Spelling patterns for the letter A

From Teflpedia


In Received Pronunciation (RP) the letter A (lower case 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 source]

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/

See main article IPA phoneme /æ/.

At the beginning or the middle of a word[edit source]

One syllable[edit source]

  • /æ/: am - and - at - bag - bat - can - cat - fan - ham - hand - land - man - map - sand - stand
  • /ɑː/. Before /f, n, s/ and /θ/: advantage - 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 - wasp - watch - what
  • /ə/: weak forms: a - can - than

Several syllables[edit source]

One consonant[edit source]

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

Last syllable
  • /æ/: exam, Japan - program
  • /ə/: African, American, dollar, final, human, legal, local, organ, popular, several, similar, 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 source]

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 source]

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 source]

One syllable[edit source]

Several syllables[edit source]

  • /ə/: area - camera - comma - formula - idea - opera
Africa - America - Argentina - Barbara - China - Colombia - Jessica - Montana - Russia

Silent A[edit source]

  • basically - logically - practically - typically

Combined with another letter[edit source]

With magic e[edit source]

  • 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 source]

  • /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 source]

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

"ae" in words of Greek origin[edit source]

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 source]

  • /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
  • /e/: again (also /əˈɡeɪn/) - said

"ay"[edit source]

  • /eɪ/: day - pay - play - May - say - stay - tray
  • /e/: says

"au"[edit source]

See main article Decoding exercises: "au"

  • /ɔː/: August - author - autumn - caught - cause - daughter - taught;
  • /ɒ/: Aussie - Australia - Austria;
  • /ɑː/ : aunt - laugh

"aw"[edit source]

  • /ɔː/: draw - law - raw - saw
  • /ɔɪ/: lawyer /ˈlɔːjər, ˈlɔɪər/

"ar"[edit source]

  • /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 source]

  • /æ/: ad - add;
  • /ɑː/: aren't - aunt;
  • /eɪ/: 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
  • /eə/: bare - bear; pair - pear;
  • /ɔː/: clause - claws; pause - paws;

Different pronunciations in the same word[edit source]

  • Africa/African - America/American - Australia/Australian - Austria/Austrian - average - character - language

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit source]

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 source]

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 source]

  1. Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, cáterin.

See also[edit | edit source]