Home / English Lessons / [ɛ] vs. [æ] | English Vowel Pronunciation

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


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…or watch the video!:

The [ɛ] vs. [æ] sounds have proven to be difficult for many English language learners, especially Chinese and some other learners of English.

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

Examples ([ɛ]  vs. [æ])

  • “bet” vs. “bat”
  • “set” vs. “sat”
  • “letter” vs. “latter”/”ladder”
  • “said” vs. “sad”
So, if you mix up the sounds [ɛ] and [æ], you run the risk of being misunderstood.
The key to saying the sounds correctly is how much you open your mouth.


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

E vowel sound mouth lm2


  • Open your mouth much more than with [ɛ]
  • Your lips are a little tighter
  • Your tongue stays at the bottom of your mouth

AE vowel sound mouth lm ee

Got it?

Let’s practice.

Listen and Repeat

Remember, keep your mouth relaxed for the [ɛ] and open it big for the [æ].

  • “bet”
  • “bat”
  • “set”
  • “sat”
  • “letter”
  • “latter”/”ladder”
  • “said”
  • “sad”
  • “better”
  • “batter”

Now let’s practice with sentences.

Listen and Repeat

Notice how I stress my content words and de-stress my function words to create the rhythm and music of English.

  • “I bet he’ll be good up at bat.” (referring to baseball) (notice how I deleted the “h” )
  • “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 that team.” (Again, referring to baseball)


Remember, if these sounds don’t come naturally to you, the key is to get comfortable with uncomfortable mouth positions. Just practice opening your mouth nice and big for the [æ] vowel sound, and over time, it will become more natural for you.

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

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  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

  6. It is super helpful. A billion thanks to your effort!

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