From Teflpedia


know /nəʊ/

now /naʊ/

Together with the article on decoding difficulties, this page sets out some common (or not…) words teachers can use to help their students become more aware of how they can sound out more correctly the different sounds corresponding to words containing "ow", mainly /aʊ/ and /əʊ/.

Depending on their mother tongue (L1), students may have difficulty distinguishing between these sounds. More often than not, these supposed difficulties depend more on the interference of the spelling than on the actual difficulties posed by the English pronunciation, and many, if not most students will greatly improve their pronunciation by simply becoming aware of certain differences - together with a minimum of practice.

Don’t forget that intonation, linking and stress, both for individual words and for sentence stress, are also, of course, of vital importance in speaking better English.

Common words[edit | edit source]

  • /aʊ/: allow - bow (inclination) - brow - brown - browse - clown - cow - crowd - crown - down - drown - eyebrow - frown - how - now - owl - powder - row (quarrel) - towel - town - vowel - wow
  • /aʊə/: coward - flower - power - shower - tower
  • /əʊ/: 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
  • /ɒ/: knowledge /ˈnɒlɪdʒ/ - knowledgeable /ˈnɒlɪdʒəbəl/
  • towardsBrE/towardAmE: /təˈwɔːrd(z)/BrE /tɔːrd(z)/AmE

Minimal pairs[edit | edit source]

/aʊ/ vs. /əʊ/: clown - clone; drown - drone; now - know/no; town - tone

One extra consonant with /aʊ/: how - house; owl - foul;

One extra consonant with /əʊ/: blow - bloke; glow - globe

Heteronyms[edit | edit source]

  • bow: /baʊ/ inclination - /bəʊ/ weapon; row: /raʊ/ quarrel - /rəʊ/ line;

Two sounds in one concept[edit | edit source]

  • /əʊ/-/aʊ/: burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)

These words don’t rhyme[edit | edit source]

/aʊ/ vs. /əʊ/: cow - low; now - know; owl - bowl; allow - below; flower - slower; frown - grown

One extra letter changes the vowel[edit | edit source]

  • /aʊ/ then /əʊ/: owl - bowl; now - know, snow;
  • /əʊ/ then /aʊ/: crow - crowd, crown;

Proper names[edit | edit source]

  • /əʊ/: David Bowie, J.K. Rowling

Spanish L1[edit | edit source]

Spanish speakers are notorious bad listeners. They will often pronounce /əʊ/ instead of /aʊ/. Even the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language suggested the spelling "clon" for "clown",[1] when it should have been "claun".

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, 22nd edition, clon. This meaning was suppressed in the 23rd edition of the dictionary.