English vowels have several pronunciations so when people try to explain how to pronounce foreign words (without IPA, which is what they should be using ;-)) they add lots of silent Hs and hyphens, e.g. KAH-zah.

Problem is, as a non-native speaker this only adds to the confusion. What's the meaning of those Hs at the end of syllables? Do they make the vowels short or long? In "uh-oh", they seem to do both (it sounds as /oʔoʊ/ to me).

Could someone use IPA to explain how "ah, eh, ih, oh, uh" sound and tell me how they differ from "a, e, i, o, u" that make people feel the need to add an H?

  • 3
    Generally they're short, except for "ah" = "father" and "oh" = "toe". Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/37358/…
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 13:28
  • 1
    In English, the vowel sounds depend heavily on the context, and the H helps us set that context. Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 16:42
  • @sumelic Thanks, that's what I needed to know. I had found that question before (that's why I used uh-oh as an example), but I wanted to expand on it (especially because oh seems to be the exception among the vowels).
    – marcus
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


English does not have a phonemic orthography, so there are numerous pronunciation respelling systems to express what words sound like. Wikipedia lists a lot of them. Of those listed, only one (World Book Online) uses these five (IPA equivalent(s) in parenthesis):

  • ah (ɑː)
  • eh (ɛ)
  • ih (ɪ)
  • oh (oʊ)
  • uh (ʌ, ə, ɨ)

Also, hyphens are used to separate syllables and CAPS represent stressed syllables.

It's worth noting that I was not taught to use any one of these systems in school (US). For this reason, it seems likely a lot of people aren't going to be using a standard system, especially if they're random people on the internet. IPA in particular is impossible to use without learning first, and can't be typed on any standard keyboard.

  • Oh, I forgot I had asked about a, e, i, o, u too. I guess they (are supposed to) sound like their names, is that right? Or maybe they rest unused because they are deemed too ambiguous?
    – marcus
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:36
  • WBO seems to use them for æ, (nothing), (nothing), ɒ/ɑ, ʊ/ᴜ if I'm reading the table correctly.
    – marcus
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:40

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