English Pronunciation

Introduction to American English Short Vowels

Short Vowel Key Words
short a cat c - a - t
short e bed b - e - d
short i sit s - i - t
short o top t - o - p
short u sun s - u - n

What makes a sound a short vowel?

The term short vowel is used to refer to the sounds corresponding to the letters a, e, i, o, and u when there is no silent e at the end of a word (VCe pattern) or when the vowel occurs individually between consonants (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, or CVC pattern). It is important to note that the term short is not referring to the length of time the vowel sound is said -- it is merely a label.

It is generally more difficult for non-native speakers to hear the differences between and produce short vowel sounds than long vowel sounds. Key words are especially important for helping to become familiar with these challenging sounds.

The Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) pattern

All of the short vowel key words follow the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) pattern. The CVC pattern states that when a single vowel is between two consonants, the vowel is pronounced as a short vowel sound (if the letter e follows the second consonant, the vowel will be pronounced as a long vowel sound due to the Vowel-Consonant-e pattern).

Additionally, when a vowel is pronounced with a short vowel sound, it may be followed by two consonants. Both consonants are not necessary for short vowel identification purposes, but do often offer an additional clue that the particular sound in that instance is a short vowel sound.

The CVC pattern still applies when a word begins with a vowel sound and is followed by one or more consonants.

CVC pattern examples
(followed by two consonants) (initial vowel sound)
short aback at
short ebend end
short isick it
short olock opt
short usuch us

It must be remembered when applying spelling patterns to English pronunciation there is the possibility that two or more pronunciations may have the same spelling. For instance, when the letter o is between two consonants there are three potential pronunciations: short o (top), long o (most), and aw sound (dog). Consulting a dictionary is the only way to be certain of the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word.

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short vowel key words

short vowel quiz

Short Vowel Minimal Sets

short vowel quiz, cont

short vowel high frequency words

long a / short a minimal pairs

long e / short e minimal pairs

long i / short i minimal pairs

short e / short i / long e minimal set

Intro to Short Vowels Video


Short Vowels Minimal Sets

Short vowels pre-quiz

Sound Practice

short a

short e

short i

short o

short u

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