Phoneme /æ/ in General American

From Teflpedia


bath /bæθ/


trap /træp/

In General American the IPA phoneme /æ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "trap", "hat" and "brand" and also in "bath", "laugh" and "ask".

In Received Pronunciation, /æ/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "trap", "hat" and "brand". In "bath", "laugh" and "ask" /ɑː/ is used.

The IPA phonetic symbol [æ] corresponds to the /æ/ sound as pronounced by an American. The same phoneme has the sound [a] in Received Pronunciation, and that is the controversial notation used by the Concise Oxford Dictionary.[1]

In Teflpedia a broad notation is used. This means that the difference between American [æ] and British [a] is not important, and both pronunciations are rendered as /æ/. Slashes are used for broad notation and brackets are used for narrow notation.

This phoneme is informally called “short a” or the short sound of the letter a. Better pronounceable names are the TRAP vowel and the vowel of TRAP.

Trap-bath 2.png

Common words

Some common words which practice the pronunciation of /æ/ include the following:

  • with "a": act - add - afterAmE - and - ankle - ant - askAmE - back - band - bad - bat - bathAmE - can - can'tAmE - draftAmE - exampleAmE - family - halfAmE - hand - happen - have - land - lastAmE - man - plan - ratherAmE - sad - staffAmE - stand - taskAmE - trap
  • with "au": auntAmE - laughAmE


/æ/ is always followed by one or more consonants. In derived words a single consonant is usually doubled (plan - planned; dad - daddy).

Followed by a single consonant Followed by a double consonant
/æ/ family - travel - value daddy - happen - planned
/eɪ/ information - make - paper bass (in music)

Spelling anomalies

  • meringue /məˈræŋ/ - plaid /plæd/


  • patent
/ˈpætənt/: right to make an invention
/ˈpeɪtənt/: obvious, evident

Variant pronunciations

  • catch /kætʃ, ketʃAmE/


In North America the sequence /ær/ followed by a vowel (as in "marry") is often pronounced /er/ (as in "merry") or /eər/ (as in Mary).

See Mary-marry-merry merger and Decoding exercises: "arV" and "arrV".

The following words appear with NAmE /ær/ in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

  • apparent, barrier, character, characteristic, carry, comparison, embarrass, guarantee, marriage, marry, narrative, narrow

The following words appear with NAmE /er, ær/ in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

  • variable, various, vary

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.


See Pronunciation exercises: /ʌ/ vs /æ/ § Spanish.

See also