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A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds

When you teach reading and spelling, it’s a good idea to have a general overview of long vowel sounds. Let’s dive in!

A long vowel is a vowel that is pronounced the same as its name. For example, the word emu starts with the long E sound.

Seems pretty simple, right? But did you know that long vowel sounds can be spelled four different ways and that each way follows a specific spelling pattern?

The overview that follows will help you see the big picture about long vowel sounds as you teach reading and spelling. Read on to discover these useful patterns!

Four Ways to Form Long Vowel Sounds

A vowel at the end of a syllable can be long.
In the word we, as in We love emus, the vowel E is at the end of the syllable and says long E. In these words, the vowel at the end of a syllable is long: hero, hi, music.


Silent E can make the previous vowel long.
In the word cute, as in Emus are cute, the long U sound is formed by adding Silent E at the end of the word. Here are more words in which Silent E makes the previous vowel long: tape, shine, code.


Vowel teams can make long vowel sounds.
Vowel teams are two vowels that work together to make one sound. For example, in the word eat, as in Emus eat seeds, vowel team EA says long E. These words have vowel teams that make a long vowel sound: mail, sheep, soap.


I or O can be long when they come before two consonants.
In the word stroll, as in The emu went for a stroll, the letter O comes before two consonants and says its long vowel sound. In these words, I or O are long before two consonants: kind, gold, child.

So there you go—the four basic patterns for spelling long vowel sounds!

Let’s Dive in a Little Deeper

The chart below illustrates the most common ways to spell the long vowel sounds.

Click to Download a Printable Chart!

Seeing these spellings all gathered in one place is enlightening for those of us who are already proficient readers and spellers. But I would only recommend using the chart for reference, or with an older student who has already mastered most of these phonograms. I would not recommend overwhelming a beginning student by teaching these spellings all at once. Instead, teach these basic patterns to students incrementally, one at a time.

Activities to Teach Long Vowel Sounds

Are you interested in seeing how we teach the four long vowel patterns in All About Reading and All About Spelling? Here is a sampling for you to download and enjoy!

Cute emu holding a preview of Be a Hero

Download “Be a Hero” Activity
(Vowel at the end of a syllable)

Cute emu holding a preview of Find Gold

Download “Find Gold” Activity
(I and O are long before two consonants)

The Bottom Line for Teaching Long Vowel Sounds

When it comes to teaching long vowel sounds, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Long vowel sounds can be spelled four different ways, each following a specific pattern.
  • Teach these basic patterns to students incrementally, one at a time.
  • Keep it fun! Use a wide variety of interesting activities to help your student learn the four patterns for forming long vowel sounds.

All About Reading and All About Spelling walk you and your student through all the steps needed to help your student learn to read and spell. The programs are multisensory, motivating, and complete with everything you need. And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

What’s your take on teaching the long vowel sounds? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for information on short vowels? Check out our Handy Guide to Short Vowel Sounds!

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Rusiate.Vurai

says:

Thank you very much author and owner: Marie Rippel for your good lesson above on the long vowel sounds patterns. I do really like it. I used it to my Basic Pronunciation English Course Level II students on my previous block from May to August 2022 after our country ends the communities curfew order, and it was helpful to me as a teacher and my students. All the very best.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that this was helpful for you, Rusiate!

Hillary Ngetich

says:

Useful contents

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Hillary.

Milly

says:

Not for me

Samshiya

says:

Its great to have a long vowel journey along with this guide

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Samshiya.

Helen

says:

Hi, Robin,
Thank you for your reply! I will incorporate the spaced review of these concepts as you explained. My granddaughter already benefits a lot from the spaced review of the flashcards, so I’ll add some concise “key cards” for the concepts, as in AAS. I like the idea of the vowels being like seedlings or children, starting out short and then growing long, and I know it’ll appeal to my granddaughter. :-)

Helen

says:

Hello, Robin,

My granddaughter (5 years, 10 months) and I are really enjoying the All About Reading program together. I am so impressed with this program! My granddaughter has been learning beautifully–right up until a few weeks ago when we reach Lesson 12 in Level 2 (Syllable Division Rule for One Consonant Tile, Part 2) where you introduce the concept that *sometimes* a single consonant between two vowels actually goes with the first syllable, forming a closed syllable. She’d seemed fine with Part 1 of the rule and had produced the long vowel sounds without a hitch, but when confronted with a “sometimes” rule, she seemed to be unable to do those anymore at all. I followed all the directions, slowed things way down to spend extra days on the new concept (that has worked well in the past when she didn’t grasp a new concept quickly), but she struggled even more, eventually just basically guessing at words she had previously sounded out and nailed. I tried going on to Lesson 13 (Read “Broken Robot”), thinking that seeing the words in a story might help. She adores that story and reads it over and over, but I suspect that she simply memorized the two syllable words.

