Decoding the letter O
The letter O (lower case o, pronounced /əʊ/), as most vowel letters in English, had initially four main pronunciations; however in Received Pronunciation and in General American they are currently three.
- So-called “long o”, IPA phoneme /əʊ/, as in go, hope, hoping or most
- Long "or" monophtong (short vowel spelling), IPA phoneme /ɔː/, as in north, horse, born or torrid.AmE
- Long vowel "or" spelling, currently also /ɔː/, but it used to be /oə/ as in force, core or glory.
It also can be pronounced /ʌ/ as in love plus other, less common pronunciations, sometimes in combination with other letters, and, of course, it can be used as schwa. There are some helpful rules (to be taken with the habitual pinch of salt).
- 1 Distinctions by dialect
- 2 As /ɒ/
- 3 As /əʊ/
- 4 As /ɔː/
- 5 As /ʌ/
- 6 As /ɜː/
- 7 As /uː/
- 8 As /ʊ/
- 9 As /ɪ/
- 10 As schwa
- 11 Combinations
- 12 Silent "o"
- 13 Homophones
- 14 Heteronyms
- 15 Variant pronunciations
- 16 Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
- 17 References
- 18 See also
Distinctions by dialect
Teaching the letter O is one of those cases in which teachers, whichever their preferences might be, need to point out the differences between Received Pronunciation and General American. The best known of these differences is that RP /ɒ/ is normally GA /ɑː/. Also RP /ɒ/ in some cases is GA /ɔː/ as in cloth and long. Also, many North Americans pronounce /ɔː/BrE as /ɑː/; see also Cot-caught merger.
- before final consonants: bomb - bond - box - drop - hot - job - lot - not - on - shop - stop - top - upon
- before double consonant or "ck": block - clock - coffee - follow - occupy - offerBrE - possible - shock
- before one consonant: body - goneBrE - holiday - model - poverty - probably - product
- before two different consonants: compact (adj., n.) - oftenBrE - problem
See main article IPA phoneme /əʊ/.
- with magic e: alone - bone - phone - stone - whole - zone
- with final e: noble
- mid position: global - local - mobile - motivate - notable - slogan - soldier
- ending in consonants: bold - both - don't - fold - folk /fəʊk/ - ghost - gold - gross - hold - host - most - old - post - roll - poll - won't
- ending in "o": ago - also - buffalo - espresso - go - judo - no - potato - radio - so - taco - tomato - tuxedo - video
See also Decoding exercises: "orV" and "orrV"
- afford - born - force - form - horse - important - north - order - report - short - sort - store - storm - support - sword
- AmE: across - along - chocolate - cloth - cost - dog - gone - long - lost - off - offer - often
See main article IPA phoneme /ʌ/.
- O adjacent to "m": BrE - - come - comfort - comfortable /ˈkʌmftəbəl, ˈkʌmfərtəbəl/ - company - compass - mother - some - stomach
- O adjacent to "m" and "n": among - Monday - money - mongrel - monk - monkey - month
- O adjacent to "n": another - confrontation - done - front - honey - London - none - nothing - one /wʌn/ - once /wʌns/ - onion /ˈʌnjən/ - son - sponge - ton - tongue - tonne
- O adjacent to "n" and "w": won - wonder - wonderful
- O adjacent to "v": above - Coventry /ˈkʌvəntriː, ˈkɒvəntriː/ - cover - covet - discover - (bird) - glove - government - love - lover - oven - shovel - slovenly
- Other: brother - colorAmE - colourBrE - dozen - other - thorough /ˈθʌrə,BrE ˈθɜːrəʊAmE/
- attorney - word - work - world - worm - worse - worship - worst - worth
- do - lose - move - tomb - two - who - whose - womb
- bosom - woman - wolf
See main article schwa.
- weak forms: for - from - of - some - to
- at beginning (including many verbs): object (verb) - observe - occasion - occur - official - oppose
- as part of suffix -tion: nation - motion
- as part of suffix -sion: version - vision
- other: antonym - broccoli - compact (verb) - director - ecology - forbid - gorilla
See main article Decoding exercises: "oa"
- as /ɔː/: abroad, boar, board, broad, oar, roar, soar
- as /əʊ/: approach, boat, coach, coal, coat, coast, float, foam, goal, goat, load, loan, oats, road, roast, throat, toast
See main article: Decoding exercises: "oe"
- /əʊ/: Joe - mistletoe - oboe - toe
- plurals: does (noun) - mosquitoes - potatoes
- /ʌ/: does (verb)
- /uː/: canoe - shoe
- /əʊə/: poem - poet - poetry
See main article: IPA phoneme /ɔɪ/
- /ɔɪ/: choice - oil
- See main article: Decoding exercises: "oo"
- /uː/: boot - choose - cool - fool - loose - moon - pool - root - school - soon - stool - tool
- /ʊ/: book - cook - foot - good - hook - look - shook - took - wool - whoops!
- /ʌ/: blood - flood
See main article Decoding exercises: "ou"
- /aʊ/: about - cloud - house - mountain - mouth - out - round
- /aʊə/: flour - hour - our - sour
- /ʌ/: country - cousin - touch - trouble - young
- /ɔː/: bought - course - court - fought - source - thought
- /əʊ/: although - dough - shoulder - soul - though
- /uː/: group - soup - through - you - youth
- /ʊ/: could - would - should
- /ɜː/: journalist - journey
- /ə/: ending in -ourBrE: colour - neighbour - vapour
- ending in -ous: dangerous - enormous - famous - obvious - religious - serious
See main article: Decoding exercises: "ow"
- /əʊ/: know - row - window
- /aʊ/: brown - down - towel
- /ɒ/: knowledge
See main article: IPA phoneme /ɔɪ/
- /ɔɪ/: boy - destroy - employ - enjoy - Joyce - royal - toy
- colonel, jeopardy, Geoffrey, laboratory,BrE Leonard, leopard, people
- varisyllabic words ("o" is silent or it sounds /ə/): catholic, chocolate, corporate, comfortable /ˈkʌmfərtəbəl, ˈkʌmftəbəl, ˈkʌmftərbəlAmE/, Deborah, favoriteAmE/favourite,BrE history, incorporate (adj.), laboratory,AmE temporary
- /əʊ/: lone - loan; no - know; poll - pole; roll - role; so - sew - sow; sole - soul;
- /ʌ/: none - nun; one - won; some - sum; son - sun;
- /ɔː/ all accents: bored - board; or - oar - ore; worn - warn;
- only in some accents: shore - sure; stork - stalk
- compact (noun, verb)
Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.