How Vowels Work #3 – Diphthongs

British Accent Training - ScrabbleIn this part of our British Accent Training series on vowels, we’re looking at diphthongs. We’ve been looking at what vowels actually are, and their different lengths. But now we’re going to bring in a new variable: whether the vowel is static or fluid.

What do we mean by this? Well, the vowels we’ve been looking at so far have been what’s called monophthongs. Mono meaning ‘one’ and phthong meaning ‘vowel sound’. To use the examples from before, ‘seat’ and ‘sit’ both only contain one vowel sound.

Seat contains an ‘s’, a t, and an ‘ee’ vowel. Using the phonetic alphabet – which is used to spell out sounds, not letters – it looks like this.

/ siːt /

The ‘i’ is the vowel, and the little colon-thing afterwards tells you it’s a long vowel. Here’s what ‘sit’ looks like.

/ sɪt /

No colon-thing, which tells you it’s a short vowel. But you notice that in both of these words, there is only one vowel sound between the consonants. One vowel sound. Mono-phthong.

What happens, then, when we put two vowel sounds together? How about the word ‘sight’?

/ saɪt /

Suddenly, you notice that there are two vowel sounds, the /a/ and the /ɪ/, next to each other. Two phthongs together make a diphthong. And to pronounce it, you smoothly glide from one to the other. For the word ‘sight’, you start on an s. Release onto the ‘ah’ and fluidly move onto the ‘ih’ sound before ending with the ‘t’. Look in a mirror and notice how your tongue moves when you’re doing it.

So there you have it – the third category in our box of tricks for the vowels. We now know that a vowel can be short, long, or diphthong. So let’s give you the full list:

Who – Long
War – Long
Heat – Long
Hurt – Long
Heart – Long

Hat – Short
Hit – Short
Hood – Short
Hot – Short
Hut – Short
Head – Short
The – Short

Hey – Diphthong
High – Diphthong
How – Diphthong
Home – Diphthong
Hear – Diphthong
Hair – Diphthong
Toy – Diphthong
Pure – Diphthong

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