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How many vowels and consonants are there in English?

From a little online research, it looks like you could estimate some 15 vowel sounds and 24 consonant sounds. But you won't find single symbols representing those sounds, mainly because English has borrowed so heavily from other languages and kept the original spelling conventions.

In classifying the letter symbols, there are 5 pure vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 19 pure consonants (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x, z), and 2 semi-vowels (y, w) in the standard English alphabet.

If you want to quantify the actual sounds that each letter can represent, well, that's going to be a daunting task. While most of the consonants represent 1 or 2 sounds each (when not in digraphs), some of the vowels can have numerous pronunciations, depending on regional variations. And Great Vowel Shift. You also have to consider diphthongs and digraphs like oi, ae, ou, sh, ch, or, ir, and er. These letter combinations actually represent distinct sounds as well.

Take, for example, the letter E. It can be pronounced with the long /ee/ sound. Or the short /eh/ sound. Or the schwa sound, which is generally pronounced /uh/. Or sometimes even with an /ay/ (long A) sound—usually in something borrowed from French but omitting a diacritic, like cafe and precis. But in some regions, E is also pronounced /ih/ like a short I sound. (So, for example, the words pen and pin would sound the same.)

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