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Minimal Pair /əʊ/ and /aʊ/

as in know and now

Below is a list of words that vary only by one having the vowel sound /əʊ/ and the other the vowel sound /aʊ/.

You can use this list to practise the sounds, or as a list of words to be careful in pronouncing.

Both of these sounds are diphthongs, meaning single vowel sounds during which the mouth more or less moves between two different shapes, as if the speaker is moving between two short vowel sounds. The easiest way to pronounce the sounds correctly is to combine the closest short vowel sounds, which can be seen in the two symbols that make up each diphthongs phonemic symbol.

The /əʊ/ symbol is made up of the short vowel sounds /ə/ and /ʊ/, meaning your mouth moves from the totally relaxed or slack mouth position of /ə/ to the rounded position of /ʊ/ while the /əʊ/ sound is made.

The /aʊ/ symbol finishes with the same /ʊ/ symbol but starts with the /a/ one, meaning the sound starts with the mouth much tighter and further open than with the /ə/ sound of /əʊ/.


hose house
know now
oat out
tone town


hoe how
known noun
load loud
phoned found
road rowed
vole vowel
wrote rout


blows blouse
boat bout
bode bowed
co cow
couch coach
rose rows
sew sow
so sow
woe wow


bow (n) bow (n/v)
bros browse
clone clown
dote doubt
drone drown
groaned ground
row row
tough thou


bro brow
code cowed
crone crown
dose dowse
float flout
foal fowl
gross grouse
honed hound
moaned mound
poach pouch
pro prow
rote rout
tote tout

Written for EnglishClub by Alex Case