I tried to analyze the problem: Perhaps she rebelled at the multiple steps of locating the vowels, figuring out that there was one consonant between, trying the short and long vowel sounds out to figure out which one worked in that particular case, and she just figured it was easier to ignore all that? The longer we worked with it, the more I became convinced that she was confused about what sound is short and what sound is long, so we spent several days identifying and producing those sounds. Finally, I really thought she had it, but also it was obvious that she was definitely not going to stand for yet another session spent on Lesson 12.

So I moved forward to Lesson 14 (The First Job of Silent E). Nope. No go. We are completely mired here. I tried making a hand puppet in the shape of an E who came to the rescue as I tried valiantly to spell “cane” “C-A-N”. I tried having her go around with Detective Dog and find words in eggs to decode. I tried being Hulk, trying to “smash” the words into make the right sounds. Every day there were glimmers of understanding (also, it’s a riot to watch Nana as Hulk), but by the next reading lesson time, she’s reverted to guessing.

We had previously reached the point when long vowels were introduced in a different reading program (Alpha-Phonics) a while ago, and everything ground to a halt then, too. At that time I thought that a program with more explicit explanations and more fun might help her. I took a couple months break from teaching her to read, while continuing to read to her aloud each day, then started AAR from the beginning. She is just starting AAS as well, and is on Step 4.

I hope this is enough information for you to help diagnose the problem: I am really hoping for some tips on what to do now.

Thank you in advance!

Helen

Helen

says:

A quick update! Yesterday we finally made it through Lesson 14. My granddaughter aced the selection of review words from lessons 10-13 as well. So today I started her on Lesson 15 (we always start with a review, and that went beautifully, so I felt she was ready to start Lesson 15). Wow! Just Wow! All About Reading comes through again. She gets it now, and she is off and running again (and explaining to Ziggy just why the vowel needs to say its long sound). I just needed to be a bit more patient.

Thanks again! AAR rocks!

Helen

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, Helen! I’m so sorry I missed your initial post and question. But it sounds like you did exactly right, and now your granddaughter is rolling along again. Way to go, both of you!

The concepts in those lessons tend to be tricky for many kids!

One piece of advice, if her confusion about short and long vowels seems to come back, is to refer her to the order of the sounds for each vowel. All About Reading teaches phonograms in specific orders. With the vowels, the first sound is the short sound, and the second is the long sound (and then the other sounds, if any).

Talk about how things must first be short before they can be long. A plant starts as a short little seedling before it is a long, tall vine. A child is first a short baby before her legs grow long and she can walk, and so on. It is the same with vowels. The first sound is short, and the long sound is after that.

Since the topics in Lessons 12 and 14 were tricky for her, be sure to review them periodically as you move forward. For a while, review them daily. Once you are sure she has them down really well, then a couple of times a week, then weekly, and then monthly for a while. This is called “spaced review” or “spaced practice” and it is highly effective for ensuring long-term mastery. All About Reading already schedules this for you in the “Review” section of lessons and through the cards, but it is even better to be a bit more purposeful with each child’s unique needs.

Lois

says:

I really enjoy this post and it has been really helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Lois.

Caroline Fraser

says:

I enjoyed your summary. However, I believe the phonograms, ‘ey’ (monkey) and ‘y’ (puppy) are not long ‘e’ sounds, but short ‘i’ sounds. English words cannot end in the letter ‘i’, so in a word ending in either a short or long ‘i’ sound, the letter ‘y’ replaces the ‘i’. The word, puppy is pronounced as puppi, not puppee. The ‘y’ is replacing the ‘i’.
The exception to the ‘ey’ saying either short ‘i’ or long ‘a’ is the word, ‘key’. Here the ‘ey’ says long ‘e’. Another exceptional long ‘e’ sound is ‘ay’ in the word, ‘quay’.

Denise

says:

Caroline, I am an Aussie and definitely the sound is long e for puppy and Monkey

Caroline Fraser

says:

Not in the phonics course I attended in Canberra, Denise. I was told that ‘y’ replaces the 2 sounds of ‘i’ on the end of words, because there is a rule that English words can’t end in the letter ‘i’. I actually argued with the teacher, also thinking it was the long e, but she told me that I was wrong. Since I did the course and bought all the recommended phonics training materials, I now incorporate that method into my teaching.
This particular phonics program is being taught in some NSW schools that I know of.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Y says long E at the end of words like pretty, handy, and city for most English accents. In fact, it is the most common way to spell the sound of long E at the end of a word.

