Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/

From Teflpedia

feel /fiːl/


fill /fɪl/

Together with the page possible pronunciation difficulties, this page sets out some common words teachers can use to help their students become more aware of how they can improve their pronunciation of the vowel sounds /ɪ/ and /iː/.

/ɪ/ is short and lax.

/iː/ is long and tense, normally a diphthong [ij][1] or [iɪ]. Its beginning is not identical to /ɪ/.

Stressed syllable[edit]


Main article: IPA phoneme /ɪ/
  • "i": begin, city, did, in, it, is, his, him, interest, kit, little, sit, six, this, will, with
  • "y": crystal, hymn, physics, rhythm, symbol, symmetry, symptom, typical
  • "u": busy, business
  • "o": women

The sequence /iːŋ/ doesn't exist in English. The following words can't be confused:

  • bring, distinguish, finger, king, ring, sing, single, spring, thing
  • drink, link, pink, sink, think


Main article: IPA phoneme /iː/

A word can't end in stressed /ɪ/. In bold words that can't be confused.

  • "ea": 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
  • "ee": agree - between - keep - feel - feet - fleece - free - meet - need - see - seem - street - week
  • "e": even, region
  • "ie": achieve, believe, brief, chief, field, piece
  • "e"+ magic e: complete, theme
  • "i": police
  • "eo": people

/ɪ/ vs /iː/[edit]

  • bit - beat; chip - cheap; dip - deep; fill - feel; filled - field; fit - feet, feat; gin - gene; grin - green; hill - heal,heel; hip - heap; hit - heat; it - eat; itch - each; kill - keel; kip - keep; lick - leak, leek; list - least; live - leave; mill - meal; pick - peak; pill - peal, peel; pit - Pete; rich - reach; rid - read, reed; ship - sheep; sin - scene, seen; sick - seek; sit - seat; skim - scheme; slit - sleet; slip - sleep; still - steal, steel; tick - teak; Tim - team; whip - weep; will - wheel, we'll; wit - wheat;

The following minimal pairs are not safe for classroom:

  • bitch - beach; piss - peace; shit - sheet

Unstressed syllable[edit]

happy /ˈhæpiː/

In an unstressed syllable /ɪ/ and /iː/ sound pretty similar. Moreover if the syllable ends with one of these vowels, there are no examples of minimal pairs. This means it doesn't matter if someone pronounces "happy" as [ˈhæpɪ] or [ˈhæpiː], or "curious" as [ˈkjʊər.ɪ.əs] or [ˈkjʊər.iː.əs].[2] In Teflpedia we prefer /iː/ because that sound is more common than /ɪ/.[2]

Word final[edit]

Some people use /ɪ/ and others use /iː/

  • "e": apostrophe, catastrophe, Chile, coyote, karate, karaoke, machete, maybe, recipe, sesame, Yosemite
  • "ee": coffee, committee, Yankee
  • "ey": donkey, Geoffrey, hockey, Jeffrey, jersey, journey, kidney, money, Shirley, turkey, valley
  • "i": bikini, broccoli, Burundi, chili,AmE chilli,BrE confetti, deli, graffiti, Haiti, Missouri, Mississippi, origami, safari, spaghetti, sushi, taxi, tsunami, zucchini
  • "ie": calorie, collie, cookie, eerie, goalie, hippie, movie, reverie, Stephanie, zombie
  • "y": actually, already, any, busy, city, company, country, daily, early, every, family, happy, many, only, party, policy, pretty, really, security, silly, story, study, very, worry

Always /iː/

  • "ee": apogee, bumblebee, employee, honeybee, jubilee, manatee, pedigree, perigee, refugee
  • "i": kiwi

Syllable final[edit]

Some people use /ɪ/ and others use /iː/

  • "i": associate - brilliant - curious - euphoria - immediately - material - obvious - previous - serious - variable - various


In the unstressed prefixes be-, de-, pre-, re- and certain word-like combining forms such as multi- or poly-.

In all these cases according to John Wells some people pronounce /ɪ/ and others pronounce /iː/[2] However most dictionaries only give the possibility of /ɪ/.

  • besides /bɪˈsaɪdz/ or /biːˈsaɪdz/
  • defect /ˈdiːfekt/ (stressed /iː/ has no alternatives), /dɪˈfekt/ or /diːˈfekt/
  • multitask /mʌltɪˈtɑːsk/ or /mʌltiːˈtɑːsk/
  • precede /prɪˈsiːd/ or /priːˈsiːd/
  • require /rɪˈkwaɪər/ or /riːˈkwaɪər/
  • polygon /ˈpɒlɪɡən/ or /ˈpɒliːɡən/

Other examples:

  • /iː/ or /ɪ/ as "y": anything, everything

Other cases[edit]

In other cases it is recommended to use /ɪ/. However, there are exceptions like handkerchief (see below). Stress is indicated for clarity.

  • "e": eˈclipse, elˈlipse, eˈmotion, enˈjoy, exˈplain, ˈimplement
  • "i": aˈnalysis, ˈarticle, diˈscuss, ˈfinish, imˈportant, inˈclude, ˈmorning, ˈmusic, ˈnothing, ˈpractice, ˈpublic, ˈservice
  • "y": ˈanalyst, ˈEgypt
  • "aCe": average /ˈævərɪdʒ, ˈævrɪdʒ/, delicate /ˈdelɪkɪt, ˈdelɪkət/, ultimate /ˈʌltəmɪt, ˈʌltɪmət/
  • "ie": handkerchief /ˈhæŋkərtʃɪf, ˈhæŋkərtʃiːf/
  • "u": ˈminute, ˈlettuce
  • "ui": ˈbiscuit, ˈcircuit

Minimal pairs[edit]

There are very few examples of minimal pairs, and most of them involve plurals.

Unstressed /ɪ/ vs. /iː/ Minimal pairs in all dialects

  • axes /ˈæksɪz/ (plural of axAmE or axeBrE) - /ˈæksiːz/ plural of axis
  • bases /ˈbeɪsɪz/ (plural of base) - /ˈbeɪsiːz/ (plural of basis)

Unstressed /ɪ/ vs. /iː/ or /ɪ/ Homophones in some dialects

  • taxes (plural of tax) - taxis (plural of taxi)
  • parted (past tense of part) - partied (past tense of party)

Variant pronunciations[edit]

  • Stressed /ɪ/ or /iː/: barista
  • Unstressed /ɪ/ or /iː/: handkerchief
  • Stressed /iː/, unstressed /ɪ/ or unstressed /iː/: employee

Spanish L1[edit]

Spanish speakers confuse these two sounds. Basically the "problem" is that, both /ɪ/ and /iː/ sound alike to Spanish speaking ears and akin to the Spanish vowel "i". Stressed /ɪ/ is particularly problematic because when a Spanish speaker pronounces [i] instead of [ɪ] it's heard by English Speakers as /iː/. For example "It is" sounds like "Eet ees". The opposite is also true, the tendency being to shorten the /iː/ so it is heard as /ɪ/, with unfortunate consequences in words like "sheet".


  1. English Speech Services, Seeing the FLEECE diphthong, April 30, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 John Wells, believing descriptions, 10 November 2010. happY again, 7 June 2012.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]