Long Vowels

“There are moments in business and in life when you have to say, ‘Failure is not an option.’” – Donny Deutsch

There are two purposes for this page. First, this is a good excuse to continue to practice your hiragana. Second, long vowels are something you’ll run into a lot (and are actually pretty hard to understand right away). I feel like it’s good to talk about them early so that as you run into them you can make mental notes and get better.

Now, the reason “long vowels” give people trouble is because the difference between a “short/regular vowel” and a “long vowel” is pretty subtle. Let’s take a look at some examples of words that have “long vowels” in them so you can see what I mean.

a こういち (ko-u-i-chi)

The “long vowel” in this name (it’s my name, actually) comes from the こう (ko-u) part. As you can see, the う (u) is placed after the こ (ko) in order to extend the vowel sound.

a おおきい (o-o-ki-i)

In this word, there are two long vowels. おお (0-0) and きい (ki-i). In both cases, you just extend the vowel sounds of “o” and “ki” to make them longer. Of course, you don’t want to make them too much longer, though, otherwise it’ll sound like you’re singing or something. あああああああいいいいいいいい will always love ゆうううううううう (translate that into romaji for some fun).

a いい (i-i)

いい means “good” in Japanese, and is pronounced like one long いい sound. You just extend whatever the last vowel sound was with the second vowel sound (in this case, they’re both い).

a そう (so-u), どう (do-u), もう (mo-u)

All three of these are similar. They are “o-column sounds” with an extra う on the end. The funny thing about adding an う to an “o-column” sound is that it really doesn’t sound so much like an extended う as it sounds like an extended お-sound. It’s pretty subtle, but if you listen you should be able to hear a mixture of an う+お sound making the vowel longer.

To help you out, I’ve put together a list of patterns that show up with common “long vowels.” It’s so much easier to look at the pattern than it is to look at all the possible combinations out there.

あ-Column + あ – examples: ああ、かあ、さあ、まあ、きゃあ

い-Column + い – examples: いい、きい、しい、じい

う-Column + う – examples: くう、じゅう、にゅう、りゅう、ふう

え-Column + え – examples: ええ

お-Column + う – examples: おう、こう、そう、とう、じょう、りょう、ぞう、どう、もう

*お-Column + お – examples: おお、とお

*Sometimes お-column kana can be extended with お as well (though you’ll see う extending お-column kana more often).

As you move on, you’ll see more and more of these. Part of it is knowing they exist, and the other part is just getting enough experience working with them (don’t worry, TextFugu has you covered). Before you move on, I only ask that you understand how long-vowels effect any particular kana. Take a look at the “long-vowel” patterns up above. It’s really not too hard to remember, the only “weird” one is お-column. Other than that, all kana-columns are extended by the vowel (either あいうえ or お) in their own column, making it really easy to predict.

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