Decoding the letter A
- So-called “long a”, IPA phoneme /eɪ/, as in face, facing or famous
- Long "ar" monophtong (short vowel spelling), IPA phoneme /ɑː/, as in start, bar or barred
- Long "ar" diphthong (long vowel spelling), IPA phoneme /eə/, as in square, care, caring or parent
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).
- 1 Distinctions by dialect
- 2 As /æ/
- 3 As /ɑː/
- 4 As /eɪ/
- 5 As /ɔ:/
- 6 As /ɒ/
- 7 As /ə/
- 8 As /ɪ/
- 9 As /ɪ/ or /ə/
- 10 Silent "a"
- 11 Spelling anomalies
- 12 Variant pronunciations
- 13 Combinations
- 14 Homophones
- 15 Different pronunciations in the same word
- 16 Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
- 17 References
- 18 See also
Distinctions by dialect
Teaching the letter A is 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/. When teaching American English pronunciation the Mary-marry-merry merger can be explained.
|Most American dialects (Mary-marry merger)||/æ/||/æ/||/ɑː/||/ɑː/||/e/||/e/|
- 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
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 - nuance - palm - spa
- before r: are - art - car - card - carpet - dark - far - garden - large - market - park - part - scar - scarf - start
- 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/ˈfreɪɡrəns/ - range - strange - table
See main article IPA phoneme /ɔː/
See also Decoding 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
See main article IPA phoneme /ɒ/.
- as /ɒ/: quality - restaurant, wander, BrE wasp, watch ,
- as /ɒ/,BrE /ɔː/AmE: wallet, want, warrant, warranty, wash
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
- as part of ative: tentative - alternative - imperative - conservative
- other: Canada - company - organise - relative
See main article IPA phoneme /ɪ/
- furnace - octave - orange - spinach
- ending in -age: advantage - average - beverage - image - language - manage - percentage - village
As /ɪ/ or /ə/
The words in this section appear with /ɪ/ in some dictionaries and with /ə/ in others.
- accessible - character - chocolate - extravagant - indiscriminate - massacre - obstacle - receptacle
- automatically, basically, dramatically, logically, romantically, specifically, typically
- varisyllabic words: Barbara, boundary, library,BrE Margaret, separate
- only in British English: military, ordinary, secondary, secretary, voluntary
- as /e/: any - many - Thames
- as /iː/: Israel
- as /ʌ/: wasAmE
- So-called long sound with short sound spelling, as /eɪ/: bass (music)
Main article: Decoding 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
- as /eə/: air - affair - chair - fair - hair - pair
Main article: Decoding exercises: "ay"
- as /eɪ/: day - pay - play - May - say - stay - tray
- as /e/: says
See main article Decoding exercises: "au"
- as /ɔː/: auction - August - author - autumn - caught - cause - daughter - taught;
- as /ɒ/: Aussie - austerity - Australia - Austria;
- as /ɑː/ : aunt - draught - laugh
- as /ɔː/: draw - law - raw - saw
- "awy" as /ɔːj/ or /ɔɪ/: lawyer /ˈlɔːjər, ˈlɔɪər/
- In separate syllables
- aware - award
Main article: Decoding exercises: "ae"
- as /iː/ or /e/: aesthetic
- as /iː/: Caesar - paediatricianBrE
- as /ə/: gynaecologistBrE
- as /eɪ/ or /iː/: sundae
- as /eə/: aerobic - aeroplaneBrE
- Main article: Decoding 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
- Main article: Decoding exercises: "arr"
- /æ/: barrier - carry - embarrass - marriage - marry - narrative - narrow
- /ɒ/,BrE /ɔː/AmE: warrant - warranty
- /ə/: arrange - arrest - arrive
- 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
- Waze - ways
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.
- Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, accessible with /ɪ/.
- Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. accessible with /ə/.
- Collins English Dictionary, character with /ɪ/.
- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, character with /ə/.
- Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. chocolate with /ɪ/.
- Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, chocolate with /ə/.
- Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary, extravagant with /ɪ/.
- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, extravagant with /ə/.