Differentiating Vowels in Cot and Caught

New cuers frequently have difficulty distinguishing the vowels /ɑäah/ (as in cot) and /ɔôaw/ as in (caught). For many dialects in English, these two vowels are contrastive and can be used to make different words.

/ɑäah/ /ɔôaw/
cot caught
rot wrought
not/knot naught
knotty naughty
stock stalk
wok walk
hottie haughty
la law
Pa paw
Pa’s pause
Don dawn
clod clawed

Vowel /ɑäah/ as in Cot

The vowel /ɑäah/ as in cot is cued as a side-forward movement. In spoken English, the vowel is open and the tongue is low and back. The position of the tongue for this vowel is why doctors ask patients to say “Ah!” when examining the throat. Producing the vowel makes the tongue move down and out of the way and provides a reletively unobstructed view.

Examples

hot, blot, got, stop, solid, collar, pot, oxygen, pox, sock, lock, nachossob, rob, cob, Todd, poncho, romp, stomp, cropped.

Vowel /ɔôaw/ as in Caught

The vowel /ɔôaw/ as in caught is cued at the chin placement. In spoken English, the jaw drops bringing the sides of the mouth slightly in. The tongue is generally positioned low (but likely higher than /ɑäah/) and the back in the mouth.

Examples

doll, fall, sought, walkAutumn, slaw, cough, cost, lost, solve, salt, assault, soft, ball, call, log, dog, lawn, talked.

Dialect

These vowels are highly interchangeable in many dialects. Many words may be pronounced either way – (hot/hotBoston/Boston). In some cases, a cuer may even alternate between the pronunciations of certain words depending on where they occur in the sentence or whether they are stressed (e.g., off/off, on/on, honk/honk).

Cot-Caught Vowel Merger

In some regions of the United States, the vowels /ɑäah/ and /ɔôaw/ have merged. For example, in parts of the west (like Utah and Idaho), these vowels have lost their distinction. Words like cot/caught are both pronounced with the vowel /ɑäah/ (side-forward). 

In other regions, like the Northeast U.S. and Canada, the vowels have merged and are likely pronounced as /ɔôaw/ (chin placement). For them, the words cot/caught will both be cued with /ɔôaw/.

The Hotdog Test

Instructors will sometimes encourage beginners to examine the word hotdog to decide if the vowels are the same in each syllable or different. For many, the vowels in this word are hot (side-forward) and dog (chin placement). But for others, the both syllables may be cued with a side-forward movement or at the chin placement

Prioritizing Vowel Distinction for New Cuers

In general, substitution errors by new cuers of /ɑäah/ and /ɔôaw/ have relatively little impact as an error would reflect a possible pronunciation in Engish even if that pronunciation is incorrect for that cuer. Sometimes, these vowels are also confused with /æăa/ like hat (throat placement). Confusion with this vowel is a more serious priority since cat is not likely to be pronounced like caught in any dialect.

 

 

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɔˈt/
  • /kawˈt/
  • /kôˈt/
  • 2c5s

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɔˈt/
  • /kawˈt/
  • /kôˈt/
  • 2c5s