Teaching that Y does not say long E, as some programs teach (in the US as well as Australia), means that students have to learn new pronunciations for hundreds of words (over 1600 words according to at least one resource). All About Learning Press teaches the sounds that reflect the common pronunciation.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Caroline.

There are some regional accents that do give more of a short i sound for words like puppy. However, for the majority of English speakers, the vowel in the final syllable of words like puppy and monkey is long e.

The word quay is an excellent example of a rule breaker that is a great vocabulary word! I won a “try to stump your classmates on the meaning of a word” game in the 6th grade with the word quay.

Caroline Fraser

says:

Hi Robin,
I am Australian. I did a phonics course a few years ago, and the pronunciation I described is what was taught there.
Way back – 60 or more years ago when I was in primary school, we learnt that at the ends of words y replaces i .
I thought that was universal in all English speaking countries.

Timo

says:

Excellent summary! It’s probably best to point out that any vowel can function like a Silent-e. When there is only one consonant between two vowels, the first is usually long, though this rule has many exceptions in English, usually related to the word stress of the word in which unstressed syllables are pronounced with a weaker, unclear vowel pronunciation, as in the first syllable of “pronunciation”.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Timo. You make excellent points. We teach the same but have different terminology.

What you described with two vowels with one consonant between is an open syllable. When there is only one consonant between two vowels, the word is divided into syllables between the first vowel and the consonant. This leaves the first syllable “open”, meaning it is not closed in by a consonant behind the vowel. Vowels in open syllables are long. Here is a blog post on Open and Closed Syllables that explains this with more detail and examples.

When a vowel in an unstressed syllable is unclear or muffled, it is called a schwa sound. We have a helpful blog post on How to Teach Schwas as well.

Bracha Blumenthal

says:

I have enjoyed your website very much! Thanks!

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Bracha!

Yana Atias

says:

Nice

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Yana.

Ruth

says:

Thank you so much for sharing your resources. I’ve been teaching my daughter to read long vowels and she confuses it with short vowels. This will be a great help for her and me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you and your daughter, Ruth! Did you see we have a similar Handy Guide to Short Vowel Sounds blog post?

Maura

says:

Thank you! For sharing the long vowel chart!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Maura!

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. In “Beethoven”, the EE vowel team makes the long A sound, not the long E sound.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
Beethoven is a German name, not an English word. So English rules do not apply.

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. There are occasional words that the single vowel makes their long sounds in a closed syllable.
Spelling Changes Examples:
pull->pule
push->poosh
bull->bule
bully->buly
full->fool
bush->boosh
bullet->bulet
put->pute
pudding->puding
wolf->woolf
whom->whome
tomb->tume
womb->wome
kind->kaind
find->faind
wind->waind
mind->maind
wild->waild
mild->maild
child->chaild
bold->bould
gold->gould
told->tould
most->moust
host->houst
post->poust
kosher->kousher
gross->grose
haste->heist
paste->peist
taste->teist
waste->weiste
range->reinj
change->cheinj
strange->streinj
danger->deinjer
chamber->cheimber
pastry->peistry
pretty->prety
effect->efect
lethal->leathal
Ethan->Eathan

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
As explained in this blog post, open syllables are not the only way to form long vowel sounds. Many of the words on this list have long vowel sounds for reasons that clearly follow phonics rules. Others, however, do not have long vowel sounds at all.

The first nine words pull through pudding do not have a long U sound. Rather, they have the third sound of U. You can hear the third sound of U with our Phonogram Sounds app.

The /oo/ sound of O (as in wolf, whom, tomb, and womb) is not the long sound of O. It is the third sound of O and O can say its third or fourth sounds whenever.

The words kind through gross have long I and O sounds because of the Find Gold rule. I and O may say their long sounds when followed by two consonants.

The words haste through strange all have long A sounds because of the silent E doing its first job.

Pretty and effect do not have long E sounds. Both have a short E, or in some pronunciations pretty may be pronounced “perty” and effect may be pronounced “uffect” (schwa sound on the first syllable).

Lethal and Ethan are open syllables. TH is a single phonogram, so they are not divided into T and H when the words are divided. So they are le-thal and e-than, so the Es are long because they are open syllables.

So, that leaves only danger, chamber, and pastry.

Ornatta McFadden

says:

This is a wonderful tool and would help my daughter grow in her understanding.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Ornatta. I’m glad you find this tool helpful.

