3A-1: The Fifth Vowel Key

The Fifth Vowel Key

Everyone who has English as their first language grows up learning the five vowel letters "a", "e", "i", "o", and "u", and how one of them has to be present in (almost) every word, or else it's not a word. In Lesson 1: Fingers And Keys, however, we saw that Plover only has individual keys for four of those vowels. But what about "i"?

In fact, the short 'i' sound is chorded EU. Plover, and all steno theories, define special chords to indicate different phonetic sounds. The current lesson, and many other lessons here, are all about defining chords and assigning them to English sounds. Note that the keys used in a chord may not be intuitively related to the sound. The letter "i" is a case in point. The 'i' sound uses the EU chord, not because the sounds of 'e' and 'u' somehow combine to make the 'i' sound, but because Plover and other steno theories believe that that spot is the best place on the keyboard to represent the 'i' sound.

The EU chord really belongs in Lesson 1: Fingers And Keys, with the AOE, and U keys. The same set of rules govern the EU chord as govern those others:

  • When the desired word is spelled with the letter "i" without a neighboring vowel, and where the sound is a short vowel sound, EU is always used regardless of which short vowel sound the word has.
  • When the desired word is spelled without an "i", or with "i" and another vowel together, to make a short 'i' sound, EU is used.
  • The EU chord is never used alone to express a long 'i' sound, as in 'mile'.

If you look back to Lesson 1: Fingers And Keys, you'll see that these rules match perfectly with those for AOE, and U. You can really think of EU as the fifth vowel key.

When we get to Lesson 5: Prefix And Suffix Strokes, you'll see that EU is also sometimes used for the long 'e' sound.

Exercise: The Fifth Vowel Key

Try stroking these words, using the consonants covered in Lesson 1: Fingers And Keys, and the rules covered in Lesson 2: Steno Order. Practice until you can type them without looking at the explanations above.

  • 'still', 'rig', 'hit', 'sip'
  • 'sir', 'skirt'
  • 'crypt', 'syrup'
  • 'pig' 'rift' 'scribble' 'rid' 'river'
  • 'hid' 'wilt' 'wig' 'wit' 'spill'

Try stroking any others you can think of. Do you get the words you expect?


It may seem weird to type words using keys that don't seem to sound like the words. But this is one of the fundamental elements of Plover and all steno. Try to think of the keypresses as meaning the sounds that you want them to mean, rather than the letters printed on the keys. Ultimately you won't be looking at those letters anyway; you'll be looking up at the screen.

Exercise Solutions

Solution: The Fifth Vowel Key

  • 'still': STEUL
  • 'rig': REUG
  • 'hit': HEUT
  • 'sip': SEUP
  • 'sir': SEUR
  • 'skirt': SKEURT
  • 'syrup': SEURP
  • 'tryst': TREUST
  • 'pig': PEUG
  • 'rift': REUFT
  • 'scribble': SKREUBL
  • 'rid': REUD
  • 'river': REUFR
  • 'hid': HEUD
  • 'wilt': WEULT
  • 'wig': WEUG
  • 'wit': WEUT
  • 'spill': SPEUL