Vowels 1 and 3, /i/ versus /e/   331 pairs      [sealcell.html]

This list includes a number of homographs, the adjective and adverb pair cleanly, the verb and noun pair lead, and the present and past of the verb read with its derivatives lip-read, misread, proof-read and re-read There are several other cases of the /i/ versus /e/ distinction being used to signal present versus past of a verb, namely bleed/bled, breed/bred, feed/fed, feel/fell, plead/pled, and speed/sped, but in those cases we also see a change in the spelling. The strong verb eat/ate could also be included in this set, but this case is complicated by the existence of an alternative spelling-pronunciation for ate as /eɪt/. In the case of leaped/leapt we have differences of sound and spelling but not of meaning. Are they a minimal pair?

The /i/ vowel is commonly spelled with <ee>, <ea>, <ie> as in mien, niece and yield, <eCe> as in cede, <eCV> in beta and acetic, and unusually <ei> in seize. It also occurs in the letter names C and D. The /e/ vowel is most often <e> in monosyllables or before two consonants, but we also see <ea> frequently, and the exceptional <a> in many, <ay> in says and <ai> in said. It occurs in the letter names L, N and X

The fact that /i/ is normally long and /e/ short helps to reduce the difficulty of distinguishing this pair, though it may still cause trouble especially for speakers of syllable-timed languages. Speakers of Arabic and some languages of the Indian sub-continent may have problems. All speakers, however, may have problems with unfamiliar words simply because of the overlap in the spellings. A word like sweater is very likely to be pronounced /`switә/ at the first encounter.

The pairs that seem most interesting include:

There is a slight potential for embarrassment with the pair seeks/sex.

The mean density is 3.9%. The semantic loading is 64%.

acetic ascetic
beacon beckon
  beacons beckons
bead bed
  beading bedding
  beads beds
beak beck
beaks becks
bean ben 
  beans bens
beast best
  beasts bests
beat bet
  beater better
  beaters betters
  beating betting
  beats bets
beater bettor
  beaters bettors
been ben
beet bet
  beets bets
beta better
  betas betters
beta bettor
  betas bettors
bleed bled 
breastfeed breastfed 
breed bread
breed bred
cede said
ceiling selling
cheek check
  cheeked checked 
  cheeking checking 
  cheeks checks
cheek cheque
  cheeks cheques
cheek Czech
  cheeks Czechs
cleanly cleanly
cleans cleanse
cleaver clever
crease cress
creased crest
crossbreed crossbred 
C's says
deal dell
  deals dells
dean den
  deans dens
deceiver dissever
  deceivers dissevers
deed dead 
deep dep
D's Des
each etch
Easter Esther
eat ate 
eel L 
eels L's 
e'en N 
ekes X 
eland Elland 
Ely Ellie 
Eva ever
feed fed 
feel fell
  feeler feller
  feeling felling
  feels fells
feeler fellah
fees fez
f(o)etal fettle
field felled
fiend fend 
  fiends fends 
force-feed force-fed
freed Fred 
geese guess
gene gen 
  genes gens
genie Jenny
  genies jennies
glean glen 
  gleans glens
heal hell
healed held
heals hells
Heanor henna
heap hep
heed head
  heeded headed
  heeding heading 
  heeds heads
heedless headless 
heel hell
  heels hells
heeled held
interbreed interbred 
jean gen
  jeans gens
Jeanie Jenny
keen ken 
  keened kenned
  keening kenning
  keens kens
knead Ned 
kneel knell
kneel Nell
lead lead
  leading leading
  leads leads
lead led
leafed left
league leg
  leagues legs
  leaguing legging
lean Len 
leaned lend
leans lens
leaped leapt
leas Les 
lease less
leased lest
least lest
Leeds leads
lees Les
lied let 
liege ledge 
  lieges ledges 
lip-read lip-read
Lisa lesser
litre letter 
  litres letters 
mead Med 
mean men
meanie many 
meat Met 
meats Metz 
meed Med
meeker Mecca
meet met
meets Metz
mete met
metes Metz
mien men
mislead misled
misread misread
neat net
neat nett
neatly Netley 
need Ned
needy Neddy 
Neil knell
Neil Nell
Nice ness
niece ness
  nieces nesses 
overfeed overfed 
overleaped overleapt
peak peck
  peaked pecked
  peaking pecking
  peaks pecks
peat pet
peaty petty
  peatier pettier
  peatiest pettiest
Peebles pebbles
peek peck
  peeked pecked
  peeking pecking
  peeks pecks
peep pep
  peeped pepped
  peeping pepping
  peeps peps
peeper pepper
  peepers peppers
peke peck
  pekes pecks
Peking pecking
Pete pet
pieced pest 
pique peck 
  piqued pecked 
  piques pecks 
  piquing pecking 
plead pled
priest pressed 
proofread proofread
reach retch
  reached retched
  reaches retches
  reaching retching
reach wretch
  reaches wretches
read read
read red
  reader redder
  reads reds
reading Reading 
reap rep
reaps reps
reed read
reed red
  reeds reds
reedy ready 
  reedier readier 
  reediest readiest 
reef ref
reefed reft
reek wreck
  reeked wrecked
  reeking wrecking
  reeks wrecks
reeks Rex 
reeve rev 
  reeves revs
repeal repel
  repealed repelled
  repealing repelling
  repeals repels
re-present represent
  re-presented represented
  re-presenting representing
  re-presents represents
re-read re-read
reseat reset
  reseating resetting
  reseats resets
Riesling wrestling
scenes sends
seal cell 
  seals cells 
seal sell
  sealing selling
  seals sells
  sealer seller
  sealers sellers
sealer cellar 
  sealers cellars 
seas says
seat set
  seating setting
  seats sets
seat sett
  seats setts
seed said
seek sec 
seek sec
  seeks secs
seeks sex
seeped Sept 
sees says
seize says
sheaf chef 
shield shelled 
siege sedge
  sieges sedges 
signor se´┐Żor
Sikh sec
  Sikhs secs
Sikhs sex
speak spec
  speaks specs
speak speck
  speaks specks
speed sped 
spoonfeed spoonfed 
steam stem
  steamed stemmed
  steaming stemming
  steams stems
steed stead 
steely stele
steep step
  steeped stepped
  steeping stepping
  steeps steps
steep steppe
  steeps steppes
suite sweat
  suites sweats
sweet sweat
  sweets sweats
sweeter sweater 
sweetie sweaty 
teak tec
teak Tech 
teal tel
teal tell
teed Ted
teen ten  
  teens tens 
Tina tenner
Tina tenor
treed tread 
underseal undersell
weal well
  weals wells
weald weld
  wealds welds
weald welled
wean wen
  weans wens
wean when
weaned wend
weed wed
  weeded wedded 
  weeding wedding 
  weeds weds 
wheat wet 
wheat whet
wheel well
  wheeled welled
  wheeling welling
  wheels wells
wheeled weld
wheeling welling 
wield weld
  wielded welded 
  wielding welding 
  wields welds
wield welled
wreak wreck
  wreaked wrecked
  wreaking wrecking
  wreaks wrecks
wreaks Rex
yield yelled

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