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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > pronunciation question    

pronunciation question


pronunciation question
Hi my friends.
A student yesterday asked me why in head     ea is pronounced  like in bed  and  in teacher   ea is pronounced  e. I really didn īt know how to answer. I know that when two vowels are walking the first one does the talking but what is the case in head????

8 Dec 2015      

Russian Federation

According to the rule, ea before "th" and  "d"   is read as [e]  - weather. death, bread, thread, dead, head, meadow

8 Dec 2015     



8 Dec 2015     

Russian Federation

but what about  "breath" and "breathe"?

8 Dec 2015     


I īm not sure, but I think it is because in "breathe" we have the "magic e" rule coming into play. An "e" at the end often modifies the vowel sound in CVC words (here, "th" counts as a single consonant). 
However, it could be to do with the fact that "ea" is often pronounced [i:] and [e] in related pairs of words. The former pronunciation seems to be for the original and the latter for the derived word.
We can see a similar pattern in please - pleasant; heal - health(y); steal - stealth(y);  zeal - zealous (and lots more, I īm sure, but I can īt think of any more for now!).

8 Dec 2015     


There is no magic rule, I suppose, which you can depend on;
Your students will have to study the pronunciation "on a case-by-case basis".
 There is no logic to explain why read is /ri:d/ in the present form and read /red/ in the past form.
The same applies to many other cases.
Just make your students understand that they have to live with it :) 
This is English :)
When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it īs true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose,and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don īt agree.

8 Dec 2015     

United Kingdom

@Sue - good point 
In īSpell it out ī, David Crystal mentions that īeaī was usually pronounced /i:/ but this would change if another word had prior claim.

8 Dec 2015     

United States

If you can, get your hands on a copy of Say the Word: A Guide to Improving Word Recognition Skills. It īs out of print, but widely available at Amazon (US): http://smile.amazon.com/Say-Word-Improving-Recognition-Skills/dp/0883361523/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449625534&sr=8-1&keywords=say+the+word+barbara+rosenberg Shipping outside the US isn īt cheap, but some copies of the book are. I am using it in pronunciation tutoring, and my students begged me to get copies for them too! I don īt require them to get it, but I sold 10 copies this semester.
Barbara Rosenberg Loss, the author, points out that there are actually three standard pronunciations of ea : long e, short e, and long a (she doesn īt use IPA and I īm too lazy to use it myself tonight). If you can get by some of her odd symbols, it īs well worth the effort to get it. 

8 Dec 2015