Three competing accounts of vowel inherent spectral change in English all agree on the importance of initial formant frequencies; however, they disagree about the nature of the perceptually relevant aspects of formant change. The onset+offset hypothesis claims that the final formant values themselves matter. The onset+slope hypothesis claims that only the rate of change counts. The onset+direction hypothesis claims that only the general direction of change in formant frequencies is important. A synthetic-vowel perception experiment was designed to differentiate among the three. Results provide support for the superiority of the onset+offset hypothesis.