Vowels are speech sounds pronounced so there are no “obstacles” to airstream (unlike the way consonants are pronounced, for example). This post lists English vowels (21 in this case, although some sources list 22), both monophthongs and diphthongs. They are grouped into the long and short ones. There is also a vowel diagram showing vowels at their approximate positions.
The English vowels with examples (O’Connor, first edition 1973) IPA (O'Connor) Examples 1 i: see, unique, feel 2 ɪ wit, mystic, little 3 e set, meant, bet 4 æ pat, cash, bad 5 ɑ: half, part, father 6 ɒ not, what, cost 7 ɔ: port, caught, all 8 ʊ wood, could, put 9 u: you, music, rude 10 ʌ bus, come, but 11 ɜ: beard, word, fur 12 ə alone, butter 13 eɪ lady, make 14 əʊ go, home 15 aɪ my, time 16 ɑʊ now, round 17 ɔɪ boy, noise 18 ɪə here, beard 19 ɛə fair, scarce 20 ɔə more, board 21 ʊə pure, your
Gimson (Introduction 90) sorts English vowels into three groups: short, long “relatively pure” and long “diphthongal glides, with prominent 1st element”.
Short and long monophthongs in English short ɪ e æ ɒ ʊ ʌ ə long i: u: ɑ: ɔ: ɜ:
Vowel diagram is used to provide details about the sounds involved. The phoneme /i:/ often has the quality of a diphthong (O’Connor 154), which depends on the accent. The arrow on the diagram marks the approximate final location of the sound in diphthongal realisation. The phoneme /ɪ/ is short and monophthongal. The phoneme /e/ is “in RP … generally realised … as a short, front vowel between cardinals [e] and [ɛ]” (O’Connor 156), while /æ/ is also a short vowel, but between cardinal [ɛ] and [a], it is usually realised as a monophthong.
The phoneme /ʌ/ is a “short almost open central vowel”, while /ɑ:/ is an “open, rather back vowel” (O’Connor 157-8). The phoneme /ɒ/ is pronounced by speakers of RP as “a short, back, open or almost open vowel” (158). In a word such as caught there is the phoneme /ɔ:/. In the diagram /ɔ:/ it is just below the cardinal vowel [o]. The dashed line pointing towards the more central position illustrates the fact that many speakers do not make a distinction between a monophthong /ɔ:/ and a diphthong /ɔə/. In such cases, the speakers “nevertheless use a diphthong [ɔə] … before pause” (160). The consequence is that “both saw and sore are pronounced [sɔə] and both caught and court are pronounced [kɔ:t]” (160).
The phoneme /ʊ/ is somewhat more centralised than cardinal [o], and it shows a relatively constant pronunciation in dialects (162), unlike most of other vowels. About /u:/ O’Connor notes that it “most often has a diphthongal realisation … but it may be given a monophthongal pronunciation slightly lower and more central than cardinal [u]” (162). The diphthongal property of the vowel is indicted by an arrow in the graph. The phoneme /ɜ:/ is “typically a long, mid, central vowel”, but in rhotic accents (American English, for example) this vowel is in the sequence /ər/ (163) replaced by the retroflex [ɹ], i.e. bird (163). The phoneme /ə/ has “two major allophones in RP, one central and half-close which occurs in non-final positions…, and one central and about half open which occurs before pause …” (the example for the first variant is about, and for the second sailor) (164).
Download the SVG English monophthongs and diphthongs graphs used in this post here.