Vowel Minimal Pairs: Pronunciation Exercises

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American English Pronunciation Course

Vowel Minimal Pairs: Pronunciation Exercises Espresso EnglishMinimal pairs are two words whose pronunciation is different by only one sound – like reach and rich, or man and main. In this lesson, you’re going to practice your pronunciation of similar English words with minimal pairs exercises.

Minimal Pair #1 – bought / boat / but

The sound in bought is like in the words saw, call, and automatic. Notice that this sound can be spelled several different ways – the spelling of English words is often very different from their pronunciation!

Repeat after me:

bought / saw / call / automatic

The sound in boat is like in the words no, so, and slow.


boat / no / so / slow

Finally, the sound in but is the same as in cut, what, and sun.


but / cut / what / sun

Now practice all three words together:

bought / boat / but

Minimal Pair #2 – late / let

The vowel sound in late is the same as in the words name, take, and eight:

late / name / take / eight

The vowel sound in let is like in the words get, pen, and best.

let / get / pen / best

Repeat these minimal pairs:

late / let

pain / pen

wait / wet

main / men

Minimal pair #3 – bed / bad

Here we have the difference between the “eh” sound like in bed, head, said, and mess – and the “a” sound like in bad, had, mass, sad, and apple.


said / sad

bed / bad

mess / mass

head / had

Minimal pair #4 – feel / fell / fill

The “ee” sound in feel is like in see, meet, and be:

feel / see / meet / be

The “eh” sound in fell is like in the words egg, wet, and better:

fell / egg / wet / better

The “ih” sound in fill is like in will, it, sick, and miss:

fill / will / it / sick / miss

Now try the minimal pairs again:

feel / fell / fill

Minimal pair #5 – luck / look

The sound in luck is like in but, what, bus, and fun:

luck / but / what / bus / fun

The sound in look is like in took, book, and cook:

look / took / book / cook

Now try the minimal pair again:

luck / look

Minimal pair #6 – hat / heart / hot

Let’s practice the “a” sound again:

hat / cat / back / map

Now practice the “ar” sound:

heart / dark / start / park

Now practice this sound:

hot / not / body / got

Finally, practice the minimal pair again:

hat / heart / hot

More pronunciation practice: 

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Vowel Minimal Pairs: Pronunciation Exercises Espresso English

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