Vowels 3 and 19, /e/ versus /eə/    30 pairs      [benbairn.html]

The /e/ vowel is spelled <e> and <ea> in dead. The diphthong /eə/ is spelled <air>, <are> or <ar> in vary.

Although this is a contrast bewteen a short front vowel and a front centring diphthong, the two sounds begin in almost the same place and confusions occur even among native speakers. This applies particularly before /r/ as in ferry/fairy

The density value is 0.5%. The pairs make 26 semantic contrasts, giving a high loading of 87%.

bed bared 
belly barely 
ben bairn
  bens bairns 
bled blared 
cherry chary 
dead dared 
dent daren't 
Des dares
Ed aired
Fed fared
ferry fairy 
  ferries fairies 
fez fairs 
fled flared 
head hared 
herring haring 
ken cairn
  kens cairns 
lead laird 
  leads lairds 
Les lairs
merry Mary 
Pres prayers
shed shared 
sped spared 
stead stared 
very vary
wed wared 
wherry wary 

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, January 2011
updated Chiang Mai, 2024