Decoding the letter O

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ɔː

force /fɔːrs/

ɔː

north /nɔːrθ/

əʊ

hope /həʊp/

ɒ

lot /lɒt/

The letter O (lowercase 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.

Short o spelling, IPA phoneme /ɔː/,AmE as in cloth,AmE or longAmE

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).


Distinctions by dialect[edit]

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.

Dialect lot sorry cloth thought north forest glory
Received Pronunciation [ɒ] [ɒ] [ɒ] [ɔː] [ɔː] [ɒ] [ɔː]
General American [ɑː] [ɑː] [ɔː] [ɔː] [ɔː] [ɔː] [ɔː]
Cot-caught merger [ɑː] [ɑː] [ɑː] [ɑː] [ɔː] [ɔː] [ɔː]

As /ɒ/[edit]

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
e
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
ɔɪ
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
understand
/ˌʌndərˈstænd/
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

See main article IPA phoneme /ɒ/.
See also So-called “short o” and Decoding exercises: "orV" and "orrV"

  • before final consonants: bomb - bond - box - drop - hot - job - lot - not - on - shop - stop - top - upon
acrossBrE - alongBrE - clothBrE - costBrE - dogBrE - longBrE - lostBrE - offBrE
  • 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

As /əʊ/[edit]

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

As /ɔː/[edit]

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

As /ʌ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ʌ/.

  • O adjacent to "m": accomplishBrE - Colombia - 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 - dove (bird) - glove - government - love - lover - oven - shovel - slovenly
  • Other: brother - colorAmE - colourBrE - dozen - other - thorough /ˈθʌrə,BrE ˈθɜːrəʊAmE/

As /ɜː/[edit]

  • attorney - word - work - world - worm - worse - worship - worst - worth

As /uː/[edit]

  • do - lose - move - tomb - two - who - whose - womb

As /ʊ/[edit]

  • bosom - woman - wolf

As /ɪ/[edit]

  • women

As schwa[edit]

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

Combinations[edit]

As "oa"[edit]

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


As "oe"[edit]

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

As "oi"[edit]

See main article: IPA phoneme /ɔɪ/

  • /ɔɪ/: choice - oil

As "oo"[edit]

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

As "ou"[edit]

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

As "ow"[edit]

See main article: Decoding exercises: "ow"

  • /əʊ/: know - row - window
  • /aʊ/: brown - down - towel
  • /ɒ/: knowledge

As "oy"[edit]

See main article: IPA phoneme /ɔɪ/

  • /ɔɪ/: boy - destroy - employ - enjoy - Joyce - royal - toy

Silent "o"[edit]

  • 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

Homophones[edit]

  • /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

Heteronyms[edit]

  • compact (noun, verb)

Variant pronunciations[edit]

  • /ɒ,AmE ʌBrE/: accomplice, accomplish
  • /ɜː,AmE ʌBrE/: thorough /ˈθɜːrəʊ,AmE ˈθʌrəBrE/, worry

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[edit]

References[edit]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]