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How to Pronounce Near-open Front Unrounded Vowel (æ) in American English

A while back I published an article and also a video where I focused upon pronunciation of the so-called “ash” sound (æ) in American English.

You see, back then I’d just realized that the letter ‘A’ can be pronounced differently in certain words despite the phonetic description not revealing anything different about it.

Let’s take, for example, the following two words:

  • Drank /dræŋk/
  • Flat /flæt/

On both occasions, the “ash” sound (æ) represents the letter ‘A’, and previously I would have thought the letter ‘A’ gets pronounced identically in both words “drank” and “flat”.

Turns out that nothing could be further from the truth – on many occasions the “ash” sound gets pronounced as ‘E’ (as in the word “men”; it’s pronounced the same way in the word “drank” as well!) in American English; however, at the time of writing the original article I was still a little bit confused about the whole thing.

Now, more than a year on, I received a comment from Juhapekka (he’s a prolific commentator on my blogs) where he suggests that it’s probably the STRESS (emphasis) that determines whether the letter ‘A’ is pronounced as ‘E’, ‘æ’ or as the “schwa” (ə) sound.

There’s a lot of sense in that statement; however, emphasis alone doesn’t really explain differences in the way the letter ‘A’ is pronounced in certain words. The answer, in my opinion, is more about getting the feel of the American pronunciation and realizing that more often than not, most “ash” sounds are in fact pronounced as ‘E’ in a lot of words in American English. As a matter of fact, I’ve started to believe that it’s one of the characteristic American English sounds, and you’re better off overdoing it a little bit than pronouncing most letters ‘A’ the British way (the typical “ash” sound).

Any more questions?

Feel free to post them below! 😉



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  • Mateus ( Mathew)

    Ok , I have got a question for you . first , the american contrast with british in some ways , but , for me in the word “can” as in ” can you repeat that?” .
    I feel like in british it’s more like (/a/). Probably not exactlly like this because I am not a native speaker. And in American ( /E::/) .I feel that is more open that a “E” , however , the vibraition of the vocal strings remains alike , despite probly being more short .
    I am a Brsilian , and , in the southern dilacts of portuguese , there are a few people that pronounce ” (æ) ” in some invernments .( they are problably decendents of imigrants , I guess”). My question is how to distinguish between the vowels in the words like man , men . I am in the half-path of being fluent in english , and I am not able to see the difference between them .

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