Near-open front unrounded vowel

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trap /trap/



trap /træp/

In Received Pronunciation, the IPA phoneme /æ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "trap", "hat" and "brand".

In General American /æ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "trap", "hat" and "brand" and also in "bath", "laugh" and "ask".

The IPA phonetic symbol [æ] corresponds to the /æ/ sound as pronounced by an American. The same phoneme has the sound [a] in Received Pronunciation, and that is the controversial notation used by the Concise Oxford Dictionary.[1]

In Teflpedia a broad notation is used. This means that the difference between American [æ] and British [a] is not important, and both pronunciations are rendered as /æ/. Slashes are used for broad notation and brackets are used for narrow notation.

This phoneme is informally called “short a” or the short sound of the letter a. Better pronounceable names are the TRAP vowel and the vowel of TRAP.

Trap-bath 2.png

Common words[edit | edit source]

Some common words which practice the pronunciation of /æ/ include the following:

  • act - add - and - ankle - back - bad - band - bank - bat - black - can - carry - fact - family - flat - hand - happen - happy - land - man - match - matter - plan - sad - stand - thank - travel - understand - value - tax - track
  • homophones: band - banned; pact - packed

Spelling[edit | edit source]

/æ/ is always followed by one or more consonants. In derived words a single consonant is usually doubled (plan, planned; dad, daddy).

"a" followed by a single consonant "a" followed by a double consonant "a" followed by two or more different consonants
/æ/ family, travel, value daddy, happen, planned ankle, match, stamp, stand
/eɪ/ information, make, paper bass (in music) ancient, scarce, strange, table

Spelling anomalies[edit | edit source]

  • meringue /məˈræŋ/ - plaid /plæd/

Heteronyms[edit | edit source]

  • patent
/ˈpætənt/: right to make an invention
/ˈpeɪtənt/: obvious, evident

Variant pronunciations[edit | edit source]

  • catch /kætʃ, ketʃAmE/
  • marshmallow /mɑːrʃˈmæləʊ,BrE ˈmɑːrʃmeləʊAmE/

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit | edit source]

Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.

Spanish[edit | edit source]

See IPA phoneme /ʌ/#Spanish.

To help students pronounce /æ/ there are three schools of thought:

  • Practising the Spanish "a" followed rapidly by the "e" (however this would result in a diphthong like the one in "eye").
  • A better method would be trying to produce a sound in between Spanish "a" [a] and Spanish "e" [e] at the same time, or opening the mouth to say [a] and trying to pronounce [e].
  • The third alternative is to believe the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1966) that thinks /æ/ currently sounds [a] in Received Pronunciation. For a discussion see [1]. This would result in sounding /æ/ as Spanish "a" and practising /ʌ/ as a different vowel, midway between Spanish "o" and Spanish "a".

References[edit | edit source]