How to figure if a word is long or short vowel

Discussion in 'English Only' started by musicgold, Feb 6, 2011.

  1. musicgold Senior Member


    Sometimes I get confused when I try to figure if a word is a long vowel or short vowel word. I know the general rules to decide if a the vowel in a word is long or short.

    However, I wish to check if what I figured is correct. For example, the word 'broth'. According to the above rules it is a short vowel word. But I have no way of confirming that fact. I looked up the word in the dictionary but it doesn't say if the word is a long or short vowel.

    Is there anything else I can do to confirm my answer?


  2. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 75)
    UK English
    I don't think there any rules that would help with this word.
    You have a long vowel in both, sloth, quoth.
    You have a short vowel in Goth, moth, cloth, froth.
    You have a short or long vowel in troth.

    You can, of course, listen to the pronunciation at
  3. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    A good dictionary will give the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) spelling. If the IPA spelling of the vowel consists of two different symbols, or one symbol followed by the length marker ː , the vowel is long.
  4. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    To IPA and perhaps to musicgold, whose native language is Tutsi. But to this native speaker of English who was taught "long" and "short" vowels 55+ years ago in elementary school in the United States, "long" vowels "say their own name" and "short" ones don't. One of the first spelling rules I learned lo these many years ago was that a vowel is "long" if it is followed by a consonant and a silent e. Under this definition, the vowel in the first word in each of the following pairs is "long," the second is "short":
    bake / back
    cede / set
    rite / writ
    hope / hop
    cute / cut
  5. musicgold Senior Member


    I am not sure how to do this. This is what I did. I wanted to find out if ‘wrong’ is a short or long vowel word.

    I looked at its IPA phonetic spelling here

    I didn’t know what the symbol ɔ means. So I went to this site :

    But I couldn’t find it the symbol ɔ in the IPA diaphonemes list.

    Can you please help me figure this?

  6. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 75)
    UK English
  7. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    It's a good basic rule as far as it goes but there are too many exceptions.

    both has a long "o" and should be short, according to the rule, but moth has a short "o"
    mild has a long "i", mildew has a short "i"
    wild has a long "i", wilder has a long "i", but wilderness has a short "i"
    cuticle has a long "u" with no silent "e" after "cut", but article has a short "a"
    head has a short "e" but bead has a long "e" even though it looks like head
    read has a long "e" as a present tense verb but a short "e" in the past tense
    bread has a short "e" sound but break has a long "a" (!) sound and freak has a long "e" sound

    It might work for some words but it doesn't help much as your vocabulary expands. I think the dictionary is more reliable than a rule like this.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2011
  8. airportzombie

    airportzombie Senior Member

    English - CaE/AmE
    Just be aware that there could be regional differences in pronunciation of the same word. I rhyme my deadly sin with broth and not both whereas e2efour would say slow sloth with the same long vowel. Again, a good dictionary will indicate variants and where these pronunciations are usually heard.
  9. musicgold Senior Member

  10. mplsray Senior Member

    I find problems with the section "5. Long vowel u words." It includes suite, which, as far as I can determine, is not pronounced with a long u (in the sense of "a vowel which says its name") in any dialect. Merriam-Webster online does show it pronounced with the sound /u/, although that is shown as a relatively rare pronunciation (when a pronunciation is preceded by the word "also" in that dictionary, it is a less common variant. The more common pronunciation is /swit/ (or /swi:t/ if you include length marks, which many dictionaries using a version of the IPA do not).

    The other problem is that the list of long vowel u words includes both those that "say their names" and those that do not: /ju/ versus /u/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

    Here's another site which deals with long vowels and which says of the "long u":

    Note that in some versions of traditional American pronunciation, the "oo sound" is shown as oo with a macron, while the vowel of "book" is shown with a breve, making the "oo sound" another "long vowel" in such a system.

    For those who are interested, here is a link to the Wikipedia sub-article "Traditional respelling systems."
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2011

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