About PronunciationCoach

Language teacher, with over 25 years of experience teaching English and Spanish. Specialist in pronunciation and accent reduction.

New revised and expanded article on “This or These?”


Exciting news! My most recent article on Medium covers the topic here titled “This or These?”

The Medium article has much more information, examples and practice ideas.

I have a free-access link to the article on Medium — if you are not a Medium member, there is a monthly reading limit, but with my link you can read the article even if you have already reached the limit! Here is the link: Pronouncing English Vowels. Some of the most difficult pairs: Long-E vs. Short-i

I hope it helps you learn even more! ENJOY!!


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.

Vowel Sequences 2

Vowel sequences are two vowels next to each other in a word, that belong to separate syllables, and each one makes its own sound. In Vowel Sequences 1, we learned that the first vowel of a sequence uses its Long-vowel sound, and we need to use the ending part of the first vowel to help establish a boundary between the two vowel sounds.


science — The first vowel is Long-I (/ay/), so we need to use the /y/ part of that vowel as a link to the second vowel, so that it sounds like {sci-yence}.

coerces — The first vowel is Long-O (/ow/), so we use the /w/ part as the link to the second vowel, and it sounds like {co-wer-ces}.

Using the /y/ or /w/ part of the first vowel has two main advantages:

  1. It creates a boundary between the two vowels, so that the two syllables can be clearly heard.
  2. The vowel sequence is much easier to pronounce because the /y/ or /w/ is like a bridge for your tongue.

By the way, don’t be afraid to exaggerate the “bridge” a little bit!

In these words, the first vowel of the sequence is a Long-A, Long-E, or Long-I sound, so the bridge sound is /y/:
area / aorta / client / idea / diet / giant / medium / museum / period / piano

(They sound like: {A-re-ya}, {a-YOR-ta}, {CLI-yent}, {i-DE-ya}, {DI-yet}, {GI-yant}, {ME-di-yum}, {mu-SE-yum}, {PE-ri-yod}, {pi-YA-no}. The capitalized letters show the stressed syllable.)

In these words, the first vowel of the sequence is Long-O or Long-U, so the bridge sound is /w/:
cooperate / doing / fluid / fuel / oasis / ruin / situation / usual

(They sound like: {co-WO-per-ate}, {DO-wing}, {FLU-wid}, {o-WA-sis}, {RU-win}, {si-tu-WA-tion}, {U-su-wal}.)

Finally, here is an extra tricky word: “bioethics”. It has a sequence of three vowels! The first vowel is Long-I, so the /y/ part is used, and the second vowel is Long-O, so the /w/ part is used, and the word sounds like {bi-yo-WE-thics}.

Vowel Sequences 1

When you find a new word that has two vowels next to each other, you need to check whether the two vowels make just one vowel sound together (a vowel pair), or whether they make two separate sounds (a vowel sequence).

Vowel Pair: This is when two vowels are together in a word, and together they make just one vowel sound and they belong to the same syllable. For example, in the words “rain” or “head”. (see more examples in Vowel Pairs)

Vowel Sequence: This is when two vowels are next to each other in a word, and they make two separate sounds, and belong to different syllables, as in the words “diet” or “eon”.

Vowel sequences can be tricky to pronounce, and there are many students of English who have trouble saying them clearly.

Sometimes, there are words that can be confused, if the vowel sequence is not clear. Here are some common examples:

science: The [i] and the [e] both need to be clear, otherwise this word is often confused with “signs”.
coerces: If the [o] and the [er] are not both clearly pronounced, this can be confused with “courses”.
create: This could sound like “crate”.
quiet: This could sound like “quite”.

Even when there is not a similar sounding word, an unclear vowel sequence could make the word unclear. Here is a funny example: I once had a student who told me that when she first arrived in the U.S., she went to the store to buy deodorant, but she couldn’t buy any, because she couldn’t pronounce the word “deodorant” right, and nobody at the store understood what she wanted. She told me this story the day we were learning about vowel sequences, because suddenly she realized that her trouble with pronouncing “deodorant” was mostly about not knowing that the “eo” sequence needed to be two different vowel sounds.

So then, how do native-speakers of English pronounce vowel sequences clearly? Here is the secret…

FIRST: The first thing to know is that in a vowel sequence, the first vowel almost always has a Long-vowel sound.

SECOND: The secret key is to use the end part of the first vowel. This is where the IPA symbols are useful. When we look at the IPA symbols for the Long-vowels, and look at the 2nd part of each one, we can see a little pattern…

These have a /y/ sound at the end:
Long-A (/ay/)
Long-E (/iy/)
Long-I (/ay/)

These have a /w/ sound at the end:
Long-O (/ow/)
Long-U (/yuw/ or /uw/)

The little /y/ and /w/ parts at the end of the Long-vowels are the secret tool that you need to use to clearly pronounce vowel sequences.

The way to use them is by making them a little bit stronger than usual, so that they make a little bridge between the two vowels of the sequence.

Let’s try this with a few words:

science: The first vowel is Long-I, so the /y/ part should be pronounced a little more strongly, so that it sounds like {sci-yence}.
coerces: The first vowel of the sequence is Long-O, so the /w/ part needs to be used, to make it sound like {co-werces}.
create: Emphasize the /y/ part of the Long-E, to make it sound like {cre-yate}
quiet: Use the /y/ ending of the Long-I to separate the two vowels, like {qui-yet}

Now you know how to more clearly say a word such as “deodorant”!

We will see more examples in Vowel Sequences 2.

Long-vowel IPA symbols

Knowing the Long-vowel sounds and Short-vowel sounds of English can help you be better at pronouncing new words and deciphering spelling patterns, but it also helps to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Some people learn IPA symbols when they first begin to learn English, but others have never seen these symbols before. Either way, it can be useful to refer to them for some aspects of English pronunciation.

