I'm currently learning about consonant to vowel linking, and I'm wondering if it's safe to assume that most words (if not all?) that start with a vowel letter (a, e, i, o, u) will also start with a vowel sound.

Knowing this information will help me quickly identify whether a word starts with a vowel sound. Then, I can check the ending sound of the previous word to see where consonant-to-vowel linking is required.

  • It's not a safe assumption. Many words starting with the letters "u" or "eu" start with the consonant sound /j/; see Is it “a uniform” or “an uniform”?
    – herisson
    Apr 8, 2017 at 15:47
  • @sumelic yes but /j/in those words is a glide or semi-vowel, it's very much like a vowel; which is why some people use, or have used, an before them, as in an university. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:38
  • 2
    @Clare: phonetically it is like a vowel, but an English language learner should be careful to avoid thinking of it as a vowel sound for the purposes of English phonological rules. "An university" is non-standard in modern English and I find it hard to think of a situation in which it would benefit a non-native speaker to use this instead of "a university".
    – herisson
    Apr 8, 2017 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


The best rule in English is that you should ignore spelling for purposes of pronunciation and ignore pronunciation for purposes of spelling, as these two things each have their own separate stories. You must learn each one separately by rote, not attempt to infer one from the other.

Sandhi effects have nothing to do with letters. They are purely phonologic in origin, so only sounds count.

So eunuchs, Unix, Europe, Ulysses, eustachian, Oaxaca all begin with consonants, while honor, honest, hour, huerta, our, umbrella, ylem, Ysidro all begin with vowels. Words like herbal and historical can vary.

And not all sandhi effects are the same, either. Just because we use the same pronunciation for an in both an apple and an eel doesn’t mean we use the same pronunciation of the in both the apple and the eel; with the eel, there is an extra glottal stop after /ði/, so /ðiʔˈil/.

  • I use a loʔa glottal stops (unlike some Northerners on this side of the pond, who'd say lorra there), but I wouldn't include one in the eel. I just lengthen the ee in contexts like that, but if I imagine other Brits using a glottal stop, it seems to me they'd probably also switch the /i/ to a schwa. Apr 8, 2017 at 16:22
  • @FumbleFingers: Even though I'm American, I agree; I would say [ðəʔˈiɫ]. If I add a glottal stop, I don't see any reason to use /ði/ rather than /ðə/ Apr 8, 2017 at 16:30
  • @PeterShor How do you otherwise stop the two instances of /i/ from fusing? By adding a glide like /ðiˈjil/ ?
    – tchrist
    Apr 8, 2017 at 16:31
  • I can imagine others introducing a more pronounced "glide", but for me it's just an almost imperceptible lengthening of the "one-and-only" vowel. Apr 8, 2017 at 16:37
  • @FumbleFingers Right, so you essentially fuse and/or lengthen.
    – tchrist
    Apr 8, 2017 at 16:38

No. Need to look each word to verify pronunciation, for example, the o in opossum is silent and pronounced "possom." Per Cambridge Dictionary, Webster, and traditionary sources:​ /əˈpɑs·əm/ short form possum, US ​ /ˈpɑs·əm/

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    But that's a rare case. Even a lot of native speakers are confused about the pronunciation of opossum, and it is not pronounced as starting with a P-sound by everyone. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:36
  • @Clare, only Irish opossums prefer to have their species name pronounced that way.
    – fixer1234
    Apr 8, 2017 at 19:59
  • "the o in opossum is silent". Not so. Even the sources you cite do not give a pronunciation of "opossum" with silent o. The two-syllable pronunciation you cite is of "possum", which is a different word.
    – Rosie F
    Mar 6, 2018 at 10:30

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