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.


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. 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 a single letter[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /æ/.

At the beginning or the middle of a word[edit]

One syllable[edit]

  • /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
  • /ɒ/: want - wash - watch - what
  • /ə/: weak forms: a - can - than;

Pattern vowel-consonant-vowel[edit]

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 (aCV) can mean anything (mainly /eɪ/ or /æ/), but a double consonant (aCCV) means the sound can't be /eɪ/.

Yellow means that a double consonant might be expected (just Google for *ballance or *dammage). Red means an impossible combination (with very few exceptions such as having).

Vowel Single consonant Double consonant
“short” a /æ/ balance - damage - January - manage - natural - rapid - value channel - classic - gallery - grammar - happy - jacket - passage - passenger - programme - traffic
“long” a /eɪ/ basic - capable - Danish - famous - label - nature - paper - razor - tomatoAmE
/ɑː/ banana - tomatoBrE giraffe
/ɔː/ water
/ɒ/ equality - qualify - quality wallet
/e/ any - many - Thames
/ə/ about - above - again - alone - among - another afford - appeal - appear

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
“short” a /æ/ having fatter - fattest - mapped - mapping - programmed - programmes - programming
“long” a /eɪ/ faces - later - latest - makes - making - named - naming - names - saves - saving - savings - takes - taking
/ɑː/ passing - staffer
/ɔː/ called - caller - falling - smaller - tallest
/ɪ/ averaged - averages - averaging

Several syllables[edit]

  • /æ/: anger - angry - attack - battle - capture - factor
  • /ɑː/: advantage - after - answer - basket - facade - father - 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 - stranger - table
Derived forms: changing - pasted - pasting - tasted - tasting - wasted - wasting

At the end of a word[edit]

One syllable[edit]

Several syllables[edit]

  • /ə/: area - camera - comma - formula - idea - opera -
Africa - America - Argentina - Barbara - China - Colombia - Jessica - Montana - Russia

Combined with another letter[edit]

With magic e[edit]

  • So-called “long a”, /eɪ/: ache - age - bake - blame - brake - cake - date - escape - estimate (v.) - face - fake - game - gate - late - lake - male - make - name - pale - plate - sale - same - sane - shake - snake - state - take - trade - wake - whale
Two consonant sounds (unusual use of magic e): change - paste - strange - taste - waste

With silent e[edit]

  • /ɪ/: advantage - average - garbage - image - language - manage - village
  • /ə/: chocolate - estimate (n.) - private - purchase

"ai"[edit]

  • /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

"ay"[edit]

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

"au"[edit]

See main article Pronunciation exercises: "au".

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

"aw"[edit]

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

"ar"[edit]

  • /ɑː/: are - art - car - card - carpet - dark - far - garden - large - market - park - part - start
  • /ɔː/: quarter - war
  • Magic e, "are" as /eə/: aware - care - compare - declare - prepare - rare - share - software - square - stare
Pattern vowel-consonant-vowel

These spelling patterns are VCV or VCCV, where C is "r", and V is a vowel but is not magic e.

A single consonant (arV) can mean anything, but a double consonant (arrV) means the sound can't be /eə/.

Red means an impossible combination.

Vowel Single consonant Double consonant
/æ/ apparent - character - charity - comparison - paragraph - parallel barrier - carry - embarrass - marriage - marry - narrative - narrow
/ɒ/ warrant - warranty
/ə/ arise - around - career - cigarette - preparation arrange - arrest - arrive
/eə/ area - Mary - parent - various

When adding a suffix or a verb ending, words with /ɑː/ double their ending consonant. Words ending in "e" drop the e and add the suffix or ending.

Vowel Single consonant Double consonant
/ɑː/ barred - barring - starred
/ɔː/ warring
/eə/ cared - cares - caring - prepared - prepares - preparing - rarer - rarest

Homophones[edit]

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

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.

Many cognates that have /eɪ/ in English have [a] in Spanish. If the word is not common, such as "matrix" (Spanish matriz) it is very likely that Spanish speakers will try to pronounce it with /æ/. Even some loan words are transcribed using spelling pronunciation in Spanish. For example the spelling cáterin[1] was proposed as a transcription of "catering", but *quéiterin would be more similar to the English pronunciation.

References[edit]

  1. Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, cáterin.

See also[edit]