One of the main differences between Long and Short-vowels is that Long-vowels have two parts to their sound and Short-vowels have one part. In the Long-vowel IPA symbols below you can see the two parts for each Long-vowel.


Here are two situations where it is helpful to take a look at the IPA symbols of Long-vowels.

1. Vowel sequences

A vowel sequence is when there are 2 vowels next to each other, and they both have a sound, and they belong to different syllables, as in the words “idea” (3 syllables), or “fluid” (2 syllables). (NOTE: This is different from vowel pairs that belong to the same syllable and make only one sound.)

In order to pronounce both of the vowels in a sequence clearly, so that they can both be heard clearly, we need to make special use of the second part of the first vowel. Let’s see how that works with the words “idea” and “fluid”.

Idea — In this word the first vowel of the sequence is a Long-E, and the IPA symbol (/iy/) shows a “y” at the end. The trick is to use that “y” part to separate the two vowels. This is done by pronouncing it a little bit stronger than usual. This makes the word sound like it could be spelled as “ideya”.

Fluid — In this word the first vowel is a Long-U. The IPA symbol (/uw/) shows a “w” at the end. This “w” is emphasized, to make a separation between the [u] and the [i], and it sounds like “fluwid”.

2. Consonant morphing

The consonants “T”, “D”, “C”, “S”, and “Z” sometimes change their sound. Here are some examples:

“virtue” — the “T” sounds like “CH”
“educate” — the “D” sounds like “J”
“sugar” — the “S” sounds like “SH”
“social” — the “C” sounds like “SH”

This kind of consonant change can happen when the consonant is followed by a high-front vowel sound — this is seen as either a “y” or “i” in IPA symbols. In words like these, there is (or once was) either a Long-I-2 /iy/ or a Long-U-1 /yuw/ right after the morphing consonant. The consonant combines with the high-front part of the vowel sound and changes.

In some of these words, the original vowel sound is lost. For example, in “social” the [i] is lost when it combines with the [c] (the [a] remains as schwa). However, in “educate” the [d] gets changed but the Long-U can still be heard.

SO, overall, it is most helpful to know the vowel system in terms of Long and Short-vowels, because many pronunciation patterns make use of them, but also keep your eye on the IPA symbols for extra clues.

Short-vowel IPA Symbols

Knowing how the English vowel system works, with Long-vowels and Short-vowels, can help train your brain to work with English in a way that is similar to how native-speakers process the language. It can help you be better with spelling, and with being more confident in figuring out how to say new words.

At the same time, it is also good to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Obviously this is very helpful if you are already familiar with the IPA symbols. But even if you have never seen these symbols before, taking a look at them can give some helpful insights for English pronunciation.

Remember that Long-vowels have two parts to their sound, and Short-vowels have just one part, and this can be seen in the IPA symbols. The Short-vowel symbols are shown here so that you can see them, and you can also notice that each Short-vowel symbol is a single “letter” which reflects the fact that Short-vowels have just one part. (Long-vowel IPA symbols –coming soon– each have 2 “letters” and they give even more useful clues for pronunciation patterns!)


Overview of Vowels

Do you know the total number of different vowel sounds in English?

Beginners often think the answer is “five”, because there are five vowel letters in the alphabet. Of course, anyone familiar with this blog already knows that each vowel letter has at least one Long-vowel and one Short-vowel sound. So is it ten vowels total? Nope! The answer is… fifteen different vowel sounds!

The English vowel system is complex, and almost every learner of English has trouble with at least a few of the vowels. The vowel system is the most difficult part of figuring out how to pronounce new words. So, mastering the vowel system can make a huge improvement in the way you sound in English, and it can help you be better at figuring out how to say new words.

All of the vowel sounds have been explained in other posts, so here is the complete list.
(not on audio)

#1 Long-A
#2 Short-a-1
#3 Short-a-2 and Short-o
See: The Sounds of A

#4 Long-E and Long-I-2
#5 Short-e
See: The Sounds of E

#6 Long-I
  — Long-I-2 (Old-style Long-I) — same as Long-E
#7 Short-i
See: The Sounds of I

#8 Long-O
  — Short-o — same as Short-a-2
  — Short-o-2 (Alternate Short-o) — same as Short-u
See: The Sounds of O

#9 Long-U-1
#10 Long-U-2 and Long-OO
#11 Short-u and Schwa
See: The Sounds of U and The Sound of Schwa

  — Long-OO — same as Long-U-2
#12 Short-oo
See: Long-OO and Short-oo? What’s that?

#13 Vowel /aw/
#14 Vowel /oy/
See: Two Other Vowels

#15 R-vowel
See: The Power of R

Two Other Vowels

There are two vowel sounds that are similar to Long-vowels because they have two parts. However, these two vowels do not have an alphabet letter to represent them, so I use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for these two sounds. They are:

Vowel /aw/

This is the sound in words such as: house / out / now / flower. This sound is usually spelled with the letters “OU” or “OW”, BUT be careful…

  • not every word with “OU” has this sound. The vowel pair “OU” has many different pronunciations (this is explained in OU – Oh no!).
  • not every word with “OW” has this sound. Some words with “OW” have a Long-O sound, such as “slow” or “own”.

Vowel /oy/

This sound is in words such as: boy / oyster / oil / choice. This vowel is spelled with either “OI” or “OY”.

These two vowels are not usually difficult for students to pronounce. In fact, I have never seen a situation where someone has had difficulty communicating clearly in English due to errors with these two vowels.

There is just one thing to keep in mind about pronouncing them. Since these vowels — as well as the regular Long-vowels — have two parts, the tongue needs to be active. So, to pronounce them well, the tongue needs to move or slide, in order to pronounce both parts, and to sound clear and natural.