The spelling of /t/ is usually <t>, <te> or <tt>, but we also often see <ght> in sight. The /z/ sound is <s>, <se>, <z> or <zz>. Notice how the homograph bows makes pairs with boat and bout.
The contrast is between a voiceless plosive and a voiced fricative, close together in the mouth. The sounds are widespread in most of the world's languages, and the contrast is not a problem for learners.
A few of the pairs arise from contrasting a -t past participle with a 3rd-person -s, burnt/burns, spilt/spills, etc. Many pairs arise from contrasting a word ending in -t with a plural, cart/cars. This accounts for the relatively high semantic loading, since these pairs cannot be inflected further.
Interesting pairs include:
The mean density value is 1.8%. The list makes 380 semantic distinctions, a loading of 85%.
abate obeys acute accuse alight allies aright arise art R's at as ate A's aught awes avert avers bait baize bandit bandies bant banns Bart baas batik bezique battle Basil beat B's belt belles belt bells bent bens Bert burrs bight buys bight byes billet billies bit biz bite buys bite byes blurt blurs boat beaux boat bows bolt boles bolt bowls boot boos boot booze booting boozing booty boozy bought boars bought bores bout boughs bout bows Brent Brens Bridget bridges bruit brews bruit bruise bruiting bruising brute brews brute bruise built bills bullet bullies burnt burns but buzz butt buzz butting buzzing butter buzzer butters buzzers buttered buzzard cannot cannas cant cans can't khans cart cars caught cause caught caws cent sends chart chars chat Chas cheat cheese chute shoes cite size citing sizing cite sighs civet civies climate climbers colt coals communicate communiqués competition composition competitions compositions complaint complains confute confuse confuting confusing conjoint conjoins constraint constrains cont cons coot coos corset corses corset courses coterie causerie coteries causeries court cause courting causing court caws covert covers covet coveys crate craze crotchet crotches cult culls curt curs cute cues cute Q's cute queues date days date daze dating dazing daunt dawns dealt dells debt Des dent dens despite despise determinate determiners dhotis dozes diet dyers dint dins distraint distrains ditty dizzy ditties dizzies doesn't dozens dolt doles dote does dote doze doting dozing doubt dhows doubt dowse doubting dowsing drought drowse dwelt dwells eat E's eat ease eating easing edit eddies eight A's emigrate émigrés excite excise exciting excising exit X's faint feigns fate phase faucet forces fault falls feat fees feet fees felt fells ferret ferries fête phase fêting phasing fillet fillies fit fizz fitting fizzing fleet fleas flight flies float floes flute flues footfault footfalls fort fours fought fours freight frays freight phrase freighting phrasing fright fries gait gays gait gaze gallant gallons gamut gammas gate gays gate gaze gating gazing gent gens ghat gauze gloat glows goat goes granite grannies grate grays grate graze grating grazing great graze great grays groat grows guilt gills gullet gullies habituate habitués Haiti hazy halt halls Harriet harriers hat has hatchet hatches hate haze hating hazing haunt horns heat he's height hies hilt hills hit his hoot whose hunt Huns hurt hers incite incise inciting incising it is jilt gills joint joins junket junkies jute Jews Kate K's Kent kens kilt kills lancet lances late lays late laze later laser latter lazar learnt learns lent lens let Les lied leas light lies littered lizard loot loos loot lose looting losing looter loser looters losers lucent loosens malt mauls mart Mars matchet matches mate Mays midget midges milt mills misspelt misspells mitre miser mitres misers mitten mizen mittens mizens moat mows moated moseyed moot moos motel moselle motels moselles moult moles mute mews mute muse muting musing mutely muesli natal nasal naught gnaws newt news note knows note nose noting nosing oat O's ought awes overstate overstays overwrought overawes paint pains pant pans panty pansy panties pansies part parrs part parse parting parsing parties parses pate pays peat P's peat peas pennant pennons pert purrs Pete P's Pete peas phut fuzz pint pines plaint plains plate plays pleat pleas pleat please pleating pleasing plight plies poppet poppies port pause porting pausing port paws prate praise prating praising privet privies pullet pulleys punt puns puppet puppies pursuit pursues quiet choirs quilt quills quit quiz quitting quizzing ratchet ratches rate raise rating raising rate rays rattle razzle refute refuse refuting refusing regent regions regiment regimens relate relays rent wrens restraint restrains ret res retort resort retorted resorted retorting resorting retorts resorts right rise righting rising rite rise Robert robbers root rues rotary rosary rotaries rosaries rote rose rout rouse routing rousing runt runs saint seines scant scans scent sends scout scows seat C's seat seize seating seizing sent sends set says sextant sextons sheet she's short shores shunt shuns sight size sight sighs silt sills site size site sighs sitters scissors skeet skis skint skins slate slays sleety sleazy sleetier sleazier sleetiest sleaziest smelt smells snort snores socialite socialize sooty Susie sort soars Southport southpaws spate spays spelt spells spilt spills spirt spurs spite spies spoilt spoils sport spores spout spouse start stars state stays statute statues stilt stills stoat stows straight strays stunt stuns suit sous summat summers sunburnt sunburns T zee talent talons tap zap tapped zapped tapping zapping taps zaps tar Tsar tars Tsars tart tars taught tawse taught tors teat T's Ted Z Teds Z's teeter teaser teeters teasers ten Zen tenant tenons tent tens test zest thought thaws throat throes tight ties tilt tills ting zing tint tins tip zip tipped zipped tipping zipping tips zips to zoo tomb zoom tombs zooms tonal zonal tone zone toned zoned tones zones toning zoning too zoo toot twos tort tawse tort tors tote toes tote tows trait trays treat trees trite tries tweeters tweezers two zoo twos zoos unlearnt unlearns Violet violas volt voles vulcanite vulcanize wait ways warrant warrens wart wars watt was welt wells went wens wert whirrs wheat wees whereat whereas whit whiz white Y's white wise whiter wiser whitest wisest Wight Y's Wight wise wilt wills winter Windsor write rise writing rising writings risings written risen wrote rose writer riser writers risers wrought roars Yate yeas
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, February 2010.