Phonics on the Web > Diacritical Marks

Diacritical Marks

Because there are more letter sounds than there are letters in the alphabet, dictinaries use diacritical marks to indicate which phoneme to give to a grapheme; that is, which sound to give to a letter unit. Although we do not typically use diacritical marks for consonant sounds, we do teach them for vowel sounds.

The most common diacritical marks are the long vowel mark ( ¯ ), called the macron; the short vowel mark ( ˘ ), called the breve, and the schwa mark ( ə ).

Long Vowel Mark

The long vowel mark placed over a vowel indicates that it will be pronounced just as it sounds when we recite the alphabet:

  • ā as in ate
  • ē as in evil
  • ī as in ice
  • ō as in open
  • ū as in use or in flute
  • ȳ as in cry

Short Vowel Mark

The short vowel mark placed over a vowel is as follows:

  • ă as in apple
  • ĕ as in elementary
  • ĭ as in idiom
  • ŏ as in on
  • ŭ as in under
  • (Note that no mark is given for short y; the short i sound is used instead.)

Schwa Mark

The schwa mark represents the indistinct vowel sound that is the unaccented or unstressed syllable of a multisyllabic word:

  • ə as in ago
  • ə as in happen
  • ə as in legible
  • ə as in common
  • ə as in suggest

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