• synonyms


[vou-uh l]
  1. Phonetics.
    1. (in English articulation) a speech sound produced without occluding, diverting, or obstructing the flow of air from the lungs (opposed to consonant).
    2. (in a syllable) the sound of greatest sonority, as i in grill.Compare consonant(def 1b).
    3. (in linguistic function) a concept empirically determined as a phonological element in structural contrast with consonant, as the (ē) of be (bē), we (wē), and yeast (yēst).
  2. a letter representing or usually representing a vowel, as, in English, a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y.
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  1. of or relating to a vowel.
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Origin of vowel

1275–1325; Middle English < Old French vowel < Latin vōcālis vocal
Related formsvow·el·less, adjectivevow·el·like, adjectivevow·el·y, vow·el·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for vowels

Historical Examples

  • The consonants were reproduced but the reader was forced to guess at the vowels.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • The soft and soothing effect of its vowels surprised Phil himself.

  • When these vowels are preceded by p, it shows that the verb is in the passive voice.

  • The vowels have the same value as in the Continental languages.

    A Visit to Java

    W. Basil Worsfold

  • That is, a similarity of the final vowel or last two vowels.

British Dictionary definitions for vowels


  1. phonetics a voiced speech sound whose articulation is characterized by the absence of friction-causing obstruction in the vocal tract, allowing the breath stream free passage. The timbre of a vowel is chiefly determined by the position of the tongue and the lips
  2. a letter or character representing a vowel
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Derived Formsvowel-less, adjectivevowel-like, adjective

Word Origin

C14: from Old French vouel, from Latin vocālis littera a vowel, from vocālis sonorous, from vox a voice
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for vowels



c.1300, from Old French vouel, from Latin vocalis, in littera vocalis, literally "vocal letter," from vox (genitive vocis) "voice" (see voice (n.)). Vowel shift in reference to the pronunciation change between Middle and Modern English is attested from 1909. The Hawaiian word hooiaioia, meaning "certified," has the most consecutive vowels of any word in current human speech; the English record-holder is queueing.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

vowels in Culture


Letters of the alphabet that generally stand for sounds made with an open or partially open mouth: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y (as in style). (Compare consonants.)

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.