(in English articulation) a speech sound produced without occluding, diverting, or obstructing the flow of air from the lungs (opposed to consonant ).
(in a syllable) the sound of greatest sonority, as i in grill. Compare consonant ( def 1b ).
(in linguistic function) a concept empirically determined as a phonological element in structural contrast with consonant, as the (ē) of be (bē), we (wē), and yeast (yēst).
a letter representing or usually representing a vowel, as, in English, a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y.
of or pertaining to a vowel.

1275–1325; Middle English < Old French vowel < Latin vōcālis vocal

vowelless, adjective
vowellike, adjective
vowely, vowelly, adverb
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
vowel (ˈvaʊəl)
1.  phonetics a voiced speech sound whose articulation is characterized by the absence of friction-causing obstruction in the vocal tract, allowing the breath stream free passage. The timbre of a vowel is chiefly determined by the position of the tongue and the lips
2.  a letter or character representing a vowel
[C14: from Old French vouel, from Latin vocālis littera a vowel, from vocālis sonorous, from vox a voice]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

c.1308, from O.Fr. vouel, from L. vocalis, in littera vocalis, lit. "vocal letter," from vox (gen. vocis) "voice" (see voice). Vowel shift in ref. to the pronunciation change between M.E. and Mod.Eng. is attested from 1909. The Hawaiian word hooiaioia, meaning "certified,"
has the most consecutive vowels of any word in current human speech; the English record-holder is queueing.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

vowels definition

Letters of the alphabet that generally stand for sounds made with an open or partially open mouth: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y (as in style). (Compare consonants.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Vowels are lingered over, phrases are repeated in high-pitched voices, and
  questions carry exaggerated inflections.
Recently, the vowels have been creeping back up to dominance.
For example, in various parts of the region they tend not to turn vowels in
  unstressed syllables into neutral vowels.
Visualization of the consonantal based system and the absence of vowels.
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