, or , (also gliding
) (from Greek
, literally "two sounds" or "two tones") is a
—that is, a unitary vowel that changes quality
during its pronunciation, or "glides",
with a smooth movement of the tongue from one articulation to
another, as in the English
, and cow
. This contrasts with
"pure" vowels, or monophthongs
where the tongue is held still, as in the English word
Diphthongs often form when separate vowels are run together in
rapid speech during a conversation. However, there are also unitary
diphthongs, as in the English examples above, which are heard by
listeners as single-vowel sounds (phonemes
In the , pure vowels are transcribed with one letter, as in English
. Diphthongs are transcribed with two letters, as in
. The two vowel symbols are
chosen to represent the beginning and ending positions of the
tongue, though this can be only approximate. The diacritic
is placed under the less prominent
component to show that it is part of a diphthong rather than a
separate vowel, though it is sometimes omitted in languages such as
English, where there is not likely to be any confusion. (In precise
transcription, represents two vowels in hiatus
, found for example in Hawaiian
and in the English word
, and does not represent the diphthong, for instance,
in the Finnish
Types of diphthongs
) diphthongs start with a
vowel quality of higher prominence
(higher pitch or louder)
and end in a semivowel
prominence, like in eye
, while rising
) diphthongs begin with a less prominent
semivowel and end with a more prominent full vowel, similar to the
. The less prominent component in the diphthong may
also be transcribed as an approximant
thus in eye
and in yard
. However, when the
diphthong is analysed as a single phoneme, both elements are often
transcribed with vowel letters ( , ). Note also that semivowels and
approximants are not equivalent in all treatments, and in the
languages, among others, many
do not consider rising
combinations to be diphthongs, but rather sequences of approximant
and vowel. There are many languages (such as Romanian
) that contrast one or more rising
diphthongs with similar sequences of a glide and a vowel in their
diphthongs, the second element is more close
than the first (e.g. ); in
diphthongs, the second element is more open
(e.g. ). Closing diphthongs tend to be
falling ( ), and opening diphthongs are generally rising ( ), as
open vowels are more sonorous
tend to be more prominent. However, exceptions to this rule are not
rare in the world's languages. In Finnish
, for instance, the opening
diphthongs and are true falling diphthongs, since they begin louder
and with higher pitch and fall in prominence during the
diphthong is one that begins with a more
peripheral vowel and ends with a more central one, such as , , and
in Received Pronunciation
and in Irish
. Many centering
diphthongs are also opening diphthongs ( , ).
Some languages contrast short
diphthongs, the latter usually being described as having a long
first element (see vowel length
Languages that contrast three quantities in diphthongs are
extremely rare, but not unheard of; Northern Sami
is known to contrast
and finally stressed
diphthongs, the last of which are distinguished by a long second
While there are a number of similarities, diphthongs are not the
same as a combination of a vowel and an approximant or glide. Most
importantly, diphthongs are fully contained in the syllable nucleus
while a semivowel or glide is restricted to the syllable boundaries
(either the onset or the coda). This often manifests itself
phonetically by a greater degree of constriction. though this
phonetic distinction is not always clear. The English word
, for example, consists of a palatal glide followed by
a monophthong rather than a rising diphthong. In addition, while
the segmental elements must be different in diphthongs so that ,
when it occurs in a language, does not contrast with though it is
possible to contrast and .
Diphthongs in various languages
possesses a number of
phonetic diphthongs, all of which begin or end in or . They
In addition to these, Catalan also possesses two sets of diphthongs
in variation; varies with (as in afl'
loosen') and with .
There are also certain instances of compensatory
in the Majorcan dialect so that ('logs') (in
addition to deleting the palatal plosive) develops a compensating
palatal glide and surfaces as (and contrasts with the unpluralized
). Diphthongization compensates for the loss of the palatal stop
(part of Catalan's segment loss compensation). There are other
cases where diphthongization compensates for the loss of point of
articulation features (property loss compensation) as in ('year')
The dialectal distribution of compensatory diphthongization is
almost entirely dependent on the dorsal plosive (whether it is
velar or palatal) and the extent of consonant assimilation (whether
or not it's extended to palatals).
dialects also have
, as in kuonj, ruod, uon
while, in Standard
Croatian, these words are konj, rod, on)
There are three diphthongs in Czech
- as in auto (almost exclusively in words of foreign
- as in euro (in words of foreign origin only)
- as in koule
The vowel groups ia, ie, ii, io
, and iu
foreign words are not regarded as diphthongs, they are pronounced
with between the vowels .
dialect of Hamont (in Limburg) has five
centring diphthongs and contrasts long and short forms of , , , and
- , , and are normally pronounced as closing diphthongs except
before in the same word, in which case they are centering
diphthongs: , , and . In many dialects, they are monophthongized
All English diphthongs are falling, apart from , which can be
analyzed as .
Standard English diphthongs
- Canadian English exhibits allophony of
and called Canadian raising. GA and
RP have raising to a lesser extent in .
