How to Pronounce the OW /aʊ/ Diphthong
The OW /aʊ/ diphthong
The OW /aʊ/ vowel is called a diphthong. Diphthongs are made of two sounds, so that means a diphthong starts as one vowel, then moves to a second vowel. You should feel your articulators move as you say the sound.
When a vowel is part of a diphthong, sometimes it doesn’t sound as pure as it does when it is by itself. The OW diphthong is made up of these two vowels, /a/ and /ʊ/. The first part, /a/, is not used in its pure form in the standard American accent. And the second part is the /ʊ/ as in book vowel. But when you say the diphthong OW, the first part sounds very similar to the AA /æ/ in bat vowel, and the second part has more lip rounding than the pure vowel /ʊ/.
UH. OW. UH. OW.
This type of change in pronunciation between pure vowels and diphthong vowels can happen often, but don’t focus on that too much. Instead, focus on using the correct mouth placement, and you will make the correct sound.
Tips on how to pronounce OW
When you are first learning how to pronounce a diphthong, you should hold out the vowel and exaggerate the movements. And there is a lot of movement in the jaw and lips with the OW diphthong.
Focus on the transition between the two sounds, and use a mirror so you can see the movement in your jaw and lips.
Once you understand the two sounds of this diphthong, then you can speed yourself back up.
OW in slow motion
Watch my mouth position as I say the word how. At the beginning of the vowel, the corners of the lips are pulled back. The tongue is forward, and the back of the tongue pulls up towards the roof of the mouth. The tongue tip is down behind the bottom front teeth. Then as I progress to the second sound of the diphthong, the jaw closes a little bit, the lips round, and the tongue tip stays behind the bottom front teeth.
Stressed vs. unstressed syllables
When OW is in a stressed syllable, the pitch of my voice glides up and then down. OW. How.
But in an unstressed syllable, the OW diphthong is pronounced at a lower pitch with flatter shape, and it is quicker. OW. OW. This is common in American English. Unstressed syllables are usually said faster and at a lower pitch than stressed syllables.
Here is a close up of what OW looks like in an unstressed syllable, like in the word shutout.
The stressed OW is in the top pictures, and the unstressed OW is in the bottom pictures. Notice the difference between the lip rounding and jaw opening between the stressed and unstressed positions. When OW is unstressed, the lips are more relaxed and the jaw isn’t as open at the beginning of the diphthong. And in the second part of the diphthong, the lips aren’t as rounded.
Stressed OW. OW. How. Unstressed OW. OW. Shutout.
OW practice words and sentences
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Cloud. OW. Cloud.
There are a lot of clouds in the sky.
Shout. OW. Shout
I can’t hear you - please shout!
Owl. OW. Owl.
I love watching owls fly.
Safflower. OW. Safflower.
Safflower oil is a common cooking oil.
Midtown. OW. Midtown.
I used to live in Midtown.
Shower. OW. Shower.
It’s time for a shower.
Thanks so much for watching! And let me know how I can help you with pronunciation of the American English diphthong vowels!