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[ɛ] vs. [æ] | English Vowel Pronunciation


The [ɛ] vs. [æ] sounds have proven to be a difficult set for many English language learners to produce. This is because these lax vowel sounds are not heard in many of the world’s languages.

It’s important to distinguish the [ɛ] vs. [æ] sounds (such as in “bet” vs. “bat”), not because you need to sound like a native speaker or speak perfect English, but because there are plenty of words where these two sounds [ɛ] and [æ] are the only difference between two words’ pronunciations.


  • “bet” vs. “bat”
  • “set” vs. “sat”
  • “letter” vs. “latter” (or “ladder”)
  • “said” vs. “sad”
So, if you mix up the sounds [ɛ] and [æ] here, you run the risk of being misunderstood. Practice the techniques illustrated below to improve your pronunciation of these vowel sounds.

How to Pronounce [ɛ] and [æ]


  • Your lips are slightly open
  • Your lips are mostly relaxed
  • Your tongue rests at the bottom of your mouth


  • Your mouth should open more than with [ɛ], open halfway
  • Your lips are tighter, pulled back more than with [ɛ]
  • You tongue rests at the bottom of your mouth

Practice with the audio

  • “bet” – “bat”
  • “set” – “sat”
  • “letter” – “latter” (or “ladder”)
  • “said” –  “sad”
  • “better” – “batter”

Sample sentences

(I’ve underlined the target sounds for you to focus on):

  • “I bet he’ll be good up at bat.” (referring to baseball)
  • “I sat on the bench and set my watch.”
  • “He climbed the ladder and fetched the letter for me.”
  • “She said she was sad.”
  • “He’s the better batter on the team.” (again, referring to baseball)

Remember, the key to improving your pronunciation is first being aware of the problems you make and the technique to pronouncing sounds correctly, and then practicing those sounds! You must practice correcting yourself and practice retraining your muscles. Practice and repetition, combined with the awareness of the target language and your errors, are the keys to improving your English language pronunciation.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Elemental English podcast on iTunes.

And if this lesson was helpful to you, feel free to share it with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter

ElementalEnglish.com is your resource for free English language and pronunciation lessons, 無料オンライン英語教材, 免费在线英文课程, 免費在線英文課程, मुफ़्त ऑनलाइन अंग्रेज़ी, آنلائن مفت میں انگریزی سیکھئے, Kostenloser Englisch-Unterricht Online, Język angielski online, Học tiếng anh miễn phí, Libreng Pag-aaral ng Wikang Ingles sa Internet, Libreng Pag-aaral ng Wikang Ingles Online, دروس في اللغة الانجليزية على الانترنت مجانا, American English pronunciation, アメリカ英語の発音, 纯正美语发音, 純正美語發音, अमरीकी अंग्रेज़ी, امریکی انگریزی کا تلفّظ سیکھئے, Amerikanisches Englisch Aussprache, wymowa język angielski, Học tiếng anh miễn phí, Wastong Pagbigkas ng American English sa Internet, astong Pagbigkas ng, تعلم اللهجة الامريكية على الانترنت, American English Online


  1. great podcast, very helpful thanks!

  2. It helped me a lot. =)

  3. Podcast Elemental English on iTunes is not responding, please fix

  4. Thanks for the podcast! It has helped me a lot – whenvever I feel like I’m beginning ro pronounce the /ae/ sound like /ɛ/, I just listen to it again!

  5. Thank you so much teacher

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