Pammy L

says:

A very good reminder, the chart is helpful! I just need to be able to print from my phone like my printer never wants to read my laptop or my phone! and y’all have some really great giveaways I’m hoping to win something because my son is almost there but not quite reading everything on his own!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you find the chart helpful, Pammy!

Randy Gibbs

says:

I love the activity sample downloads and how appealing they are for children to use.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Randy! It’s wonderful to hear you find them appealing.

Judy Clark

says:

Thank you so much for these resources!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are very welcome, Judy!

Ahcene

says:

Very useful. Thank you very much.

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on:
said, again, air, chair, fair, hair, lair, pair, stair
In these words, the AI vowel team says the short E sound, not the Long A sound.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, Masashi. In said and again, the AI vowel team says the short E sound. These words are taught as rule-breakers. However, for most English accents, the AI in air, chair, fair, hair, lair, pair, and stair are all long A. If your accent pronounces these words differently, you can approach them differently for your child. Let me know if you need tips for how to do so.

Michelle Bloem

says:

Hi Robin,
I have a south African accent with a kiwi child, the AI with those words are really doing our heads in, any other advice please:-)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to help, Michelle. However, if you need more, let me know.

Here are some things you can do:
Help your student get the idea of how to spell the words that are a long ā sound in your accent first. Play with the letter tiles and do short strings of words where you call out words for your child to spell and he or she switches out one or two tiles at a time. Here are some suggestions, but be sure to use words where AY and AI are clearly long for you:

rain – train – tray – say – pay – paint

spray – pray – play – clay – claim

and so on.

When your child is able to make most of these words fairly successfully, then go back and work on the words that end in l and r. Let him or her know that some people pronounce these with a long ā sound too, but in your part of the world, you say the sounds differently. Then model for your child how to say each one.

You could make up word cards on index cards for a bunch of the words. Have your child do an activity where he or she sorts the words into piles by how you pronounce the AY/AI sound. Put all of the “regular” AY/AI words like pay and train in one pile, and then put the words where you pronounce the AI differently (as in words like mail and pair) in another pile. Show your child how to sound them out and then how you pronounce them in your region. Then have your child try to read the words and sort them. You could make it a game where you shuffle a few AI words together, then take turns drawing a card, reading it, and putting it on the correct pile.

Any time you can make something into a game, kids tend to enjoy the learning process more.

You can also use the Word Bank handout from All About Spelling level 3 for AI/AY to help him build up a visual memory for these words. Have him or her read the list daily for a week or more. Each time your child reads the list, ask him or her the spelling pattern the words have in common. Part of what you are doing is helping your child create a mental “schema” as he or she reads these words. Have your child note that they all use the AI pattern and learn to associate these words together. If your child would like, he or she could choose two highlighter colors. He or she could highlight the words that end in -l with one color and the words that end in -r in another color.

Once your child is used to seeing, reading, and sorting the words, then have him or her work on spelling them.

Give as much help as needed. For some kids, pronouncing for spelling can help. And to take it up a notch–show how to say the word as you normally do and then pronounce for spelling and have your child repeat when you are introducing the word. Later on with the review cards, just say the word normally and ask your child to give the pronunciation. If he forgets, go ahead and give it to him, and then have him spell it. Keep the card in review until your child can BOTH give the pronunciation for spelling AND spell the word easily. Some of these may take more work, but your child will get them with practice.

If your child has heard accents, you might even play around with trying to imitate some different accents, just to encourage him or her to feel the different sounds in his mouth and to hear how the words might be pronounced differently in different regions. It might be fun to try to say mail and pair with a long ā sound!

Over time, AAS is actually teaching several spelling strategies: phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic. Here’s an article with more information on 4 Spelling Strategies You Won’t Want to Miss. Playing with the words a bit and exploring the visual similarities (the AI pattern) and using things like pronouncing for spelling can help cement the words when you run into an issue like this.

Please let me know if you have additional questions. I’m glad to help any time!

Sharmilee Gandhi

says:

Thanks for such knowledgeable information on phonics

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sharmilee!

Lamorgese Ross

says:

The contents are very interesting.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lamorgese.

camellia hock

says:

it wont let me download the printable chart…

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear that, Camellia! Are you still having difficulties? What device and browser are you using?

vanny

says:

good job robin!

vanny

says:

this helps alot! now i can do work correctly!! :)

Dodos

says:

Thank you naminaminga the word she said

Hottensiah

says:

Great activities. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome! Glad you like them.

Mary Ann Lopez

says:

Good job