The /e/ Sound | British English Pronunciation | Learn English

All about the /e/ sound in British English pronunciation.
My pronunciation course is at http://soundsbritish.com
Technically, the /e/ vowel sound is called the close-mid front unrounded vowel. You can learn more about these technical terms in video number 5 of this series.
Some languages, such as Arabic, Cantonese, German and Hindi, have two forms of the vowel sound /e/, each with its own quality.
At the end of this video there are some minimal pairs exercises to help you to distinguish between, and accurately reproduce, the /e/, the /ɪ/ and the /æ/ vowel sounds.
So how is this /e/ vowel sound represented in written English?
You will be pleased to discover that this is one of the vowels that is mainly spelt one way, with the letter e.
In fact, in 96% of words with the /e/ sound in English, the /e/ sound is represented by the letter e.
Many of these words have come down to us from Old English. Words such as bed, set and let use the letter e to represent the sound /e/.
/bed/ /set/ /let/
However, you’ll already have worked out that if 96% of words with the /e/ sound use the letter e, then 4% of them don’t.
3% of English words with the /e/ sound in them use the letter combination ea.
Words such as breath, bread, death, dead, and head use ea to represent the /e/ sound.
/breθ/ /bred/ /deθ/ /ded/ /hed/
But, remember, not all words with ea or e in them have the /e/ sound.
Take the words breath and breathe as a good example.
/breθ/ /bri:ð/
And did you notice the word many, that I used a few sentences back? Many has the /e/ sound in it, but it uses the letter a. As does the River Thames.
/ˈmenɪ/ /temz/
And the final 1% of words in English that have the /e/ sound use a variety of letter combinations.
Notice how the /e/ sound is represented in the words in the following example sentences.
See if you can hear the /e/ sounds first, then I’ll show you where they all are.
I say, when I’m dead, bury me, but Geoffrey said, on his death he’ll merry be.
/hwen/ /ded/ /ˈberɪ/ /ˈʤefrɪ/ /sed/ /deθ/ /ˈmerɪ/
My friend from Leicester is deaf not dead.
/frend/ /ˈlestə/ /def/ /ded/
There are many books to read, have you read any good ones lately?
/ˈmenɪ/ /red/ /ˈenɪ/
The press said that the member was in debt.
/pres/ /sed/ /membə/ /det/
She says he ate the bread again.
/sez/ /et/ /bred/ /ˈəgen/
Notice that there are two possible pronunciations for the word says, and for the word ate.
/sez/ /et/
Both says and says are acceptable, though says is preferred by over 80% of the population of Britain.
/sez/ /seɪz/
With the word, ate, both ate and ate are acceptable for British English speakers, with ate being slightly more commonly used.
/et/ /eɪt/
American English speakers do not like to use ate. They consider it non-standard.
/et/
And notice, too, the verb to read. The present form, read, and the past form, read, are spelt the same. This makes them homonyms.
/ri:d/ /red/
However, they are pronounced differently, so they are not homophones.
Read and red are homophones, however, and both have the /e/ sound in them.
/red/ /red/
Let’s do a simple minimal pairs exercise, shall we?
In this exercise, I will give you two words that are differentiated only by their vowel sounds.
I will first say both words, and then I will say one of the two words.
Your task is to decide which of the two words given is the third word that I say.
For example, here are two words, weeding and wedding.
/ˈwi:dɪŋ/ /ˈwedɪŋ/
I will say, weeding, wedding. Then I will say one of the words, thus: wedding.
You should have heard the word, wedding, not weeding.
The difference between these two minimal pairs is the vowel sound. In the word, weeding, we have the /i:/ sound.
In the word, wedding, we have the /e/ sound.
The exercise will also look at the difference between the /e/ and the /æ/ sound, as in the words, salary and celery.
/ˈsælərɪ/ /ˈselərɪ/
salary, celery, salary
You should have heard the word with the /æ/ sound, salary, not the word with the /e/ sound, celery.
Okay, now we’ll begin. I’ll give you the answers at the end of the video. Write your answers on a piece of paper. If you are serious about improving your English, then perfecting your accent should be an important part of the process. Visit my pronunciation website at http://soundsbritish.com where you can download free sample copies of my eBook, An Interactive British English IPA Chart, and the 2000+ question Practice Pack that goes with it. Invest in your future today. If you are serious about improving your English, then perfecting your accent should be an important part of the process. Visit my pronunciation website at http://soundsbritish.com where you can download free sample copies of my eBook, An Interactive British English IPA Chart, and the 2000+ question Practice Pack that goes with it. Invest in your future today.

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