Decoding the letter E

From Teflpedia

ɪə

hear /hɪər/

ɜː

verb /vɜːrb/

scene /siːn/

e

dress /dres/

The letter E (lowercase e, pronounced /iː/), as most vowel letters in English, has four main pronunciations:

It also can be pronounced /ɪ/ as in believe — plus other, less common pronunciations, sometimes in combination with other letters, and, of course, it can be used as schwa. Its use as a final, silent e should also be pointed out. Plus the two pronunciations of the English definite article, the (usually, /ðiː/ before a vowel sound and /ðə/ before a consonant sound).

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/

As /iː/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /iː/
See also So-called “long e”

  • at end: be - he - me - she - we
  • as stressed syllable: appreciate, equal, even, evening, evil, female, frequent, immediately, legal, meter, metreBrE, previous, procedure, recent, region, secret, senior, sequence, species, vehicle
  • with magic e: athlete - Chinese - compete - complete - concede - concrete - extreme - Japanese - Lebanese - Portuguese - scene - Steve - theme - these
  • Plurals of Greek words: analyses - crises - oases - theses
  • Male Greek names: Achilles /əˈkɪliːz/ - Archimedes /ˌɑːrkəˈmiːdiːz/ - Diogenes /daɪˈɒdʒəniːz/ - Hercules /ˈhɜrkjəliːz/ - Sophocles /ˈsɒfəkliːz/ - Ulysses /ˈjuːlɪsiːz,BrE juːˈlɪsiːzAmE/

As /e/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /e/
See also So-called “short e” and Word stress § The letter e

  • ending in e + consonants: accept, bell, bend, best, bet, correct, desk, egg, end, expect, forget, get, hell, help, hotel, jet, leg, lend, let, met, neck, next, pen, protect, rent, request, sell, send, set, spend, suggest, tell, theft, well, went, wet, when, yell, yes
  • eCV: benefit, credit, development, eleven, every, evidence, exit, general, level, never, present, president, second, special, several, very
  • other: better, center, edge, else, enter, entrance, envy, identity, investment, letter, member, question, section, sentence, together, whether

As /ɪ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ɪ/

  • As a stressed syllable: England - English - pretty
  • As an initial unstressed syllable, especially, but not exclusively, in two-syllable verbs:
  • verbs: believe - defeat - defend - receive - rehearse - release - repeat - respect - retrieve
  • others: defence - eleven - enough
See also Word stress § The letter e
  • as past tense of regular verbs finishing /t/ or /d/: accepted - arrested - awarded - loaded - offended - recorded - repeated - sorted - suggested - tempted - wanted

As /iː/ or /ɪ/[edit]

As a final unstressed vowel. See also Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/ § Unstressed syllable and Decoding exercises: "é".

  • apostrophe, catastrophe, coyote, karate, karaoke, machete, maybe, recipe, sesame
  • abalone - aborigine - adobe - anemone - Apache - apocope - epitome - Comanche - guacamole - hyperbole - simile - syncope - tamale
  • Chile - Gethsemane - Jesse - Yosemite
  • Female Greek names: Antigone /ænˈtɪgəniː/ - Aphrodite /ˌæfrəˈdaɪtiː/ - Ariadne /ˌæriːˈædniː/ - Berenice /ˌberəˈnaɪsiː/ - Calliope /kəˈlaɪəpiː/ - Chloe /ˈkləʊiː/ - Circe /ˈsɜːrsiː/ - Daphne /ˈdæfniː/ - Eurydice /jʊˈrɪdəsiː/ - Euterpe /juːˈtɜːrpiː/ - Hebe /ˈhiːbiː/ - Hermione /hɜːrˈmaɪəniː/ - Irene /aɪˈriːniː/ - Melpomene /melˈpɒməniː/ - Mnemosyne /niˈmɒsəni, niˈmɒzəni/ - Nike /ˈnaɪkiː/ - Penelope /pəˈneləpiː/ - Persephone /pərˈsefəniː/ - Phoebe /ˈfiːbiː/ - Selene /sɪˈliːniː/ - Terpsichore /tɜrpˈsɪkəriː/ - Zoe /ˈzəʊiː/

As schwa[edit]

See main article schwa.

See also #"er" below

  • at end: business, current, different, eleven, even, government, happen, investment, interest, item, level, listen, model, moment, often, open, parent, president, problem, recent, seven, statement, student, system, travel

Spelling anomaly[edit]

As /eɪ/: carburetorAmE

Silent "e"[edit]

Silent final "e"[edit]

See main article Silent e.

In addition to magic e (next section) we have examples like dance, horse, giraffe, little and have.

Magic e[edit]

The pattern VCe#, where V is any vowel, C is any consonant and # is the end of the word, is known as magic e.