rot

  • /rɑˈt/
  • /rahˈt/
  • /räˈt/
  • 3sf5s

wrought

  • /rɔˈt/
  • /rawˈt/
  • /rôˈt/
  • 3c5s

not

  • /nɑˈt/
  • /nahˈt/
  • /näˈt/
  • 4sf5s

naught

  • /nɔˈt/
  • /nawˈt/
  • /nôˈt/
  • 4c5s

knotty

  • /nɑˈti/
  • /nahˈtee/
  • /näˈtē/
  • 4sf5m

naughty

  • /nɔˈti/
  • /nawˈtee/
  • /nôˈtē/
  • 4c5m

stock

  • /stɑˈk/
  • /stahˈk/
  • /stäˈk/
  • 3s5sf2s

stalk

  • /stɔˈk/
  • /stawˈk/
  • /stôˈk/
  • 3s5c2s

wok

  • /wɑˈk/
  • /wahˈk/
  • /wäˈk/
  • 6sf2s

walk

  • /wɔˈk/
  • /wawˈk/
  • /wôˈk/
  • 6c2s

hottie

  • /hɑˈti/
  • /hahˈtee/
  • /häˈtē/
  • 3sf5m

haughty

  • /hɔˈti/
  • /hawˈtee/
  • /hôˈtē/
  • 3c5m

la

  • /lɑˈ/
  • /lahˈ/
  • /läˈ/
  • 6sf

law

  • /lɔˈ/
  • /lawˈ/
  • /lôˈ/
  • 6c

Pa

  • /pɑˈ/
  • /pahˈ/
  • /päˈ/
  • 1sf

paw

  • /pɔˈ/
  • /pawˈ/
  • /pôˈ/
  • 1c

Pa’s

  • /pɑˈz/
  • /pahˈz/
  • /päˈz/
  • 1sf2s

pause

  • /pɔˈz/
  • /pawˈz/
  • /pôˈz/
  • 1c2s

Don

  • /dɑˈn/
  • /dahˈn/
  • /däˈn/
  • 1sf4s

dawn

  • /dɔˈn/
  • /dawˈn/
  • /dôˈn/
  • 1c4s

clod

  • /klɑˈd/
  • /klahˈd/
  • /kläˈd/
  • 2s6sf1s

clawed

  • /klɔˈd/
  • /klawˈd/
  • /klôˈd/
  • 2s6c1s

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

hot

  • /hɑˈt/
  • /hahˈt/
  • /häˈt/
  • 3sf5s

blot

  • /blɑˈt/
  • /blahˈt/
  • /bläˈt/
  • 4s6sf5s

got

  • /gɑˈt/
  • /gahˈt/
  • /gäˈt/
  • 7sf5s

stop

  • /stɑˈp/
  • /stahˈp/
  • /stäˈp/
  • 3s5sf1s

solid

  • /sɑˈlɪd/
  • /sahˈlid/
  • /säˈlĭd/
  • 3sf6t1s

collar

  • /kɑˈlɚ/
  • /kahˈlur/
  • /käˈlûr/
  • 2sf6m

pot

  • /pɑˈt/
  • /pahˈt/
  • /päˈt/
  • 1sf5s

oxygen

  • /ɑˈksəʤɪn/
  • /ahˈksəjin/
  • /äˈksəjĭn/
  • 5sf2s3sd7t4s

pox

  • /pɑˈks/
  • /pahˈks/
  • /päˈks/
  • 1sf2s3s

sock

  • /sɑˈk/
  • /sahˈk/
  • /säˈk/
  • 3sf2s

lock

  • /lɑˈk/
  • /lahˈk/
  • /läˈk/
  • 6sf2s

nachos

  • /nɑˈʧoʊz/
  • /nahˈchohz/
  • /näˈchōz/
  • 4sf8sf2s

sob

  • /sɑˈb/
  • /sahˈb/
  • /säˈb/
  • 3sf4s

rob

  • /rɑˈb/
  • /rahˈb/
  • /räˈb/
  • 3sf4s

cob

  • /kɑˈb/
  • /kahˈb/
  • /käˈb/
  • 2sf4s

Todd

  • /tɑˈd/
  • /tahˈd/
  • /täˈd/
  • 5sf1s

poncho

  • /pɑˈnʧoʊ/
  • /pahˈnchoh/
  • /päˈnchō/
  • 1sf4s8sf

