Which one is correct/appropriate to ask

How many vowels are there in the English alphabet?


How many vowels are there in the English Language?

Or are they both correct/appropriate?


Both are appropriate, but they ask two different things.

How many vowels are there in the English alphabet? asks about the characters in the writing system.

  • The traditional answer is "A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y", so five or six—but other characters may be employed to represent vowels in words of foreign origin.

But as I'm sure you're aware, English has far more vowel sounds than characters to represent them. How many vowels are there in the English language? asks about the distinctive sounds—phonemes—in the spoken language.

  • The answer is hard to pin down, because some individuals and dialects make more distinctions than others, and it's hard to say whether reduced and unstressed vowels and the "r-colored vowels" in non-rhotic dialects should be treated as distinct phonemes . A conservative answer would be these, in IPA notation: i, ɪ, eɪ, ɛ, aʊ, aɪ, æ, ɑ, ɒ, ɔ, oʊ (or əʊ), ɔɪ, ʊ, u, ʌ, so at least 15.
  • Thanks stones for the efforts you did to satisfy me with the complete/detail answer about it.
    – Sarah
    Mar 24 '16 at 3:38

The first one is wrong because "alphabet" should be singular. There is only one English alphabet.

If you fix this, and use alphabet instead of alphabets then they are both correct, and work just fine. I would prefer the first one, since vowels are more directly related to the alphabet.


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