A monophthong is a pure vowel sound. The monophthongs can be contrasted with diphthongs, where the vowel quality changes within the same syllable, and hiatus, where two vowels are next to each other in different syllables. While "pure" vowels, or monophthongs, are said to have one target articulator position, diphthongs have two, and triphthongs three. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monophthong

Do all the varieties of spoken English in the UK have the same number of monophthongs ? What about in the U.S.?

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    Almost certainly there is variation in monophthongal vowel phonemes between dialect groups, and between individual speakers of any dialect. It's one of the principal variations among dialects. Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 16:50
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    Depends on the dialect (I'm an American and we don't have dialects like the UK has dialects), and depends on how monophthongal the vowels have to be, within the meaning of the act. Virtually all tense vowels and all rounded vowels are diphthongized in the US, so that doesn't leave many. In England you pays your attention and you takes your spectrograph. Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 17:07
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    This web page counts either 8 or 12 monophthongs in modern standard British English (depending on whether you count long and short variations of the same vowel as different or not). However, only a fraction of people who speak standard British English actually talk this way. Traditional RP has 12 monophthongs. And there are 14 vowels which are monophthongs in one or the other of these systems, and some of the others are monophthongs in some British or American accent. Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 18:15
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    @FF: In the US (particularly in the West), the unheard distinction is between /a/ your friend Don and /ɔ/ your friend Dawn; most people on the Coast don't hear it or make it -- the phonemes have merged. However, all the dialects there are rhotic, so darn /ar/ [a˞] is quite distinctive. Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 18:54
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    Even the wikipedia article sited indicates that native ears perceive some diphthongs as monophthongs, while changing some monophthongs to diphthongs. To be able to count "real" monophthongs would be an interesting treat, but then again, if you look at it from a BrE IPA chart vs an AmE IPA chart, I think it should answer your question. That is, regardless of how a word is pronounced, the charts will tell you the sounds that are available. Given that, it's theoretically possible to make a list and count it.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


Traditional RP has 12 monophthongs: six short vowels—kit, put, dress, strut, trap, lot— five long vowels—fleece, goose, nurse, thought, start and the schwa—banana.

According to this blog post, Modern RP has up to three more monophthongs—square, near, cure. These are essentially long versions of the short vowels dress, kit, put. However, it also says that in modern RP, the vowels in fleece and goose are turning into diphthongs. But I suspect that a lot of speakers don't follow either of these systems exactly. So this gives 15 vowels that might be pronounced as monophtongs in RP (some of these are long and short versions of the same vowel), and 10 vowels that generally are.

And the number of diphthongs isn't constant in American English, either—the vowel of ride is often a monophthong in Southern American English.

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