Vowels – a, i, o, ā, ē, ī, ō

In (southern) Plains and Swampy Cree, there are 7 distinct vowels. [Woods and northern Plains Cree have only 6 (with the omission of ē; i.e. all southern Plains Cree ē and ī sounds are simply ī in northern Plains and Woods Cree dialects).]

Only 4 of the English vowel symbols are needed to represent these 7 distinct Cree vowels, since the vowels can be divided up into short and long pairs, and the long vowels are then specially marked as distinct from the short vowels.  In these Grammar pages, the long vowels are marked with macrons (i.e. straight lines placed over the vowel: e.g. ā, ī, ō, ē), but in many other resources circumflexes (vowels with little hats, e.g. â, ê, î, ô) are used instead.  Both macrons and circumflexes are acceptable ways to mark long vowels in the Standard Roman Orthography (SRO) or Standard Cree Alphabet (SCA).

Short Vowel Sounds – a, i, o



– sounds like English “a” in “about” and “u” in “up” (but certainly not the “u” of such words as “unique” or “put”; the English “u” symbol is never used for writing Cree).


– sounds like English “i” in “in” or “fit”, never as in English “fine” or “fight”.



– sounds like the English “o” in “occasion” or the “oo” of “book”, or the “u” of “put”. Note the many different ways that this sound is spelled in English. In Cree, this sound is o, and only o.



(1) Initially Medially Finally
awas “go away!” āstam “come here!” otina “take it!”
iskwēw “woman” nisit “my foot” nahapi “sit down!”
otina “take it!” kotak “another” nikamo “sing!”


Long Vowel Sounds – ā, ī, ō, ē




– sounds something like the “a” in “fa” (as when singing “do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do”). As the long counterpart to short a, it is actually not a sound commonly found in most dialects of English. If, however, you were to pronounce “father” with an Irish accent, this would be much closer to the Cree sound than most English pronunciations of “father”.



– sounds like the English “i” in “machine”, never as in “shine”. This so-called “e” sound has so many different spellings in English (for example: e, ee, ea, ei, eo, ie, i, y, etc.) but one and only one in Cree: ī. It is the long counterpart to short i.




– usually sounds like the English “o” in “so” or “oa” in “boat” (or better yet, “oo” in German “Boot” “boat”). It can, however, vary in pronunciation, so that some speakers may use a sound closer to English “oo” is “moose”. Regardless, these two variant sounds do not represent an important, meaning-altering difference in Cree and a single symbol is all that is needed. Long ō is the counterpart of short o.






– sounds like the English “ay” in “hay” or “ai” in “main”. This sound has no short counterpart. It is always long, and therefore it is always marked as long (with the macron (ē) or circumflex (ê)) just as the other long vowels are. Sometimes, as has been common in Alberta, this vowel is written without the length mark. However, this leaves a bare “e” symbol which can be quite misleading, often resulting in confusion over its use between the ē and ī sounds. Spelling it with the macron or circumflex not only marks this vowel as long, but sets it apart as if to say: This is not the English “e”! This vowel is not present in Woods or northern Plains Cree, where ī is found in place of the ē of other dialects.


(2) Initially Medially Finally
āstam “come here!” tānisi “how/hello” nipā “sleep”
ī “yes” (Woods Cree) cīki “near” tapasī “flee!”
ōki “these” pōna “make fire!” pasikō “get up!”
ēsis “shell” mēkwāc “presently” kīwē “go home!”

Note: the last examples with ē will not be pronounced this way in Woods or northern Plains Cree. These dialects will have ī in place of ē.