Vowel Sequences 4 –sort of!!

In Vowel Sequences 1 and Vowel Sequences 2, we learned about the strategy of using the end part of a Long-vowel (the off-glide) to create a transition to another vowel after it. This creates a clear boundary between two vowels and also serves as a bridge to help your tongue move from the first vowel to the second.

NOTE: If you have not yet seen Vowel Sequences 1 or Vowel Sequences 2, it will probably help to start there first, so that you can see some examples and better understand this topic.

We can use the same vowel-sequence strategy, to help us more clearly and easily say words that have a Long-vowel followed by “R” or “L”. This is because the “R” of English has some phonetic properties that are similar to vowels, and this is also why “R” can sometimes even act as a vowel. For example, in the word “never” the second syllable is just an R-sound, and the “E” is silent. (See more examples in: The Power of R). Likewise, the “L” can also sometimes be a substitute for a vowel sound, for example, in the word “buckle” the second syllable is just an L-sound, and the “E” is silent.

Example 1: The word “more”

I have noticed that many students have difficulty clearly saying words with a Long-O followed by “R”, such as, “more”, “form”, “course”, or “board.” For example, the word “or” sometimes sounds more like the word “are”, or “all”, or “owe” or even “awe.”

Using the vowel-sequence strategy for “O+R” can make these words easier to pronounce and sound better.  Let’s look at how this works with the word “more”:

  • looking at the IPA symbol for Long-O (/ow/) reveals the off-glide that we need
  • the off-glide, /w/, will be used for the transition — so we make it a little bit stronger
  • so for the word “more” the lip and tongue movements actually follow the same sequence as the word “mower”
  • in fact, when the word “more” is spoken emphatically, it does sound just the same as “mower,” for example, when somebody is expressing a strong desire and says “But I want more!”

Example 2: The word “fair”

The word “fair” has a Long-A followed by “R”:

  • the IPA symbol for Long-A (/ey/) shows us the off-glide we need
  • the off-glide, /y/, gets strengthened a bit to be used for the transition
  • the word “fair” is really more like saying “fayer” (rhymes with “prayer”)
  • an unhappy child will often emphasize the /y/ part when they say “That’s not fair!”

More examples

Here are words with each of the long vowels followed by an “R” or “L.” Listen for the /y/ transition after Long-A, Long-E, and Long-I, and the /w/ transition after Long-O and Long-U.

Words with a long-vowel + “R”: scare / here / fire / core / lure

Words with a long-vowel + “L”: nail / feel / pile / stole / mule

All of the words shown here are just one syllable, and they would never be split apart for writing purposes. However, when you are speaking, it almost feels a little bit like they are two syllables for your mouth, so thinking of it that way, can be a helpful strategy as you train your mouth to say these sequences.


English Vowel Test – test yourself!!


Test yourself on the most difficult English vowels on the PronunciationCoach site!

On the Vowel Test page, there are two types of vowel training activities.

  1. You can test yourself to see if you can hear the difference between some of the most difficult English vowel contrasts.
  2. You can also practice training your ear to hear the difference between these vowel contrasts with the “train” activities.

The activities cover the most commonly difficult vowel pairs, such as:

  • Short-i (“sick”) vs. Long-E (“seek”)
  • Short-e (“get”) vs. Long-A (“gate”)
  • Short-o (“boss”) vs. Short-u (“bus”)
  • plus several others!!


Vowel Sequences 3

In Vowel Sequences part 1 and part 2, we learned that a vowel sequence is two vowels next to each other which belong to separate syllables and both of the vowels need to have their own sound.

Vowel sequences can be tricky to pronounce clearly, unless you know the secret trick of using the end part of the first vowel as a separator for the two sounds and as a bridge for your tongue.

Many linguists call the end part of the long vowels an “off-glide”. The off-glide for Long-A, Long-E, and Long-I is a /y/ sound, and the off-glide for Long-O and Long-U is a /w/ sound.

If you find it difficult to use the off-glide between two vowels, it might help to look at some examples of words that have a visible [y] or [w] between vowels. For your tongue, the process of pronouncing vowel sequences is similar to saying these kinds of words: layer / saying / growing / vowel

So, imagine a [y] between the vowel sequences in these words: chaos / being / ion
And imagine a [w] between the vowel sequences in these words: proactive / January

Vowel sequences between words

Once you know how to correctly pronounce vowel sequences, you can use the same strategy to speak more clearly when there are two words that have adjacent vowels.


  • A vowel sequence happens in the phrase “see it”. So use the /y/ part of the vowel of the first word as the bridge to the next word, so that it sounds like {see-yit}. If you do not use the /y/ part between them, then it could sound more like the word “seat” instead of “see it”.
  • In the phrase “go out”, use the /w/ part of the first vowel as the bridge, and say {go-wout}.

Listen for the /y/ or /w/ off-glide between the vowels as I say these phrases and sentences:

  • the answer: What was the answer?
  • we all: Do we all want the same color?
  • three oranges: There are three oranges left.
  • go on: Let’s go on the bridge.
  • blue icon: Click the blue icon.
  • who ate: Who ate my sandwich?

Learning to say vowel sequences well can make your English sound much nicer and easier to understand.