IPA phoneme /əʊ/

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Strict IPA

əʊ̯ oʊ̯

goat /gəʊ̯t, goʊ̯t/


goat /goʊt/



goat /gəʊt/

In Received Pronunciation and in General American the IPA phonetic symbol /əʊ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "goat", "note", and "know". The actual sound is [əʊ], [ɜʊ][1] or [əw][2] in Received Pronunciation and [oʊ] or [ow] in General American. See IPA phonetic symbol [w].

The habitual notation for General American is /oʊ/, however in a broad notation /əʊ/ can be used; it could also be the other way around, using /oʊ/ for both General American and Received Pronunciation. In this website /əʊ/ is used.

In strict IPA diphthongs need an inverted breve under their less prominent vowel: /əʊ̯/ or /oʊ̯/. However in English a single /o/ is never used; this means that in American English /oʊ/ is unambiguously a dipthong. In British English the sequence /ə.ʊ/ (most certainly) doesn't occur, and therefore /əʊ/ can only be interpreted as a diphthong. This means the inverted breve can be omitted in both conventions, British and American.

This diphthong is informally called “long O”. A better pronounceable name is the vowel of GOAT.

Common words[edit]

Some common words which practice the pronunciation of /əʊ/ include the following:

  • with "o"+magic e: alone, bone, close, code, episode, hole, home, hope, joke, lone, note, phone, pole, role, smoke, stole, stone, those, vote, whole
  • with "o": almost, associate, both, don't, focus, ghost, host, local, moment, most, notice, November, October, only, open, over, program, social, total, won't
ending in "o": ago, go, no, so
with "ol": control, fold, gold, hold, old, sold, soldier, told
anomalies with "o" and a double consonant: gross, poll, roll, toll
  • with "oa": approach, boat, coach, coast, coat, goal, goat, load, loan, road, roast, throat, toast
  • with "oe": goes, heroes, Joe, potatoes, toe
  • with "ow": arrow, below, blow, borrow, bowl, crow, elbow, fellow, flow, follow, grow, grown, growth, know, low, narrow, owe, own, row (line), shadow, show, slow, snow, throw, tomorrow, tow, window, yellow
  • with "ou": although, dough, shoulder, soul, though


  • groan - grown; hole - whole; know - no; loan - lone; pole - poll; road - rode; role - roll; so - sew - sow; sole - soul; toe - tow;


  • bow: /bəʊ/ weapon - /baʊ/ inclination; dove: /dəʊv/ past tense of dive; - /dʌv/ bird; row: /rəʊ/ line - /raʊ/ quarrel;

These words don't rhyme[edit]

  • go - do; goes - does; home - come; know - cow; road - broad; toe - shoe; alone - abalone;

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit]

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.


Spanish has many diphthongs with "u" and "i", and the only combinations that don't exist are "iu" [iw] and "ou" [ow].[3] The lack of [ow] explains why, even if they are fully capable of pronouncing [ow] (and hence /əʊ/) Spanish speakers tend to use the monophthong [o] which is very similar to /ɒ/, i.e. without practice, they tend not to distinguish between "not" and "note" or, even between "want" and "won't". At the end of the word they have no problems; the Spanish pronunciation for the loanword show is [tʃow].

Many Spanish speakers are confused by the spelling. Even if [ow] is present only in loan words (and compounds such as estadounidense) they immediately recognize "ou" as [ow]. For this reason many /aʊ/ words may be pronounced with [ow], such as "amount" as *[əˈmoʊnt] instead of /əˈmaʊnt/. See Decoding and spelling exercises: /əʊ/ vs /aʊ/.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. John Wells, IPA transcription systems for English, 2001-08-03.
  2. Geoff Lindsey, The British English vowel system, 8 March 2012.
  3. List of Spanish diphthongs
    • [Vj]: "ai" as in baile, "ei" as in reina, "oi" as in boina, "ui" as in cuido
    • [Vw]: "au" as in auto, "eu" as in Eugenia
    • [jV]: "ia" as in viaje, "ie" as in ciego, "io" as in piojo, "iu" as in ciudad
    • [wV]: "ua" as in cuadro, "ue" as in cuento, "ui" as in ruido, "uo" as in cuota

See also[edit]

External links[edit]