Pronunciation exercises: /ʌ/ vs /æ/

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cat /kæt/


cut /kʌt/

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 /ʌ/ and /æ/.

Depending on their mother tongue (L1)—and in the case of Spanish depending on their country of origin (see IPA phoneme /ʌ/#Spanish)—students may have difficulty distinguishing between these two sounds. More often than not, these supposed difficulties depend more on the interference of L1 than on the actual difficulties posed by English, and many, if not most students will greatly improve their pronunciation by simply becoming aware of certain differences - together with a minimum of practice.

Don't forget that intonation, linking and stress, both for individual words and for sentence stress, are also, of course, of vital importance in speaking better English.


  • with "u": but - fun - just - much - must - number - public - result - run - study - such - sun - Sunday - under - up - us
  • with "o": another - brother - come - company - cover - done - love - Monday - money - mother - other

Homophones: nun - none; won - one; sum - some; sun - son


  • back - bad - black - can - fact - family - hand - happen - land - man - matter - plan - sand - stand - thank - understand - value

/ʌ/ vs /æ/[edit]

  • bug - bag; bun - ban; but - bat; cup - cap; crush - crash; cut - cat; done - Dan; drug - drag; flash - flush; fun - fan; hang - hung; hut - hat; luck - lack; mud - mad; run - ran; some - Sam; suck - sack; stuck - stack; stuff - staff; swum - swam; tonne/ton - tan; truck - track; uncle - ankle;
  • hundred - hand; under - ANDING
Not safe for classroom
  • fucked - fact;

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 speakers can be divided into those who pronounce "cantri clab" and those who pronounce "contri clob" (for "country club"). In Spain, Chile and Argentina /ʌ/ is heard as [a], whereas in Mexico, Central America and Venezuela it is heard as [o].

Since most translations into Latin American Spanish are made in Mexico, Psyduck (a Pokémon) is pronounced [ˈsaidok] even in Chile and Argentina. "Bubble Guppies" is translated in Argentina, and presumably Mexican children say [ˈbabḷ ˈgapis]. See Bubble Guppies Español Latino ¿Quien va a ser el malvado lobo feroz?

/ʌ/ as [a][edit]

For those in the first group the "problem" is that, although /ʌ/ is very similar to the Spanish vowel "a", it is in fact "much" shorter, while /æ/ doesn't exist as such. Many of them have difficulty distinguishing between "hungry" and "angry". Others may think than "son" and "sun" are not homophones.

Another difficulty is remembering that there are many common words with the letter "o" pronounced /ʌ/.

/ʌ/ as [o][edit]

Those in the second group normally don't even know that /ʌ/, the stressed vowel of "brother" is different form /ɒ/, the one of "bother".


To help students pronounce /æ/ there are three schools of thought:

  • Practising the Spanish "a" followed rapidly by the "e" (however this would result in a diphthong like the one in "eye").
  • A better method would be trying to produce a sound in between Spanish "a" [a] and Spanish "e" [e] at the same time, or opening the mouth to say [a] and trying to pronounce [e].
  • The third alternative is to believe the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1966) that thinks /æ/ currently sounds [a] in Received Pronunciation. For a discussion see [1]. This would result in sounding /æ/ as Spanish "a" and practising /ʌ/ as a different vowel, midway between Spanish "o" and Spanish "a". This could be dubbed the Mexican approach, as they are the biggest group who says "contri clob".


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