How observant are you? All of the words you've read so far in these first two sentences have something in common. Can you guess what it is? We'll give you six hints: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.
If you guessed that all of the words you've read so far contain at least one vowel, you're correct! Of course, with such a good hint, it was probably fairly easy to guess the answer. But does every word have a vowel? You may have heard people claim that every word in the English language contains at least one vowel, but is it true?
Like many arguments that involve language, the answer isn't a simple yes or no. It depends upon who you ask, how you define vowel, and what you consider to be a word. Since this question is still debated among scholars, let's take a closer look at some of the issues.
For example, some scholars define vowel differently. Some argue vowels are speech sounds made with the vocal tract open. Others believe vowels are simply the letters of the alphabet that stand for the spoken vowel sounds, namely a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.
There are a few words of Welsh origin that do not contain a, e, i, o, u, or y, including cwm (a deep valley in a mountainous region, usually with steep sides), crwth (a Welsh musical instrument similar to the violin), and cwtch (a hiding place). However, each of these words does have a vowel sound, since the w in each word stands for the “oo" sound you hear in words like doom and tooth.
If you're looking for words that contain neither vowel sounds nor the letters a, e, i, o, u, or y, you need to look no further than shh, psst, and mm-hmm. Of course, some experts would argue that these aren't even really words.
Others disagree. If you define a word as “the smallest unit of grammar that can stand alone as a complete utterance, separated by spaces in written language and potentially by pauses in speech," then shh, psst, and mm-hmm would arguably fit that definition. Still, psst is the only one of those words that actually appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.
So what do you think? Which experts do you agree with? Regardless of what position you take on the issue, it's clear that nearly all English words have at least one vowel, regardless of how you define it. Vowels are important and make nearly every word better!