Pronunciation of the letter A

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This is a Teflpedia phonetics article based on British English and received pronunciation. For General American see Pronunciation of the letter A (General American). edit


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]

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
e
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat north
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/

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 - can - 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;

Several syllables[edit]

One consonant[edit]

The following words have "a" followed by one consonant sound.

Last syllable
  • /æ/: Japan
  • /ə/: African - American - final - human - legal - local - organ - total - woman
Other syllable
  • /æ/ balance - damage - January - manage - natural - rapid - value
  • /eɪ/: basic - capable - Danish - famous - label - nature - paper - razor - tomatoAmE
  • /ɑː/: banana - tomatoBrE
  • /ɒ/: equality - qualify - quality
  • /ɔː/: water
  • /e/: any - many - Thames
  • /ə/: about - above - again - alone - among - another
  • Unstressed /ɪ/: garbage - spinach
Double consonant[edit]

The following words have "a" followed by the same duplicate consonant (or "ck").

  • /æ/: channel - classic - gallery - grammar - happy - jacket - passage - passenger - programmeBrE - traffic
  • /ɑː/: giraffe
  • /ɒ/: wallet
  • /ə/: afford - appeal - appear
Several consonants[edit]

The following words have "a" followed by two or more different consonant sounds.

  • /æ/: anger - angry - attack - battle - capture - factor - relax
  • /ɑː/: advantage - after - answer - basket - example - father - rather
  • /ɔː/: almost - already - also - alter - always
  • /ɒ/: quantity - wander
  • /ə/. At beginning (including many verbs): acquire - admire - agree
as part of suffix -able: capable - likeable - probable;
  • /eɪ/: able - ancient - 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

Silent A[edit]

  • basically - logically - practically - typically

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
  • The word "forbade".
The past tense of "forbid" has several variants.
forbade /fərˈbæd, fərˈbeɪd/
forbad /fərˈbæd/

"ae"[edit]

  • /eɪ/: Mae - reggae /ˈreɡeɪ/ - sundae /ˈsʌndeɪ, ˈsʌndɪ/

"ae" in words of Greek origin[edit]

In words derived from Greek via Latin "ae" is pronounced /iː/, /ɪ/, /e/ or /ə/. Alternative spellings are "æ" (as in "æstetics") in British English and "e" (as in "esthetics") in American English. Some "ae" words can only be spelled with "e" in American English (such as "hemoglobin").

"ae" in British English
  • /iː/ or /ɪ/: archaeology
  • /iː/: aesthetic (also /e/) - anaesthesia or anesthesia - Caesar /ˈsiːzər/ - haemoglobinBrE - hyena or hyaena - orthopaedic or orthopedic - paediatricianBrE
  • /ɪ/: Caesarean section
  • /e/: aesthetic (also /iː/)
  • /ə/: gynaecologistBrE
Corresponding words in American English
  • /iː/ or /ɪ/: archaeology or archeologyAmE
  • /iː/: aesthetic or estheticAmE - anesthesia or anaesthesia - Caesar /ˈsiːzər/ - hemoglobinAmE - hyena or hyaena - orthopedic or orthopaedic - pediatricianAmE
  • /ɪ/: CesareanAmE section or Caesarean section
  • /e/: aesthetic or estheticAmE
  • /ə/: gynecologistAmE

"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
  • /eə/
area - Mary - parent - various
With magic e: aware - care - compare - declare - prepare - rare - share - software - square - stare
  • /æ/: apparent - character - charity - comparison - paragraph - parallel
  • /ə/: arise - around - career - cigarette - preparation
"arr"
  • /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; 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 [a] (which sounds similar to /ʌ/ or /æ/). 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]