Pronunciation of the letter A

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This is a Teflpedia phonetics article. For simplicity, many of our articles are presently based on British English and Received Pronunciation. We trust teachers will adapt the information to their particular situation and/or that of their students. If this article is suitable for other dialects, such as General American, please delete the template {{Phonetics}}. If this article is really dependent on Received Pronunciation, please change the template by {{Phonetics-RP}}.


In Received Pronunciation (RP) the letter A (lowercase a, pronounced /eɪ/), as most vowel letters in English, has four main pronunciations:

It also can be pronounced /ɑː/ as in bath and /ɔː/ as in all — plus other, less common pronunciations, sometimes in combination with other letters, and, of course, it can be used as schwa. In Spelling patterns for the letter A there are some helpful rules (to be taken with the habitual pinch of salt).

It is also very much one of those cases in which teachers, whichever their preferences might be, need to point out the differences between RP (/ɑː/) and American (/æ/) pronunciations regarding, particularly with words like bath and past, while pointing out, of course, that most native British English speakers do, in fact, pronounce them /æ/.

As /æ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /æ/.
See also So-called “short a”.

  • before final consonants: am - and - at - back - bad - bag - bat - cat - fan - ham - hand - land - man - map - sand - stand
  • before double consonant or "ck": attack - battle - carry - cattle - channel - gallery - grammar - happen - happy - jacket - passenger - traffic
  • before single consonant: average - balance - damage - family - have - January - manage - national - natural - value
  • other: absolutely - actually - angry - aspect - capture - contract - factor - handle - transport

As /ɑː/[edit]

See main article Phoneme /ɑː/ in Received Pronunciation.

Most words in this section are pronounced with /æ/ in General American.

  • before f, s and th
before final consonants: ask - bath - half - last - past - path - staff - task
before double consonant: giraffe - staffer
other: basket - pastor - rather
  • before n: answer - can't - France - implant
Pronounced /ɑː/ also in General American
  • calm - facade - father - lama - llama - palm - spa
  • before r: are - art - car - card - carpet - dark - far - garden - large - market - park - part - scar - scarf - start

As /eɪ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /eɪ/.

  • with magic e: ache - age - bake - blame - brake - cake - date - escape - fake - game - gate - hake - lake - late - male - make - name - pale - plate - sale - same - sane - shake - snake - stale - state - take - trade - wake - whale
  • before single consonant: behaviorAmE - behaviourBrE - education - information - label - nature - paper - patient
  • Other: able - ancient - change - range - strange - table

As /ɔ:/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ɔː/.

  • before final "ll": all - ball - call - fall - hall - small - tall
  • before /l/: already - also - almost - always - alter - salt
  • after "w": walk - wall - war - ward - water
  • other: chalk - talk

As /ɒ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ɒ/.

  • as /ɒ/: wallet - wander - want - warrant - warranty - wash - wasp - watch - what;

As schwa[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ə/.

  • weak forms: a - am - can - shall - than
  • at beginning (including many verbs): about - above - acquire - admire - afford - again - agree - alone - among - another - appeal - appear - arise - around
  • at end: Africa/African - America/American - human - legal - organ
  • as part of suffix -able: capable - likeable - probable
  • as part of suffix -ate /ə/ or /ɪ/: chocolate - climate - immediate - private

Others[edit]

  • as /e/: any - many - Thames;
  • as /ɪ/: average - beverage - language - leverage - percentage;

Combinations[edit]

As "ai"[edit]

  • as /eɪ/: aid - aim - afraid - brain - chain - claim - detail - fail - gain - hail - main - paid - rain - raise - remain - snail - Spain - stage - stain - straight - train - trait - wait
  • as /e/: again (also /əˈɡeɪn/) - said

As "ay"[edit]

  • as /eɪ/: day - pay - play - May - say - stay - tray
  • as /e/: says

As "au"[edit]

See main article Pronunciation exercises: "au".

  • as /ɔː/: auction - August - author - autumn - caught - cause - daughter - taught;
  • as /ɒ/: Aussie - austerity - Australia - Austria;
  • as /ɑː/ : aunt - draught - laugh

As "aw"[edit]

  • as /ɔː/: draw - law - raw - saw
  • as /ɔɪ/: lawyer /ˈlɔːjər, ˈlɔɪər/

As "ar"[edit]

with magic e: aware - bare - care - compare - dare - Delaware - fare - hare - rare - scare - share - spare - square
other: area - careful - Mary - parent - rarely - Sarah - vary
  • see As /ɑː/ above.
  • /ɔː/: quarter - war
  • /æ/: apparent - character - charity - comparison - paragraph - parallel
  • /ə/: arise - around - career - cigarette - preparation

As "arr"[edit]

  • /æ/: barrier - carry - embarrass - marriage - marry - narrative - narrow
  • /ɒ/: warrant - warranty
  • /ə/: arrange - arrest - arrive

Homophones[edit]

  • aren't/aunt - brake/break - grate/great - male/mail - place/plaice - plane/plain - rain/reign - sail/sale - steak/stake - tale/tail - waste/waist - Wales/whales - weigh/way - weight/wait - weighed/wade.

Different pronunciations in the same word[edit]

  • Africa/African - America/American - Australia/Australian - Austria/Austrian - average - character - language

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit]

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]

Many Spanish speakers will try, instinctively, to pronounce it either as /eɪ/ or as /ʌ/ (which is quite similar, but often not quite enough, to the letter a in Spanish). This is particularly problematic for words such as want, what or water or for the schwa.

References[edit]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]