romp

  • /rɑˈmp/
  • /rahˈmp/
  • /räˈmp/
  • 3sf5s1s

stomp

  • /stɑˈmp/
  • /stahˈmp/
  • /stäˈmp/
  • 3s5sf5s1s

cropped

  • /krɑˈpt/
  • /krahˈpt/
  • /kräˈpt/
  • 2s3sf1s5s

caught

  • /kɔˈt/
  • /kawˈt/
  • /kôˈt/
  • 2c5s

doll

  • /dɑˈl/
  • /dahˈl/
  • /däˈl/
  • 1sf6s

fall

  • /fɔˈl/
  • /fawˈl/
  • /fôˈl/
  • 5c6s

sought

  • /sɔˈt/
  • /sawˈt/
  • /sôˈt/
  • 3c5s

walk

  • /wɔˈk/
  • /wawˈk/
  • /wôˈk/
  • 6c2s

autumn

  • /ɔˈtəm/
  • /awˈtəm/
  • /ôˈtəm/
  • 5c5sd5s

slaw

  • /slɔˈ/
  • /slawˈ/
  • /slôˈ/
  • 3s6c

cough

  • /kɔˈf/
  • /kawˈf/
  • /kôˈf/
  • 2c5s

cost

  • /kɔˈst/
  • /kawˈst/
  • /kôˈst/
  • 2c3s5s

lost

  • /lɔˈst/
  • /lawˈst/
  • /lôˈst/
  • 6c3s5s

solve

  • /sɔˈlv/
  • /sawˈlv/
  • /sôˈlv/
  • 3c6s2s

salt

  • /sɔˈlt/
  • /sawˈlt/
  • /sôˈlt/
  • 3c6s5s

assault

  • /əsɔˈlt/
  • /əsawˈlt/
  • /əsôˈlt/
  • 5sd3c6s5s

soft

  • /sɔˈft/
  • /sawˈft/
  • /sôˈft/
  • 3c5s*5s

ball

  • /bɔˈl/
  • /bawˈl/
  • /bôˈl/
  • 4c6s

call

  • /kɔˈl/
  • /kawˈl/
  • /kôˈl/
  • 2c6s

log

  • /lɔˈg/
  • /lawˈg/
  • /lôˈg/
  • 6c7s

dog

  • /dɔˈg/
  • /dawˈg/
  • /dôˈg/
  • 1c7s

lawn

  • /lɔˈn/
  • /lawˈn/
  • /lôˈn/
  • 6c4s

talked

  • /tɔˈkt/
  • /tawˈkt/
  • /tôˈkt/
  • 5c2s5s

hot

  • /hɑˈt/
  • /hahˈt/
  • /häˈt/
  • 3sf5s

hot

  • /hɔˈt/
  • /hawˈt/
  • /hôˈt/
  • 3c5s

Boston

  • /bɑˈstən/
  • /bahˈstən/
  • /bäˈstən/
  • 4sf3s5sd4s

Boston

  • /bɔˈstən/
  • /bawˈstən/
  • /bôˈstən/
  • 4c3s5sd4s

off

  • /ɑˈf/
  • /ahˈf/
  • /äˈf/
  • 5sf5s

off

  • /ɔˈf/
  • /awˈf/
  • /ôˈf/
  • 5c5s

on

  • /ɑˈn/
  • /ahˈn/
  • /äˈn/
  • 5sf4s

on

  • /ɔˈn/
  • /awˈn/
  • /ôˈn/
  • 5c4s

honk

  • /hɑˈŋk/
  • /hahˈngk/
  • /häˈngk/
  • 3sf8s2s

honk

  • /hɔˈŋk/
  • /hawˈngk/
  • /hôˈngk/
  • 3c8s2s

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

hotdog

  • /hɑˈtdɔˌg/
  • /hahˈtdawˌg/
  • /häˈtdôˌg/
  • 3sf5s1c7s

hotdog

  • /hɑˈtdɑˌg/
  • /hahˈtdahˌg/
  • /häˈtdäˌg/
  • 3sf5s1sf7s

hotdog

  • /hɔˈtdɔˌg/
  • /hawˈtdawˌg/
  • /hôˈtdôˌg/
  • 3c5s1c7s

hat

  • /hæˈt/
  • /haˈt/
  • /hăˈt/
  • 3t5s

cat

  • /kæˈt/
  • /kaˈt/
  • /kăˈt/
  • 2t5s