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Long O, or Short O? How Are they Spelled? Which do I use?

Determining whether to use Long O or Short O can be confusing because both are represented by the letter O.

When unsure of which sound to use, many students tend to morph both sounds into one. This new sound is then used in place of both Long O and Short O. ESL students may see this as an acceptable workaround, but in reality, this makes it more difficult for native speakers to understand what is said.



Consider this: approximately 7.1% of all letters in any given English text are O’s. Because Long O and Short O are two of the most common English phonemes, confusing them with one another may cause audiences to misinterpret our words.


In order to communicate with clarity, speakers must first determine which sound is appropriate: Long O, or Short O. We do this by examining the letters that surround the written O.


Below are some common spelling patterns (and examples) that are associated with each sound. When encountering new terms for the first time, refer to them to determine which sound to use.



Patterns Associated with Long O

  • O: oval, hotel, program.

  • O_E: home, phone, pope, pore

  • OA: loan, foam, moan, groan, coal, bloat

  • OW (ending): row, elbow, below, sorrow, window, tomorrow

  • OE: toe, foe, roe, doe, aloe

  • OUGH: though, dough, although

Patterns Associated with Short O

  • AW: lawful, oversaw, caw, raw, withdraw,

  • O + Double Consonant: off, hopper, copped, plopped, bopped

  • O + Single Consonant: box, top, mop, pop

  • AU/AW: auto, authority, precaution, audacity

  • AR: bar, car, afar, arched, participate, artist

  • OCK: block, sock, dock, rock, knock, unlock

  • OCT: octagon, octopus, octuply, octuplets

  • QUA (beginning): Quad, quantify, quarrels, qualify, quaffed

While the patterns above are not necessarily exhaustive, most of the common combinations used to create both sounds are accounted for. Exceptions do exist, but are not very frequent.

In conclusion, learning to associate spelling sequences with sounds (rather than individual letters) makes it easier to pronounce words correctly when seeing them for the first time. With just a bit of practice, you'll see a noticeable improvement in reading fluency as recalling which phoneme to use becomes more instinctive.


For additional assistance, guided practice, and personalized feedback, schedule a meeting today using this link. Remember, the first session is free for new students. no credit card required!



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