Magic e is silent but not redundant, as these examples show:

  • /æ/ - /eɪ/: rat - rate; /ɑː/ - /eə/: car - care;
  • /e/ - /iː/: get - scene; /ɜː/ - /ɪə/: her - here;
  • /ɪ/ - /aɪ/: quit - quite; /ɜː/ - /aɪə/: sir - fire
  • /ɒ/ - /əʊ/: hop - hope; /ɔː/ - /ɔː/: north - more
  • /ʌ/ - /juː/: tub - tube; /ɜː/ - /jʊə/: fur - cure

Many compound words and words with suffixes have a silent e in the middle of the word

  • careless, extremely, evening, fireproof, forecast, lively, moreover, pipeline, precisely, rarely, safety, shareholder, statement

Past tense of regular verbs[edit]

See main article Past tense pronunciation.

  • grabbed, liked, played, trapped

Other[edit]

  • "er" as /r/: different, interest, preference, several
  • improvement, lovely, movement, relatively, somebody, something, sometimes, vineyard

See also Varisyllabic words.

Combinations[edit]

ea[edit]

See main article Decoding exercises: "ea".

  • as /iː/: beach - bead - beat - bleach - breathe - cheat - clean - cream - creature - deal - dream - each - easy - eat - feature - heal - heat - increase - jeans - lead (verb) - leader - leaf - lean - leave - meal - mean - meat - pea - peach - peak - please - reach - read - repeat - reason - reveal - scream - sea - seal - seat - steal - steam - stream - teach - team - treat - weak
  • as /e/: ahead - already - bread - breakfast - breast - breath - cleanse - dead - deaf - dealt - death - dread - dreadful - feather - head - header - health - heather - heavy - instead - jealous - lead (metal) - leapt - leather - meadow - meant - measure - pheasant - pleasant - pleasure - read (past tense and past participle) - ready - spread - steady - sweat - thread - threat - threaten - treachery - tread - treadmill - treasure - wealth - weapon - weather
ear
  • as /ɪə/: clear - dear - ear - fear - hear - near
  • as /eə/: bear - wear
  • as /ɜː/: early - earn - earth - heard - hearse - learn - pearl - rehearsal - rehearse - search

ee[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /iː/.

  • /iː/ agree - between - breed - breeze - deep - eel - fee - feel - free - greed - green - guarantee - knee - leek - meek - meet - need - reed - see - seed - seek - sleek - steel - steep - tee - teeth - tree - weed - week
  • /iː/ or /ɪ/. See Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/#Word_final: coffee - commitee

"ee" is a very reliable spelling pattern. Probably the only exception is the word "been".

eer
  • /ɪə/: career - deer - engineer - peer
  • /iːə/: freer

ei[edit]

See main article Decoding exercises: "ei"

ey[edit]

See main article Decoding exercises: "ey"

eu[edit]

See main article Decoding exercises: "eu".

  • As /juː/: eucalyptus - euphoria
  • As /juː/ or /uː/: neuter - neutral
  • As /iːə/: museum
eur
  • As /jʊə/: euro - Europe - European
  • As /jʊə/ or /ʊə/: neuron
  • As /ə/: amateur

ew[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /uː/.

  • As /uː/: brew - chew - crew - jewel - screw
Past tense: blew - drew - flew - grew - threw
  • As /juː/ or /uː/: knew - new - stew
  • As /juː/: few - nephew
  • Anomalies: as /əʊ/: sew - sewn

er[edit]

Main article: Decoding exercises: "er"

  • /ɜː/: defer - fern - her - herd - person - prefer - sperm - stern - term - tern - were
  • /ə/: butter - ever - never - summer - teacher - water - weather
ere
  • /ɪə/: here - mere - severe - sphere
  • /eə/: there - where
err
  • /e/: deterrentBrE - error - Jerry - territory - terrorist
  • /ɜː/: deferred - deferring - deterrentAmE - preferred - preferring

Other[edit]

  • /aɪ/: eye
  • "eo"
Main article: Decoding exercises: "eo"
  • /iː/: people
  • /e/: jeopardiseBrE - jeopardize - leopard
  • /ɪ/ or /ə/: pigeon
  • /ə/: surgeon
Two syllables:
  • /iːɒ/: neon
  • /iːəʊ/: rodeo - Romeo - stereo - video

Homophones[edit]

See main article Homophone.

  • blew - blue; hear - here; he'd - heed; heel - he'll; leak - leek; meat - meet; read (present) - reed (tall grass-like plant from wet places); read (past) - red; sea - see - C; steal - steel; tern (bird similar to a gull) - turn; threw - through; weak - week; we'll - wheel; we'd - weed;

Respellings[edit]

Def Leppard, Deftones, Led Zeppelin, Megadeth

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 as /e/ which is very similar to the letter "e" in Spanish, forgetting that very often "e" sounds as /iː/. This is particularly true of cognates, such as previous (previo) pronounced as */ˈprevjəs/, region (región) pronounced as */ˈredʒən/ or worse */ˈredʒjən/, or decent (decente) pronounced as */ˈdesənt/.

The same situation arises when the sequence "er" is sounded /ɪər/. For example, they tend to pronounce */ˈperjəd/ instead of /ˈpɪəriːəd/ (English "period", Spanish período or periodo).

References[edit]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]