- In Received Pronunciation, the vowels in lair and
lure may be monophthongized to and respectively.
Australian English speakers more readily monophthongize the
- In rhotic dialects, words like
pair, poor, and peer can be analyzed as
diphthongs, although other descriptions analyze them as vowels with
in the coda.
- The erstwhile monophthongs and are diphthongized in many
dialects. In many cases they might be better transcribed as and ,
where the non-syllabic element is understood to be closer than the
syllabic element. They are sometimes transcribed and .
Diphthongs in Faroese
- as in bein (can also be short)
- as in havn
- as in har, mær
- as in hey
- as in nevnd
- as in nøvn
- as in hús
- as in mín, bý, ið (can also be
- as in ráð
- as in hoyra (can also be short)
- as in sól, ovn
diphthongs are falling.
Notably, Finnish has true opening diphthongs (e.g. /uo/), which are
not very common crosslinguistically compared to centering
diphthongs (e.g. /uə/ in English).
- as in laiva (ship)
- as in keinu (swing)
- as in poika (boy)
- as in äiti (mother)
- as in öisin (at night)
- as in lauha (mild)
- as in leuto (mild)
- as in koulu (school)
- as in leyhyä (to waft)
- as in täysi (full)
- as in löytää (to find)
- as in uida (to swim)
- as in lyijy (lead)
- as in viulu (violin)
- as in siistiytyä (to clean up)
- as in kieli (tongue)
- as in suo (bog)
- as in yö (night)
Some diphthongs in French
- as in roi "king"
- as in oui "yes"
- as in groin "muzzle"
- as in huit "eight"
- as in lien "bond"
- as in Ariège
- as in travail "work"
- as in Marseille
- as in feuille "leaf"
- as in grenouille "frog"
- as in vieux "old"
While , , and may be considered diphthongs (that is, fully
contained in the syllable nucleus), other sequences of a glide and
vowel are considered part of a glide formation process that turns a
high vowel into a glide (and part of the syllable onset) when
followed by another vowel.
Diphthongs in German
- as in Reich 'empire'
- as in Maus 'mouse'
- as in neu 'new'
- as in sehr 'very'
- as in dir 'you (dative)'
- as in Bor 'boron (element)'
- as in Öhr 'eye (hole in a needle)'
- as in nur 'only'
- as in Tür 'door'
Some diphthongs in Bernese
- as in Bier 'beer'
- as in Fuß 'feet'
- as in Schue 'shoes'
- as in Stou 'holdup'
- as in Stau 'stable'
- as in Staau 'steel'
- as in Wäut 'world'
- as in wääut 'elects'
- as in tschúud 'guilty'
Diphthongs in Icelandic
- as in átta, "eight"
- as in nóg, "enough"
- as in auga, "eye"
- as in hæ, "hi"
- as in þeir, "they"
Combinations of j and a vowel are the following:
- as in jata, "manger"
- as in já, "yes"
- as in joð, "iodine," "jay," "yod" (only in a handful
of words of foreign origin)
- as in jól, "Christmas"
- as in jötunn, "giant"
- as in jæja, "oh well"
diphthongs are falling.
- , spelled aigh, aidh, agh, adh, eagh, eadh, eigh, or
- , spelled abh, amh, eabh, or eamh
- , spelled ia, iai
- , spelled ua, uai
In standard Italian
, only falling
diphthongs are considered to be true diphthongs. Rising diphthongs
are considered to be sequences of approximant and vowel.The
diphthongs of Italian are:
- as in potei ('could 1.sg.')
- as in sei ('six')
- as in baita ('mountain hut')
- as in poi ('later')
- as in voi ('you pl.')
- as in lui ('he')
- as in pleurite ('pleuritis')
- as in neutro ('neuter')
- as in auto ('car')
- as in soffietto ('bellows')
- as in pieno ('full')
- as in chiave ('key')
- as in chiodo ('nail')
- as in fiore ('flower')
- as in piuma ('feather')
- as in guida ('guide')
- as in quello ('this')
- as in quercia ('oak')
- as in guado ('ford')
- as in quota ('quota')
- as in acquoso ('watery')
In general, unstressed in hiatus
can turn into glides in more
rapid speech (e.g. biennale
'coalition') with the process occurring more
readily in syllables further from stress.
