The pronunciation of bowl and ball

The pronunciation of bowl and ball sounds similar but not the same, right?

Not the same.

Bowl has the same vowel sound as ‘no.’
Ball has the same vowel sound as ‘father’ or the first syllable of ‘awesome.’


The pronunciation of ‘bowl’ and ‘ball’ are different in all varieties of English, as far as I know, but the exact pronunciation does vary with the type of English. In Australian English ‘bowl’ has the same vowel sound as ‘bold’ or ‘no’, while ‘ball’ has the same vowel sound as ‘all’ or ‘awesome’ but not the same vowel sound as ‘father’. Yes, I agree they are similar, but definitely different. If they sounded the same ‘please throw me the ball’ could make me concerned that the bowl might fall to the ground and break!


Ryanaissance is correct – though in my mid-American accent the first vowel in “father” and “awesome” are different. English has more vowel sounds than many languages, and often the differences are subtle. Variations in vowel pronunciation probably are the biggest differences between regional accents. But I can’t think of any examples where “ball” and “bowl” are pronounced the same.

You don’t need to worry about all the regional and dialectical variations – learn “standard” American or British pronunciation from reliable sources. But it might be interesting to explore some of the variations. The Harvard Dialect Survey used 122 questions to map variations in pronunciation and usage in the United States in 2003: The first question is a good example – how do you pronounce the word “aunt”? There are 8 (!) different answers: Dialect Survey Results

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Interesting. Here’s my recording… :wink: Login - LingQ

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I definitely should’ve mentioned about dialects. Mine is the same American accent heard on most of our TV. Oregon/California.

Growing up, I heard a lot of people who moved to Oregon (or visited) from the east coast pronounce the O in “Oregon” using a sound I still can’t reproduce quite right, the same sound people from England or Australia use frequently as well. Because of that I’ve always felt that somehow my English isn’t very English.

The father/awesome contrast is an example of the so called cot/caught merger. This is a nice illustration of the phenomenon and how it relates to the general issue of language change:

I have 2 language partners from Taiwan and they both struggle with these exact words. What I tell them is to imagine bowl is spelled “bole”. I pronounce it (in American English) exactly the same (other than the first letter) as hole, toll, coal, roll and mole. Ball is just pronounced as it is spelled the same as fall, call and mall but also the same as doll and Paul.


As one whose speech does not reflect that trend, it irks me how in the video he constantly says “the cot-cot merger”. ))