Vowels 1 and 19, /i/ versus /eə/: 139 pairs.    [feefare.html]

Considering that the /eə/ diphthong ranks 19th in frequency, occurring in only 962 words in this dictionary, the list of minimal pairs with /i/ is much longer than might be expected. One reason is that the /eə/ sound has many different spellings and leads to a great number of homophones, including the air/Ayr/e'er/ere/heir set, which is the only five-way homophone in English RP. If you look down the left hand side of the list, you will see many words occurring several times, such as pea, tease, thee and wheeze, as each is contrasted with a different homophone.

The contrast is probably not a great source of difficulty for learners.

There is one unexpected pair due to -r occurring in an inflected form though silent in the root, keyring and caring. Other interesting pairs include:

cheese chairs
deed dared
impede impaired
sneeze snares
squeeze squares

The mean density is 3.5%. The 144 pairs make 95 contrasts, giving a semantic loading figure of 66%.

B bare
  B's bares
B bear
  B's bears
be bare
be bear
bead bared 
bean bairn 
  beans bairns 
bee bare
  bees bares
bee bear
  bees bears
been bairn
bleed blared
cheese chairs 
deed dared 
D dare
D's dares
deed dared
E air
  E's airs
E Ayr
E e'er
E ere
E heir
  E's heirs
ease airs
ease heirs
fee fair
  fees fairs
fee fare
  feed fared
  fees fares
flea flair
  fleas flairs
flea flare
  fleas flares
flee flair
  flees flairs
flee flare
  flees flares
glee glare
glees glares
he hair
he hare
he Herr
heed hared
impede impaired 
keen cairn 
  keens cairns 
key care
  keyed cared 
  keys cares 
keyless careless 
keyring caring 
knee ne'er
lea lair
  leas lairs 
lead laird 
leads lairds
lee lair
  lees lairs
Leeds lairds
Leigh lair
me mare
me mayor
mi mare
mi mayor
P pair
  P's pairs
P pare
  P's pares
P pear
  P's pears
pea pair
  peas pairs
pea pare
  peas pares
pea pear
  peas pears
pease pairs
pease pares
pease pears
pee pair
  peed paired
  pees pairs
pee pare
  peed pared
  pees pares
pee pear
  pees pears
quay care
  quays cares
re rare
she share
ski scare
  ski'd scared 
  skis scares 
sneeze snares 
speed spared 
squeeze squares 
steed stared 
T tare
  T's tares
T tear
  T's tears
tea tare
  teas tares
tea tear
  teas tears
tease tares
tease tears
tee tare
  tees tares
tee tear
  tees tears
thee their
thee there
thee they're
these theirs 
these there's
ti tare
ti tear
we ware
  we'd wared 
we wear
we where
wee ware
  weed wared
  wees wares
wee wear
  wees wears
wee where
  wees where's
wheeze wares
wheeze wears
wheeze where's
ye yeah

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