8 Common American English Diphthongs with Examples

Do you like to play on the slide?

This question contains three words with English diphthongs that make it feel like your mouth is sliding: like, play and slide.

In this post, we’ll slide easily into the eight main English diphthongs, examples with audio and tips for mastering them.


What Is an English Diphthong?

To figure out what a diphthong is, we first have to return to the basics: vowels.

According to Cambridge’s English Dictionary, a vowel is a sound produced by the human mouth without being obstructed (blocked) by the teeth, tongue or lips. For example, American English is said to have 14 vowel sounds, and these are often categorized as long and short vowel sounds.

The word diphthong comes from the Greek word meaning “two sounds.” Based on that definition, we know that a diphthong is a sound that combines two vowel sounds.

In fact, these two vowel sounds are pronounced so closely together that they almost sound like one instead of two!

While technically a diphthong could be any two vowel sounds pronounced together, American English only has eight major diphthongs.

Enough waiting! Let’s look at each of the eight most common diphthongs in American English.

The letters in sideways brackets are from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a writing system that allows for accurate descriptions of sounds in all languages.

1. /aʊ/ as in Town

This diphthong can have many spellings and is commonly written as ow or ou within English words. Examples with the /aʊ/ diphthong include:






It’s also in the interjection Ow! used to express pain or discomfort when someone gets hurt.

Keep in mind that this diphthong is pronounced differently in other forms of English, most notably Canadian English.

2. /aɪ/ as in Light

This diphthong is commonly written as igh, but can also be represented by a single i or y in English words.

When it’s written as a single i, it’s normally followed by a consonant and then an e.










This diphthong is also pronounced slightly differently in certain dialects of English.

3. /eɪ/ as in Play

The diphthong /eɪ/ has quite a few different spellings in English. It can be written as ayaieiey, ea or a single a. Like our previous diphthong, when /eɪ/ is written as a single a, it’s normally followed by a consonant and then an e.









Did you notice that this diphthong was also in the third word of our opening question?

4. /eə/ as in Pair

This diphthong’s pronunciation is very similar to the /eɪ/ diphthong, but this one occurs most commonly before the letter r. It’s commonly written as an ai, a single e or a single that comes before an r.

For example, this diphthong can be heard in the words:





5. /ɪə/ as in Deer

Like our previous diphthong, /ɪə/ occurs commonly before certain consonants. Firstly, it can occur before the letter r, but it can also come before the letter l. It’s commonly written as eeea or a single e that comes before an r or l.





6. /oʊ/ as in Slow

The diphthong /oʊ/ is quite a versatile diphthong. It’s commonly written in a variety of ways, such as ow, oa or a single o that’s followed by a consonant and an e.






7. /ɔɪ/ as in Toy

After our previous diphthong, you’ll be happy to know that this one is easier to identify based on the spelling. Quite simply, it’s commonly written as oy or oi, such as in the words:






8. /ʊə/ as in Sure

The /ʊə/ diphthong is a little bit like a spider hiding under that slide we’ve been talking about—sometimes, it’s hard to tell if it’s even there!

That’s because this diphthong is sometimes pronounced as a single vowel sound, even in the American English dialect. That means that the sound at the end of “sure” may sound more like the English word “purr,” which has only one vowel sound. Examples of this diphthong are:





Tips for Learning English Diphthongs

What’s the best way to learn English diphthongs?

Why, it’s to actually hear them in isolation and as parts of words, of course!

  • Watch a YouTube video. In a video by Rachel’s English, you can listen to five of the eight American English diphthongs. She breaks down the pronunciation of each diphthong in easy-to-understand terms and then gives some examples of common words that have the diphthongs in them.

  • Watch videos of native speakers using diphthongs in action. Listen to how native speakers actually use diphthongs in their own speech. On the FluentU program, native English videos come with interactive subtitles that you can pause to see definitions and other helpful notes.

    FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

    You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Well, that list wasn’t too frightening, was it? Armed with your new knowledge of the eight American English diphthongs, you’ll be the talk of the town!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

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Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.

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