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500 Common English Words: Spelling Vowels

Words have spellings according to their sounds. Among the common words, there is often more than one spelling per sound. You do have to memorize the spellings of words.

Why are spellings so hard in English? The Oxford English Dictionary became a standard reference for English. The project of creating this dictionary began in the 1850's, and the intellectuals on the team wanted to establish the language as it was being used. They had volunteer readers who noted words and the sentences where they were found within books. The popular spellings, as well as the definitions shown by the sentences, became part of the dictionary.

There are relationships between sounds and spellings, but there are no perfect rules. Today, most American kids learn phonics, the sounds of language, which show some of the spelling rules below. But they also take spelling tests, often once a week, during elementary school.

Intermediate to Advanced Speakers: Get more practice by taking the 750 Business Words pronunciation class.
Study each vowel sound with videos and visuals of spelling rules. Practice speaking the words in order of syllable stress.

Vowel Sound         
A in Cat
simple--only A
ask, cat, bad, black, fact, had,  last, map, math, pass
A by N or M
only AN, AM (no silent E)
am, an, began, family, land, ran, understand

A in All
ar, al, au, aw, wa (no silent E)
car, dark, star, call, fall, cause, auto, draw, saw, water, watch
was (wuz), "ar" and "wa" have 2 sounds, see below*
A in Late
a_e*, ai, ay, ey
age, face, state, air, main, wait, say, way, they
there, weight
E in Met
simple--only E, also ea
end, get, help, less, men, never, test, yellow, yes, head, ready
again, any, many, been, friend, said, says*
E in Need
ee, ea, e_e, e as last letter in small words, y as last letter
deep, feel, feet, keep, hear, near, reach, year, here, be, he, beauty, city
ie/ei as in field, receive--these spellings have several sounds*
I in Sit
simple, only I
big, city, fish, give, interest, listen, quick, ship, wind
busy, live (as in "I live here"), pretty, minute (minit), "ui"*
I in Hi
i_e, igh, y as last letter
drive, fine, like, side, high, light, night, by, cry, why
find, kind, island, idea
O in Hot
simple--only O, ought
cross, dog, long, off, problem, brought, thought
"ought" is usually this sound, but "ough" may have a long O or U
O in No
oa, o_e, or, ow, o as last letter
boat, road, close, home, horse, morning, grow, slow, go, no
course, four, door, war, warm, "ow" has 2 sounds*
U in Up
simple--only U, any spelling if sound is reduced
but, such, sun, up, above, come, does, early, island, the
see Note 7 below*
U in Rule
ue, u_e, oo, ew
blue, true, rule, too, room, food, new, knew
do, group, move, through, two, you
YU in Music
pu_e, cu_e, fu_e, mu_e, u_e, ew with these letters
compute, cute, fuse, muse, use, few, pew
"muse" is the original word behind "music"
in Good
oo, u, ou
book, foot, look, full, put, could, should, would

OU/OW in Ouch
ou, ow
about, hour, south, round, down, how, power, town, vowel
both spellings have more than one sound*

Note 1: AR (with no silent E) has 2 sounds, either the open sound in "star" and "dark" or the Long A sound in "parent" and "carry."
WA often has the open A sound in "water" and "watch," but it can sound like the A in "cat," as in "wag" and "wax."

Note 2: There is a major phonics rule: "an E at the end makes the vowel sound long." This refers to a silent E. These are indicated with a_e,  e_e,  i_e,  o_e,  u_e.

Note 3: Sometime "ui" has a simple I sound, as in "build" and "biscuit."

Note 4: "Say" has an A sound, but "said" sounds like "sed" and "says" sounds like "sez." Notice how the final S has a Z sound.

Note 5: IE and EI have their own rules and several sounds. Check back soon for a new page on these.

Note 6: OW can sound like O as in "snow" or the double vowel as in "down" or "now."

Note 7: The U in Up is the most simple sound. You can hear this sound in many common words (with any spelling) or on the unstressed syllables of longer words.
Notice that O often reduces to this sound as in color, come, does, done, money, nothing, other, mother, work. Study the sounds of O.

Note 8: The OU/OW in Ouch is a double vowel sound. OW can sound like O as noted above, and OU does have several sounds.

Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings or spellings.
If a sound has more than one spelling, there might be several homophones.
Examples are: plain and plane, tail and tale, hear and here, piece and peace, for and four, two and too, would and wood, our and hour.

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Sounds of the Letter A

Sounds of the Letter I

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