Decoding the letter A

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care /keər/

ɑː

start /stɑːrt/

face /feɪs/

æ

trap /træp/

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
e
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
ɔɪ
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
understand
/ˌʌndərˈstænd/
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

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

Short a spelling, IPA phoneme /ɑː/BrE (broad a) as in askBrE or bath.BrE

It also can be pronounced /ɑː/BrE AmE as in father 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 words like bath and ask, 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” and Decoding and spelling exercises: /æ/ vs /eɪ/.

  • 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, unless they are followed by "r".

  • 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 - koala - 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/.
See also So-called “long a” and Decoding and spelling exercises: /æ/ vs /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 - arrange - change - fragrance - range - strange - table

As /ɔ:/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ɔː/

See also Pronunciation exercises: "al"

  • 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/: wander, was,BrE wasp, watch
  • as /ɒ/,BrE /ɔː/AmE: wallet, want, warrant, warranty, wash

As /ə/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ə/.

  • weak forms: a - am - can - shall - than
  • at beginning
verbs: acquire - admire - afford - agree - allow - appeal - appear - approach - arise - arrive
nouns: accord - account - amount - appeal - approach
other: about - above - across - again - against - ago - alone - among - another - around - available - away
  • at end: Africa - African - America - American - camera - China - data - extra - human - idea - India - Indonesia - legal - local- organ - several - woman
  • as part of suffix -able: capable - comfortable - likableAmE BrE - likeableBrE probable - suitable - variable
  • as part of suffix -ate /ə/ or /ɪ/: chocolate - climate - fortunate - immediate - private
  • other: Canada - company - organise - relative

As /ɪ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ɪ/

  • octave - orange - spinach
  • ending in -age: advantage - average - beverage - image - language - manage - percentage - village

As /ɪ/ or /ə/[edit]

The words in this section appear with /ɪ/ in some dictionaries and with /ə/ in others.

  • accessible[1][2] - character[3][4] - chocolate[5][6] - extravagant[7][8] - indiscriminate - massacre - obstacle - receptacle

Silent "a"[edit]

  • automatically - basically - dramatically - logically - romantically - specifically - typically

Spelling anomalies[edit]

  • as /e/: any - many - Thames
  • as /iː/: Israel
  • as /ʌ/: wasAmE
  • So-called long sound with short sound spelling, as /eɪ/: bass (music)

Variant pronunciations[edit]

  • data /ˈdeɪtə, ˈdɑːtə,BrE ˈdætəAmE/
  • what /wɒt, wʌtAmE/

Combinations[edit]

"ai"[edit]

Main article: Pronunciation exercises: "ai"

  • as /eɪ/: Adelaide - afraid - aid - aim - available - brain - campaign - chain - claim - complain - contain - daily - detail - entertain - explain - fail - faith - gain - hail - Haiti - jail - mail - main - Maine - maintain - paid - pain - paint - rail - rain - raise - remain - retail - snail - Spain - stain - straight - train - trait - wait
  • as /e/: again (also /əˈɡeɪn/) - said
"air"
  • as /eə/: air - affair - chair - fair - hair - pair

"ay"[edit]

Main article: Pronunciation exercises: "ay"

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

"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

"aw"[edit]

  • as /ɔː/: draw - law - raw - saw
  • "awy" as /ɔːj/ or /ɔɪ/: lawyer /ˈlɔːjər, ˈlɔɪər/
  • In separate syllables
  • aware - award

"ae"[edit]

Main article: Pronunciation exercises: "ae"

  • as /iː/ or /e/: aesthetic
  • as /iː/: Caesar - paediatricianBrE
  • as /ə/: gynaecologistBrE
  • as /eɪ/ or /iː/: sundae
  • as /eə/: aerobic - aeroplaneBrE

"ar"[edit]

Main article: Pronunciation exercises: "ar"‎
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

"arr"[edit]

Main article: Pronunciation exercises: "arr"‎
  • /æ/: barrier - carry - embarrass - marriage - marry - narrative - narrow
  • /ɒ/,BrE /ɔː/AmE: warrant - warranty
  • /ə/: arrange - arrest - arrive

Homophones[edit]

  • As /eɪ/: brake - break; grate - great; male - mail; place - plaice; plane - plain; rain - reign; sale - sail; stake - steak; tale - tail; Wales - whales; waste - waist; weigh - way; weight - wait; weighed - wade;
  • As /eə/: bare - bear; hair - hare; pair - pear; stairs - stares;
  • As /æ/: ad - add; band - banned; cash - cache;
  • As /ɑːBrE, æAmE/: passed - past;

Only in non-rhotic accents:

  • As /ɑː/: aren't - aunt
Trademarks
  • Waze - ways

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]

  1. Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, accessible with /ɪ/.
  2. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. accessible with /ə/.
  3. Collins English Dictionary, character with /ɪ/.
  4. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, character with /ə/.
  5. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. chocolate with /ɪ/.
  6. Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, chocolate with /ə/.
  7. Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, extravagant with /ɪ/.
  8. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, extravagant with /ə/.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]