has seven falling
- ej or għi
- aj or għi
- aw or għu
- ow or għu
Rising diphthongs in Mandarin
usually regarded as a combination of a medial glide (i, u, or ü)
and a final segment, while falling diphthongs are seen as one final
segment. Tone marker is always placed on the vowel with more
- , as in jiā (家, home), yā (鴨, duck)
- , as in jiǎn (剪, to cut), yǎn (眼, eye)
- , as in xiǎng (想, to think), yǎng (癢,
- ie/ye: , as in xiè (謝, to thank), yè (葉,
- yo: , as in yō (唷, an interjection) 1
- iong/yong: , as in xiōng (兇, menacing), yǒng
- , as in guā (瓜, melon), wā (挖, to dig),
guǎn (管, tube), uǎn (碗, bowl)
- , as in zhuāng (裝, to fill), wàng (忘, to
- wen: , as in wèn (問, to ask)
- weng: , as in wēng (翁, old man)
- uo/wo: , as in huǒ (火, fire), wǒ (我, I)
- üan/yuan: , as in xüǎn (選, to choose), yuǎn
(遠, far) 2
- üe/yue: , as in xüé (學, to learn), yuè (越, to
- ai: , as in ài (愛, love)
- ei: , as in lèi (累, tired)
- ao: , as in dào (道, way)
- ou: , as in dòu (豆, bean)
only occurs in isolation
always followed by nasal
The diphthong system in Northern
varies considerably from one dialect to another. The
Western Finnmark dialects distinguish four different qualities of
- as in leat "to be"
- as in giella "language"
- as in boahtit "to come"
- as in vuodjat "to swim"
In terms of quantity, Northern Sami shows a three-way contrast
diphthongs. The last are
distinguished from long and short diphthongs by a markedly long and
stressed second component. Diphthong quantity is not indicated in
There are five diphthongs in Norwegian
- as in nei, "no"
- as in øy, "island"
- as in sau, "sheep"
- as in hai, "shark"
- as in joik, "Sami song"
An additional diphthong, , occurs only in the word hui
the expression i hui og hast
"in great haste".
phonemic diphthongs (10 oral and 4 nasal), all of which are falling
diphthongs formed by a vowel and a nonsyllabic high vowel. Brazilian Portuguese
has roughly the
same amount, although the two dialects have slightly different
pronunciations. A onglide after or as in quando
or ('guard') may also form rising diphthongs and triphthongs
. Additionally, in casual speech,
adjacent heterosyllabic vowels may combine into diphthongs and
triphthongs or even sequences of them; in more formal speech, these
are realized as hiatus
Diphthongs of Portuguese
In addition, phonetic diphthongs are formed in Brazilian Portuguese
by the vocalization
of in the
syllable coda with words like sol
('sun') and sul
('south') as well as by yodization of vowels preceding in words
('rice') and mas
Romanian has two diphthongs: and . As a result of their origin
(diphthongization of mid vowels under stress), they appear only in
stressed syllables and make morphological alternations
with the mid
vowels and . To native speakers, they sound very similar to and
respectively. There are no perfect minimal
to contrast and , and because doesn't appear in the final
syllable of a prosodic word, there are no monosyllabic words with ;
exceptions might include voal
('sidewalk'), though Ioana Chiţoran argues that
these are best treated as containing glide-vowel sequences rather
than diphthongs. In addition to these, the semivowels and can be
combined (either before, after, or both) with most vowels, while
this arguably forms additional diphthongs and triphthongs
, only and can follow an
obstruent-liquid cluster such as in broască
('to mend'). implying that and are restricted to
the syllable boundary and therefore, strictly speaking, do not form
has six falling diphthongs
and eight rising diphthongs. In addition, during fast speech,
sequences of vowels in hiatus become diphthongs wherein one becomes
non-syllabic (unless they are the same vowel, in which case they
fuse together) as in poeta
('poet') and maestro
('teacher'). The phonemic diphthongs are:
- as in rey ('king')
- as in aire ('air')
- as in hoy ('today')
- as in neutro ('neutral')
- as in pausa ('break')
- as in bou ('seine
- as in tierra ('earth')
- as in hacia ('towards')
- as in radio ('radio')
- as in viuda ('widow')
- as in fuimos ('we went')
- as in fuego ('fire')
- as in cuadro ('picture')
- as in cuota ('quota')
In addition to vowel nuclei following and , Thai
has three diphthongs:
has three diphthongs:
- as in פּליטה ('refugee' f.)
- as in נײַן ('nine')
- as in אופֿן ('way')
Diphthongs may reach a higher target position (towards ) in
situations of coarticulatory phenomena or when words with such
vowels are being emphasized.
Diphthongs between true vowels never occur in Zulu
, with each syllable having only one vowel
sound, eg. . However, Zulu has two semi-vowels which form
diphthongs with vowels:
- as in ngiyakubeka (I am placing it)
- as in ngiwa (I fall/I am falling)
- The tongue will move at the boundaries even of monophthongs,
because this is necessary for the pronunciation of adjacent
consonants. However, the description given here is correct for the
middle of the vowel, which is most prominent to the human ear.
Monophthongs can be pronounced in isolation without any movement of
the tongue, which is not possible for diphthongs. More technically,
monophthongs are said to have one target tongue position,
diphthongs two, and triphthongs three.
- SIL International definition of
'Diphthong' accessed 17 January 2008
- Vjesnik Babić ne zagovara korijenski pravopis,
nego traži da Hrvati ne piju mlijeko nego - mlieko
- Kolo Josip Lisac: Štokavsko narječje: prostiranje i
- See for more information.
- See for a brief overview of the views regarding Romanian