Responses of auditory-nerve fibers to steady-state, two-formant vowels in low-pass background noise (S/N = 10 dB) were obtained in anesthetized cats. For fibers over a wide range of characteristic frequencies (CFs), the peaks in discharge rate at the onset of the vowel stimuli were nearly eliminated in the presence of noise. In contrast, strong effects of noise on fine time patterns of discharge were limited to CF regions that are far from the formant frequencies. One effect is a reduction in the amplitude of the response component at the fundamental frequency in the high-CF regions and for CFs between F1 and F2 when the formants are widely separated. A reduction in the amplitude of the response components at the formant frequencies, with concomitant increase in components near CF or low-frequency components occurs in CF regions where the signal-to-noise ratio is particularly low. The processing schemes that were effective for estimating the formant frequencies and fundamental frequency of vowels in quiet generally remain adequate in moderate-level background noise. Overall, the discharge patterns contain many cues for distinctions among the vowel stimuli, so that the central processor should be able to identify the different vowels, consistent with psychophysical performance at moderate signal-to-noise ratios.