What is a Vowel? Definition, Examples of English Vowels

Vowel definition: A vowel is a sound produced with a comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract. In everyday language, a vowel is a letter (sound) of the English alphabet that is not a consonant.

What is a Vowel?

A vowel is most often identified as a letter that is not a consonant. More specifically, a vowel is a sound that when paired with a consonant makes a syllable.

A vowel is any sound that a letter makes that is not a consonant sound.

What are the vowels? There are six English vowels,

  • A, E, I, O, U.

Sometimes, Y can also function as a vowel, but it is not considered a vowel in and of itself.

what is vowel Examples in Words:

  • cat
    • “a” is a vowel in this word
  • street
    • “e” and “e” are vowels in this word
  • late
    • “a” and “e” are vowels in this word

Vowels and Consonants

vowel letters Vowels and consonants are two different sounds. A consonant is most often identified as a letter that is not a vowel.

English consonants are: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y (sometimes), Z.

Consonants and vowels do not make syllables on their own. A vowel paired with a consonant makes a syllable.

Example of consonants in words:

  • bin
    • “b” and “n” are the consonants in this word
  • stool
    • “s,” “t,” and “l” are the consonants in this word
  • chair
    • “c,” “h,” and “r” are the consonants in this word

Forming Syllables

whats a vowel A syllable is a unit of sound that creates meaning in language. Vowels alone do not make syllables. Instead, they pair with consonants to create what we know as syllables.

Syllables can have more than one letter. However, a syllable cannot have more than one sound.

Furthermore, syllables can have more than one vowel and more than one consonant. Still, a syllable cannot have more than one consonant or vowel sound.

Examples of syllables in words will help clarify this concept.

Examples:

  • tree
    • one syllable
    • two consonants “t” and “r” “w” and two vowels “e” and “e”
  • holy
    • two syllables
    • “ho”: one consonant “h” plus one vowel “o”
    • “ly”: one consonant “l” plus one vowel “y”
  • example
    • three syllables
    • “ex”: one vowel “e” plus one consonant “x”
    • “am”: one vowel “a” plus one consonant “m”
    • “ple” : two consonants “p” and “l” plus one vowel “e”
  • lake
    • one syllable
    • two consonants “l” “k” plus one two vowels “a” and “e”

Literary Devices That Use Vowels

vowel wordsThe sound that vowels make is used to create a literary device called assonance. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within nearby words.

Assonance is often used in poetry when writers use sound to create meaning.

It is important to note that assonance is not rhyme.

Example of Assonance:

  • the green tree bleeds its honeyed sap
  • the repetition of the long “e” sound in the words “green,” “tree,” and “bleeds” creates assonance

The following is an example of assonance from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells”

Hear the sledges with the bells—

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

In these lines, Poe use the short “e” sound to create assonance. Here is another look at the lines with the terms that create assonance underlined.

Hear the sledges with the bells

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

Poe uses the words of this poem to reinforce the sound of the bells. He selects words specifically to sound as though the poem itself is making bell-like noises.

The assonance reinforces the melody of the bells themselves.

Consequently, writers should only use assonance when they understand its purpose. Like any literary device, assonance should connect to meaning and be used with intention.

Summary: What are Vowels?

Define vowel: the definition of vowel is a speech sound produced without blocking the breath channel; anything that is not a consonant.

In summary, a vowel is:

  • not a consonant
  • A, E, I, O, U, (and sometimes Y)
  • paired with a consonant to make a syllable
  • used to create the literary device assonance