There are many different ways to pronounce vowels in English. In fact there are 20 different sounds associated with vowels (12 pure and 8 diphthong). When discussing vowels we frequently speak about long and short vowel sounds, as well as the short neutral schwa vowel sound. In addition, combinations of vowel sounds, known as diphthongs, also have different pronunciations.
Long vowel sounds
Long vowel sounds are pronounced like the name of the letter and are often indicated by a second, silent vowel in the same syllable (diphthongs).
Short vowel sounds
Short vowel sounds are the most common and are generally found alone within the syllable. Short vowels are frequently followed by double consonants.
The reduced neutral vowel sound known as schwa is the most common vowel sound in the English language. It is virtually always found in an unstressed syllable (see the following lesson on syllable and word stress for more information). It’s pronunciation is determined by the consonants that are found before and/or after it.
Diphthongs, also known as gliding vowels, refer to two different vowel sounds within the same syllable. The pronunciation of diphthongs is marked by a movement of the tongue.