Vowels 13 and 14, /eɪ/ versus /aɪ/     405 pairs       [hayhigh.html]

The /eɪ/ diphthong is spelled <aCe>, <ai>, <ay> or <ei> in freight, and occurs in the letter name A. The /aɪ/ diphthong is spelled <iCe>, <igh>, <ie>, <y> and <uy> in buy, and is found in the letter names I and Y.

This is a contrast between two front closing diphthongs. The contrast is unstable in some British accents, notably Cockney, exemplified in the old joke:

Injured patient: Have they brought me here to die?
Nurse: Nah, yesterdy.
The contrast features in a memorable line from the song Gee Officer Krupcke in the musical West Side Story, "He's depraved on account he's deprived." I have not heard of this distinction causing problems for foreign learners. Many learners do not use a diphthong corresponding to /eɪ/ but they will tend to replace it with a monophthong /e/.

Interesting pairs include:

basin bison
heinous highness
obeyed abide
rapist ripest

The density figure is 5.6%. The set makes 203 semantic contrasts giving a loading of 50.1%.

  A's I's
ace ice 
  aces ices
Ada Ida
aid I'd 
aids ides
ail I'll 
ail aisle
  ails aisles
ail isle
  ails isles  
aim I'm 
allay ally
  allayed allied
  allaying allying
  allays allies
appraise apprise
  appraised apprised
  appraises apprises
  appraising apprising
array awry
arrays arise 
assayed aside 
assays assize
Avon Ivan 
babel Bible
  babels Bibles 
bail bile
bailors bylaws
bait bite
  baiting biting
  baits bights
bake bike
  baked biked
  bakes bikes
  baking biking
bale bile
bane bine
basin bison
bay buy
bayed bide
  baying buying 
  bays buys
belay belie
  belayed belied
  belaying belying
  belays belies
birthrate birthright
  birthrates birthrights
braid bride
  braids brides
brain brine
  brainier brinier
  brainiest briniest
  brains brines
brainy briny
breadthways breadthwise
broadways broadwise
caned kind
chain chine
  chains chines
chaise shies
claim climb
  claimed climbed
  claiming climbing
  claims climbs
clave Clive 
craze cries
dace dice
dame dime
  dames dimes
Dane dine
  Danes dines
Dave dive
day die
  days dies
deign dine
  deigned dined
  deigning dining
  deigns dines
deprave deprive
  depraved deprived
  depraves deprives
  depraving depriving
dray dry
  drays dries
edgeways edgewise
endways endwise	 
fail file
  failed filed
  failing filing
  failings filings
  fails files
fain fine
fate fight
  fates fights
favour fiver
  favours fivers
feign fine
  feigned fined
  feigning fining
  feigns fines
feigned find
fête fight
  fêtes fights
  fêting fighting
fey fie
flay fly
  flaying flying
  flays flies
fray fry
  frayed fried
  fraying frying
  frays fries
freight fright
  freighted frighted
  freighting frighting
  freights frights
Gael guile
gale guile
gaols Giles 
gay guy 
  gays guys 
gazes guises
glade glide
  glades glides
grained grind
grape gripe
  grapes gripes
hake hike
hate height
  hates heights
hay hi
haze hies
heinous highness
Kate kite
knaves knives
label libel
  labelled libelled
  labelling libelling
  labels libels
lace lice
laden Leiden 
lain line
lake like
  lakes likes
lame lime
  lamed limed
  lames limes
  laming liming
lane line
  lanes lines
late light
  lately lightly
  later lighter
  latest lightest
lave live
  laves lives
lay lie
  laying lying
  lays lies
layer liar
  layers liars
leastways leastwise
lengthways lengthwise
longways longwise
mace mice
mail mile
  mailed mild
  mails miles 
maim mime
  maimed mimed
  maiming miming
  maims mimes
Maine mine
mains mines
make mike 
  makes mikes
male mile
  males miles
maser miser
  masers misers
mate might
mate mite
  mates mites
matey mighty
may my
nay night
n�e nigh
neigh nigh
obeyed abide
overlay overlie
  overlaying overlying
  overlays overlies
paid pied
pail pile
  pails piles
pain pine
  pained pined
  paining pining
  pains pines
paint pint
  paints pints
pale pile
  paled piled
  paling piling
  pales piles	  
pane pine
  panes pines  
paper piper
  papers pipers
pay pie
  pays pies
payer pyre
  payers pyres
plate plight
  plated plighted
  plates plights
play ply
  played plied
  playing plying
  plays plies
players pliers
praise pries
praise prise
  praised prised
  praises prises
  praising prising
praise prize
  praised prized
  praising prizing
  praises prizes
pray pry
  prayed pried
  prays pries
  praying prying
prays prise
prays prize
prayed pride
pail pile
pale pile
race rice
raid ride 
  raiding riding
  raids rides
raider rider
  raiders riders
rail rile
  railed riled
  railing riling
  rails riles
rain Rhine 
rained rind
raise rise
  raises rises
  raising rising
raiser riser
  raisers risers
rake Reich 
  rakes Reichs 
rape ripe
rapist ripest
rate right
  rated righted
  rates rights
  rating righting
rate rite
  rates rites
rate write
  rates writes
rating writing
  ratings writings
rave rive
  raved rived
  raves rives
  raving riving
ray rye
ray wry
rays rise
relay rely
  relayed relied
  relaying relying
  relays relies
remainder reminder
  remainders reminders
  remained remind
safer cipher 
sandpaper sandpiper
  sandpapers sandpipers
sate cite
  sated cited 
  sates cites 
  sating citing 
sate sight
  sates sights
  sated sighted
  sating sighting
sate site
  sates sites
seined signed
shade shied
slate slight
  slated slighted
  slates sleights
  slating slighting
slay sly
  slayer slyer
sleigh sly
sleighed slide
space spice
  spaced spiced
  spaces spices
  spacing spicing
spade spied
Spain spine
spake spike
spate spite
  spates spites
spay spy
  spaying spying
  spays spies
spray spry
  sprayer spryer
stale style
  staled styled
  stales styles
  stalest stylist
  staling styling
stay sty
  stays sties
strayed stride
swain swine
tail tile
  tailed tiled
  tailing tiling
  tails tiles
take tike
  takes tikes 
tale tile
  tales tiles  
tame time
  tamed timed
  tamely timely
  tames times
  taming timing
tame thyme
tape type
  taped typed
  tapes types
  taping typing
they thy
trace trice
  traced triced
  traces trices
  tracing tricing
trade tried
trait trite
tray try
  trays tries
twain twine
  twains twines
underlay underlie
  underlain underline
underrate underwrite
  underrates underwrites
  underrating underwriting
vain vine
vale vile
vane vine
  vanes vines
vapour viper
  vapours vipers
wade wide
  wader wider
waif wife
wail while
  wailed whiled
  wailing whiling
wain whine
  wains whines
wain wine
  wains wines  
wait white
  waiting whiting
  waits whites
waiter whiter
waive wive
  waived wived
  waives wives
  waiving wiving
wail while
  wails whiles
wail wile
  wails wiles
wane whine
  waned whined
  waning whining
wait Wight
way Y
  ways Y's
weigh why
weigh Y
  weighs Y's
weight white    

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, December 2009
updated Chiang Mai, 2024