially if they are stressed, because non-stressed syllables usually weaken and change their pronunciation (to schwa most of the times).

 
A E I O U
short vowel
long vowel / ju: /

EXAMPLES

A E I O U
short vowel MAP PEN STICK CLOCK BUT
long vowel NAME ME TIME GO MUTE
 

So, if every vowel may have two different pronunciations, how do we know which pronunciation is the correct one in a word? Well, you have to look it up in a dictionary if you want to know, but we will give you a simple rule that will help you get it right 75% of the times:

C= consonant V= vowel

//winking arrow arrow Open syllable: C+V (me) arrow long vowel (the syllable is open, so the vowel can move and get longer)
neutral arrow // Closed syllable: V+C (cat) arrow short vowel (the syllable is closed, so the vowel can't expand and remains short)

In the word MAP we have a "short A", and in the word NAME we have a "long A". Notice that we are not talking about the difference between and , but about the difference between and .

When we talk here about dividing a word into syllables, we are talking about spelling, not pronunciation. Follow these simple instructions:

1- A syllable always has one vowel (if there is more than one vowel together, these rules don't apply)
2- A consonant followed by a vowel forms syllable with that vowel. A consonant not followed by a vowel forms syllable with the previous vowel. Exeption L or R: clam, pram (People speaking Spanish or Italian only need to pretend they are Spanish words and then divide them into syllables, just as they do in Spanish or Italian)

1 syllable C+V = CV (example: "me")     V+C = VC ("at")     CVC ("fan")     CCV ("spa")      CVC ("drop")     VCC ("ask")

2 syllables V+C+V = V - CV ("emo")     CVC - CV ("disco")

examples: pat= pat / summer= sum-mer / bingo= bin-go / computer= com-pu-ter / filing= fi-ling / filling= fil-ling / translation= trans-la-tion / cluster= clus-ter

DOUBLING THE FINAL CONSONANT

Notice how this process causes double consonants in the middle of a word to be separated in 2 different syllables:

C+V+CC+V = CVC +CV       e.g:  FILLING = FIL-LING

more examples:

name = na-me (2 open syllables) smack = smack (1 closed syllable) love = lo-ve (2 open syllables) better = bet-ter (2 closed syllables) important = im-por-tant (3 closed syllables) gallery = gal-le-ry (1 closed 2 open) stupid = stu-pid (1 open, 1 closed) filing = fi-ling (open, closed) filling = fil-ling (closed, closed)

Remember that we are only talking about syllables with one single vocalic letter, so we can apply this rule to the word "Ben", but not to the word "bean". For combinations of two vowels

you need to check this: usual pronunciation. Also, this rule applies mainly to stressed vowels. If the vowel is not stressed, the pronunciation will probably be a Schwa (). And when vowels are followed by the letter R they can change in different words (see: letter R)

A final -E is not pronounced, but it has an effect in the syllable separation:

PAN = PAN (A is in a closed syllable so the pronunciation is )

PANE = PA - NE (A is in an open syllable so the pronunciation is )

This is also the reason why we double the final consonant of a word when adding an ending which begins with a vowel, because if we don't double that final consonant, according to this rule, the pronunciation would be different:

FAT /fæt/ FAT (closed syllable: )
FATTER /fætə*/ FAT-TER ( closed syllable: )
But if we didn't double the final consonant we would say: FATER /feɪtə*/ FA-TER (open syllable: )

Now let's have a look at some examples to see this rule work:

A syllables E syllables I syllables O syllables U syllables
short vowel   (closed syllables) MAP MAP HAPPEN HAP-PEN FILL FILL CLOCK CLOCK FUN FUN
  FAT FAT SPELL SPELL PIN PIN POT POT BUTTON BUT-TON
  FATTER FAT-TER PET PET SICK SICK LOST LOST BUT BUT
long vowel   (open syllables) NAME NA-ME ME ME TIME TI-ME GO GO MUTE MU-TE
  FATE FA-TE PETER PE-TER PINE PI-NE OPEN O-PEN STUDENT STU-DENT
  FATAL FA-TAL METRE ME-TRE PILOT PI-LOT STONE STO-NE FUTILE FU-TI-LE

There are many exceptions, but when dealing with stressed syllables with one single vowel, this rule works most of the times, so it is a very good rule to learn.

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