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8 Common American Diphthongs

In English, there are 20 different vowel sounds. In the English language, there are 12 monophthongs (pure vowel sounds) and 8 diphthongs. A diphthong is a vowel that sounds like a combination of two different vowels because the tongue position of the speaker changes as the vowel is being produced. In the word “tail,” the vowel sound is a diphthong. Here in our guide, we are going to discuss 8 common American diphthongs in detail.

What is a Diphthong?

We must first go back to the fundamentals, the vowels, to understand what a diphthong is.

A vowel is a sound generated by the human mouth that isn’t hindered by the teeth, tongue, or lips, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary. For instance, it is said that American English has 14 vowel sounds, which are frequently divided into long and short vowel sounds.

The Greek word for “two sounds,” diphthong, is where the word originates. Its definition informs us that a diphthong is a combination of two vowel sounds.

In a real sense, these two vowel sounds are spoken so tightly together that they resemble one another rather than two.

Although any two vowel sounds voiced together might technically be a diphthong, American English only has eight primary diphthongs.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a method of writing that enables precise descriptions of sounds in all languages, is represented by the letters in the sideways brackets.

8 Common American Diphthongs
English Diphthongs

Diphthongs And Gliding Vowels:

A monophthong is a single vowel, like the “O” or “I” in “oil” (mono for one, di for two). The “O” in the word “hop” is a monophthong. Nevertheless, gliding is the process of switching from one vowel sound to another, like the “oi” in “oil.” As a result, diphthongs are sometimes known as “gliding vowels.”

Diphthongs are interesting to linguists to examine since they differ between dialects, languages, and geographic regions. For instance, the “aw” diphthong has become popular in New York. As an illustration, consider how some New Yorkers pronounce “dog” such that it sounds more like “dawg.

In Birmingham, England, people also started using a diphthong that includes, among other sounds, the “oi” sound. As an illustration, consider how some Birmingham residents say “nice” in a way that sounds more like “noise.”

Finished waiting! Let’s examine each of the top eight American English diphthongs:

1. /aʊ/ as in Town:

This diphthong can be spelled in a variety of ways, but it is typically represented in English nouns such as ow or ou. Examples of words using the diphthong /aʊ/ include:

●     Brown

●     Crown

●     Mouth

●     Now

●     Found

It appears in the adverb as well. When someone is injured, the word “ow!” is used to convey pain or suffering.

Remember that some dialects of English, most notably Canadian English, sound this diphthong differently.

2. /aɪ/ as in Light:

Although this diphthong is frequently written as igh, it can also be expressed in English words by a single I or y.

When it’s written as a single I an e usually come after a consonant.

●     Kite

●     Prime

●     Fight

●     Pride

●     Mike

●     Fry

●     Why

●     Like

●     Glide

Moreover, certain English dialects pronounce this diphthong significantly differently.

3. /eɪ/ as in Play:

In English, there are several distinct ways to spell the diphthong /eɪ/. It can be written as a single a, ay, ai, ei, ey, or ea. Similar to our prior diphthong, when /eɪ/ is written as a single a, an e is typically used after a consonant.

●     Slate

●     Blame

●     Pay

●     Way

●     Play

●     Grey

●     Great

●     Space

Did you note that the third word of our opening question also contained this diphthong?

4. /eə/ as in Pair:

This diphthong sounds extremely similar to the /eɪ/ diphthong in pronunciation, although it usually comes before the letter r. It is frequently spelled with an ai, a single e, or an a before an r.

This diphthong, for instance, can be heard in the following words:

●     Chair

●     Heir

●     Fare

●     Where

5. /ɪə/ as in Deer:

Similar to our previous diphthong, /ɪə/is frequently heard before several consonants. First of all, it might come before the letter r or before the letter l. The most popular ways to write it are as ee, ea, or a single e before a r or l.

●     Heel

●     Fear

●     Near

●     Meal

●     Atmosphere

6. /oʊ/ as in Slow:

The diphthong /oʊ/ is a very adaptable one. There are several ways to write it that is frequently used, including ow, oa, and a single o that is followed by a consonant and an e.

●     Slow

●     Boat

●     Blow

●     Poke

●     No

●     Show

●     Go

●     Coke

7. /ɔɪ/ as in Toy:

You’ll be relieved to learn that this diphthong is simpler to recognize based on the spelling than our prior one. Simply said, it’s usually spelled as oy or oi, as in the following sentences:

●     Toy

●     Avoid

●     Illinois

●     Annoy

●     Join

●     Annoy

●     Boy

8. /ʊə/ as in Sure

The /ʊə/ diphthong can be compared to a spider that is occasionally difficult to detect under the slide we have been discussing.

This is due to the fact that this diphthong can occasionally be pronounced as a single vowel sound, even in American English. Thus, the final “sure” sound can resemble the single-vowel English word “purr,” which has a similar sound. Instances of this diphthong include:

●     Pure

●     Furious

●     Jury

●     Cure

●     Curious

Tips For Learning English Diphthongs

How can I learn English diphthongs in the best way possible?

Of course, the best way to hear them is both separately and in combination with other words.

You can also watch a video on YouTube. These will provide simple explanations on how to pronounce each diphthong before providing instances of words with the diphthongs in them.

See how native speakers use diphthongs in these videos. Carefully listen to how natural speakers genuinely pronounce diphthongs.


So, in this article, we have described the 8 common American Diphthongs. It is very important to learn about diphthongs because, for any piece of writing, we need to use diphthongs correctly. We have provided you with our suitable guide so you can understand more effectively about diphthongs.