Difference Between Long and Short Vowels

English has 26 alphabets, which we use to create meaningful words. Do you know, five letters, i.e. A, E, I, O, U, are considered as vowels out of those 26 letters? But, how do we define a letter as a vowel? The vowels in the English alphabet are those letters that can be pronounced by using our voices and opening our mouths. Based on multiple parameters, the vowels are further differentiated into long and short vowels. 

Long Vowels vs Short Vowels

The main difference between long and short vowels is that a long vowel is a vowel that has long pronunciation. On the other hand, a short vowel is a vowel that has short and quick pronunciations. The sound of vowels depends on two factors, i.e. position of the vowel and the letters surrounding the vowel. 

Long and Short Vowels

The exciting and distinctive feature of the long vowel is that the vowel sounds like their name. For example, the vowel ‘U’ makes a long sound ‘U’ in ‘mute’. Similarly, the use of two vowels simultaneously can produce long vowel sounds. Another way to make a long vowel sound is to add a vowel ‘E’ at the end of the word like in ‘cute’, ‘bike’, etc. 

Short vowels have a different identity as they make a short vowel sound or are pronounced in short. The vowel ‘I’ in the word ‘clip’ produces a fast and quick ‘I’ sound. Moreover, if any vowel in a word doesn’t sound like their name, then it’s a short vowel like in ‘apple’, ‘egg’, etc. 

Comparison Table Between Long and Short Vowels

Parameters of ComparisonLong VowelsShort Vowels
Duration of soundLong vowels are known to have long vowel sounds.Short vowels have short and quick vowel sounds.
SyllablesOpen syllables mark the presence of long vowels.Closed syllables mark the presence of short vowels.
PronunciationLong vowels have pronunciation similar to their name.Short vowel pronunciations are short and might not be similar to their name.
Position of vowelTwo vowels in between consonants, or vowel ‘E’ at the end of the last consonant will be a long vowel.A single vowel between two consonants will be a short vowel.
Movement of mouthWhile pronouncing long vowels, the speaker moves the mouth from closed to the open position or vice versa.Short vowels don’t require the movement of the jaws while pronouncing.

What are Long Vowels?

Long vowels are those vowels that produce long sounds and sound similar to their original names. For example:

‘A’ in Name

‘E’ in Seat

‘I’ in Fine

‘O’ in Oak

‘U’ in Unite

Long vowels are mainly found in open syllables that end with a vowel or in words with two consecutive vowels in between the consonants. In the case of two different vowels used consecutively in a word, the first vowel sound is prominent over the following vowel like in ‘BOAT‘, the sound of vowel ‘O’ is noticeable. 

Long vowels containing words have complicated spelling patterns compared to short vowels. Moreover, long vowels come with multiple exceptions in their spelling. For example, the vowel ‘E’ at the end of words like bake, lone, etc., is silent but makes a long vowel sound. 

Generally, the long vowel sounds are diphthongs, which means the combination of two short vowels produces the long sound. Hence, the sound produced by the long vowels gives the exact pronunciation like the actual or original letter sound.

What are Short Vowels?

The vowels that make a short or quick sound while pronouncing are called short vowels. The pronunciation of short vowels isn’t similar to their name and sounds identical to the consonant used before the vowel. For example:

‘A’ in Bat

‘E’ in Beg

‘I’ in Sit

‘O’ in Fog

‘U’ in Cup

Short vowels make only one sound; hence, they can be pronounced by relaxing the jaws. But, some short vowels might require extra stress while pronouncing like in stressed syllables. While in some cases like ‘tomato’, the first ‘O’ requires competitively less stress than the last ‘O’. 

The spelling pattern of short vowels is complex, with many exceptions like the long vowels. But, the short vowels are mainly present in closed syllables, i.e., in between two consonants. In some cases, short vowels appear isolated at the beginning of the words like ‘up’, ‘end’, etc. 

The pronunciation of a short vowel revolves around a few rules. The most common rules are the one vowel, two vowel, and two consonant rules. With the above limitations, short vowels can be easily identified and pronounced. 

Main Differences Between Long and Short Vowels

  1. The duration of vowel sound differentiates between long and short vowels. Like the name, a long vowel produces a long sound, while short vowels make quick vowel sounds. 
  2. The open syllables end with a vowel, making a long vowel sound. In contrast, a closed syllable ends with a consonant, making a short vowel sound. 
  3. While pronouncing long vowels, we get the pronunciation of their names. In contrast, the pronunciation of short vowels isn’t similar to the vowel name. 
  4. The position of vowels determines their type, like two vowels in between consonants or vowels at the end of the consonant are long vowels. In contrast, short vowels are mainly present between two consonants, i.e., consonant-vowel-consonant. 
  5. While pronunciation, the use of mouth and tongue is vital. For pronouncing long vowels, the speaker’s mouth moves from close to open or vice versa, and the tongue moves into different positions. For short vowels, the jaws are relaxed, while the tongue may be relaxed or move to multiple positions. 

Conclusion

The English alphabet has five vowels, but the place and way of pronunciation differentiate them as long and short vowels. So, knowing some basic things about these two types will help determine the type of vowel used in the word.

A speaker can’t pronounce ‘seat’ and ‘sit’ similarly, as the first word has long vowels, while the next has a short vowel. Hence, it’s essential to know how and where to use long and short vowels, as they can significantly impact pronunciation. So, go through the rules and exceptions of long and short vowels to use them in the right place.

References

  1. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-24019-5_11
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics/article/on-the-recent-history-of-low-vowels-in-english/170D61A0B071ABE5DF597287E4CAB712
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