What is…a vowel team?

In our ‘what is…’ series we’re taking things back to basics! From phonics to decoding, blending and more, we’re going to break things down and give you our expert advice on each area, to help answer any questions you may have around teaching reading.


‘Vowel team’ is a term used mostly in the USA for a spelling of more than one letter that represents a vowel sound. In the English writing system, sounds can be represented by 1–4 letters. Vowel sounds can also be represented by 1–4 letters. Here are some examples of vowel teams:

ai as in ‘rain’ – a two-letter vowel team

igh as in ‘night’ – a three-letter vowel team

ough as in ‘dough’ – a four letter vowel team

Why is it important?

The term ‘vowel team’ is a useful shorthand for discussing vowel spellings (graphemes) with more than one letter. It indicates to beginner readers that the correspondence between the sound and the spelling is more complex – has more than one letter. It is a more general concept than the term ‘vowel digraph’ which indicates the spelling has only two letters, or the term ‘vowel trigraph’, in which the spelling has three letters.

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