Oh no the letter O!

About how the letter O is basically schizophrenic

  • If you want the confidence of clear and powerful speech, contact AccentsOff today.

American english pronunciation trainingIn our accent training classes, when we’re working on  pronunciation of American English phonemes (sounds), we usually start our clients with the TH. A beautiful thing about the letters T and H together is that they sound like a TH almost every time. No interpretation required! This is also true of letters like V, B, M, and a few more.

The vowels are where things get sticky, and if there happens to be a rule that lets you know how to pronounce a vowel, consider it a good day. For example, here’s a nice rule that often works: when there are two vowels next to each other in a syllable, pronounce the first one as a long vowel and ignore the second (e.g. “beat” “train” “leaf”).

But the letter O is a whole other topic. WHOLE. OTHER. TOPIC.

NOw, here are sOme Of the OptiOns we have fOr prOnOuncing “O”:

AH (/a/) as in “hop”
OU (/ou/) as in “hope”
UH (/ʌ/) as in “love”

These three are the most common, with the “hop” and “hope” categories in a pretty close tie for 1st place. Not sure which one to use?

One way is simple process of elimination. Try all three versions and see which rings to your ear most like the American sound you’re familiar with.  And, if the spelling pattern is letter O=> single consonant=> letter E, the O will definitely be long (as in “hope” or “broke”).

Here’s another type of O: AW (/ɔ/) as in “dog”.  However, about 40% of Americans don’t use this vowel. They just un-round it, and say “dahg” (the “hop” version). “I braht my dahg to the ahffice”. True story: my sister’s birth name was Dawn, and when she moved to Vermont, the kids would call her “Don”. (She ended up changing her name).  So if you want to simplify your life, just opt to sound like you’re one of the 40% and get rid of the AW.

O can also act like OO (/u:/) as in “move” and “lose”.  WTF?? Why??  There are only a few such words. A good old O, wasted. Why can’t we just write “I looz my deposit every time I moov”??

And then for some fancy combo O’s – the “diphthongs”: OW (hour, sour) or OY (boy, toy)…and the “r-colored O” (fort, more).

Now, please don’t lose sleep over words like “tomato”.  That O at the beginning is just a silly little schwa (/ə/). A mumbled sound. ALL the vowels usually do that when they are in unstressed syllables. So don’t be too hard on the O there.

One thing’s for sure: if you hear yourself pronounce the O in that short, flat, tight British-y way, you can say to yourself, “Well, I know that wasn’t American English”. And take it from there.