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Front-mid-low vs front-low vowels: /ɛ/ vs /æ/

Front-mid-low vs front-low vowels: /ɛ/ vs /æ/

Let’s learn another confusing vowel phoneme pair: /ɛ/ and /æ/. These two vowels can be difficult for non-native speakers because both are frontal and lax vowels. In light of the tongue height, /ɛ/ is low middle and /æ/ is low. For /ɛ/, the muscles of the lips and mouth should be relaxed. After placing the tongue in the middle position, just let the air out to say /ɛ/. 

/æ/ is traditionally classified as a lax vowel, but it takes a lot of muscles to produce the /æ/ sound. This is due to the fact that /æ/ is a low vowel. That is, to place the tongue low, the jaws have to be open. The middle part of the tongue is raised and the tip of the tongue touches the back of the bottom teeth. There is vibration in the throat. People often describe the /æ/ sound as the cry of a goat: “Meh-eh.” We non-native speakers often realize the existence of these two vowels through the pronunciations of ‘men’ and ‘man.’ To distinguish /ɛ/ and /æ/ in ‘men’ and ’man’ respectively, the vowel in ‘man’ is a lot longer than the vowel in men. ‘Men’ has a pure /ɛ/ sound. but ‘man’ has a modified /æ/ sound, as it is pronounced /mæən/. Indeed, when /æ/ comes before nasal consonants, like /n, m/ or voiced consonants like /d, g/ it becomes lengthened and tensed: e.g., fan vs fat, bag vs back

/ɛ/ words

These are words with /ɛ/.

 with “e”: 

accept, bell, bend, best, bet, correct, desk, egg, end, get, hell, help, hotel, jet, leg, lend, let, met, neck, next, pen, sell, send, set, spend, suggest, tell, well, went, wet, when, yell, yes

 with "ea": 

ahead, already, bread, breakfast, breath, cleanse, dead, deaf head, health, Heather, heavy, instead, jealous, pleasure, ready, spread, steady, sweat, threat, threaten, treachery, tread, treadmill, treasure, wealth, weapon, weather 

/æ/ words

These are words with /æ/. 

 with “a”: 

act, actually, add, after, and, ankle, ant, aunt, back, bad, bag, band, banned, bank, bat, black, can, can’t, carry, dam, fact, family, flat, half, hand, happen, happy, hat, land, last, man, match, matter, plan, practice, sad, sat, stand, thank, travel, understand, value, tax, track 

(‘Ant’ and ‘aunt,’ ‘band’ and ‘banned’ are homophones.)

These words have the /æ/ sound with unusual spelling.

laugh, meringue /məˈræŋ/, plaid /plæd/

/æ/ vs /ɛ/ minimal pairs

These are minimal pairs of /æ/ and /ɛ/.

axe, ex

and, end

bad, bed

bag, beg

bland, blend

band, bend

bat, bet

cattle, kettle

dad, dead

dab, deb

fad, fed

flash, flesh

flax, flecks

frat, fret

gas, guess

gnat, net

gassed, guest

had, head

ham, hem

jam, gem

knack, neck

land, lend

man, men

manned, mend

mat, met

pan, pen

pat, pet

rabble, rebel 

rack, wreck

shall, shell

spanned, spend

sacks, sex

sad, said

sat, set

slapped, slept

tack, tech

than, then

track, trek

tamp, temp

tamper, temper

trad, tread

vat, vet

/æ/ vs /ɛ/ in sentences

These are sentences with /ɛ/:

Did you already sell the eggs?

She let her cleanse the heavy desk.

We treasure the pleasure. 

Please tell the pilot the jet is ready.

The wet weather makes us sweat. 

These are sentences with /æ/ sound:

My sad aunt sat on the mat.

He actually laughed because he was happy.

The man will be married soon.

It was a bad plan.

The happy family band can add the aunt.

These sentences have both /ɛ/ and /æ/ 

Bad dog! Get off the bed!

He begged me not to call the police after I caught him trying to steal my bag.

The men cheered as the man came on the stage.

I'll put the kettle on the stove if you can bring the cattle back into the barn.

Please lend me some cash.

He lost his temper when he realized that I tampered with the radio station.