Pronunciation of the letter A
In Received Pronunciation (RP), the letter A/a (/eɪ/) has five major pronunciations, plus other, less common ones, sometimes in combination with other letters, and, of course, its use as schwa. 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/.
- 1 As a single letter
- 2 Combined with another letter
- 3 Homophones
- 4 Different pronunciations in the same word
- 5 Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
- 6 References
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
As a single letter
At the beginning or the middle of a word
- /æ/: am - and - at - bag - bat - cat - fan - ham - hand - land - man - map - sand - stand
- /ɑː/. Before /f, n, s/ and /θ/: ask - bath - can't - chance - class - dance - fast - France - grass - half - last - pass - past - path - staff - task
- Other: calm - palm
- /ɔː/: Before /l/: all - ball - call - fall - hall - salt - small - tall
- after "w": walk - wall
- other: chalk - talk
These spelling patterns are VCV or VCCV, where C is the same consonant (or ck), and V is a vowel but is not magic e.
A single consonant (VCV) can mean anything, but a double consonant (VCCV) means the sound can't be /eɪ/.
Red means an impossible combination (with very few exceptions such as having)
|Vowel||Single consonant||Double consonant|
|/æ/||balance - damage - January - manage - natural - rapid - value||channel - classic - gallery - grammar - happy - jacket - passage - passenger - programme - traffic|
|/ɒ/||equality - qualify - quality||wallet|
|/e/||any - many - Thames|
|/ə/||about - above - again - alone - among - another||afford - appeal - appear|
|/eɪ/||basic - capable - Danish - famous - label - nature - paper - razor|
When adding a suffix or a verb ending, words with /æ/ double their ending consonant. Words ending in "e" drop the e and add the suffix or ending.
|Vowel||Single consonant||Double consonant|
|/æ/||having||fatter - fattest - mapped - mapping - programmed - programmes - programming|
|/ɑː/||passing - staffer|
|/ɔː/||called - caller - falling - smaller - tallest|
|/ɪ/||averaged - averages - averaging|
|/ə/||chocolate - private|
|/eɪ/||faces - later - latest - makes - making - named - naming - names - saves - saving - savings - takes - taking|
- /æ/: anger - angry - aspect - attack - battle - capture - cattle - factor
- /ɑː/: advantage - after - answer - basket - facade - father - implant - lama - llama - pastor - rather
- /ɔː/: almost - already - also - alter - always
- /ɒ/: quantity - wander
- /ə/. At beginning (including many verbs): acquire - admire - agree
- at end: African - American - human - legal - organ
- as part of suffix -able: capable - likeable - probable;
- /eɪ/: able - danger - table
- /ɪ/: garbage
At the end of a word
- /ɑː/: bra - spa
- /ə/: Africa - America - comma
Combined with another letter
- /eɪ/: ache - age - bake - blame - brake - cake - date - escape - face - fake - game - gate - hake - late - lake - male - make - name - pale - plate - sale - same - sane - shake - snake - stale - state - take - trade - wake - whale
- /eɪ/: aid - aim - afraid - brain - chain - claim - detail - fail - gain - hail - main - paid - rain - raise - remain - snail - Spain - stage - stain - straight - train - trait - wait
- /e/: again (also /əˈɡeɪn/) - said
- /eɪ/: day - pay - play - May - say - stay - tray
- /e/: says
See main article Pronunciation exercises: "au".
- /ɔː/: auction - August - author - autumn - caught - cause - daughter - taught;
- /ɒ/: Aussie - austerity - Australia - Austria;
- /ɑː/ : aunt - draught - laugh
- /ɑː/: are - art - car - card - carpet - dark - far - garden - large - market - park - part - scar - scarf - start
- /æ/: carry - marry
- /eə/: Mary
- /ɒ/: warrant - warranty
- /ɔː/: quarter - war - ward
- 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
- Africa/African - America/American - Australia/Australian - Austria/Austrian - average - character - language
Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
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.
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.
- Pronunciation exercises: /ʌ/ vs /æ/
- Pronunciation exercises: "ea"
- Pronunciation exercises: "oa"