Most dictionaries use special symbols to represent a word’s pronunciation. The line over a letter in the dictionary is called a macron, a derivative of the Greek word “makron,” which means long. Dictionaries place the macron over vowels to indicate that the vowel has a long sound.

Long Vowel Sounds

Often, students learn that long vowels say their own names. For example, if you see “ā,” the macron over the letter tells you that the the letter “a” is pronounced like the beginning sound in “ape” (ā p) or the middle sound in “tape” (tā p). Likewise, “ē,” is pronounced like the initial “e” sound in “ego” (ē’ gō), or the medial “e” in “meet” (mēt). You can hear the long “i” sound at the beginning of words such as “ice” (īs) or in the middle of words such as “kite” (kīt). The word “hope” (hōp) provides an example of the middle long “o” sound, and the long “o” sound in “toe” (tō) represents the final long “o” sound.

Long Double–O Sound

Some dictionaries place the macron over two letter "o"s (ōō) to indicate the long double-o sound. When pronouncing the long double-o, the speaker’s lips are more rounded and less open than they are for long “o” (ō). Examples of double-o pronunciations include words such as “pool” (pōōl) and “toot” (tōōl). The long double- o sound is also used to indicate the pronunciation of words containing the letter “u.” For instance, the macron placed over the double-o represents the “u” sound in “flute” (flōōt) and “tube” (tōōb).