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[ɪ] vs. [iy] Vowel Sounds | English Pronunciation Lesson

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A common pronunciation problem for English language learners is distinguishing English’s [iy] sound (as in “sleep” [sliyp]) and the [ɪ] sound (as in “slip” [slɪp]).

It’s important to distinguish these two sounds, though, because the vowel sound can be the only difference between two words. Changing the vowel sound can change the entire meaning of the word.

How to say [iy]

To create the [iy] vowel sound, you must pull your lips back into a smiling position.

This is why Americans say “cheese!” [tʃiyz] when posing for pictures. Why? Because making the [iy] sound naturally puts your face into a smiling position.

  • [iy]

How to say [ɪ]

When saying the [ɪ] vowel sound, our mouth is:

  • more relaxed (and not stretched into a smile);
  • in a neutral position–not too open, but not closed.
  • [ɪ]

So, to review, to distinguish [iy] and [ɪ], focus on how much you stretch your lips back.

Got it?

Let’s practice.

Listen and Repeat

  • sleep [sliyp]
  • slip [slɪp]
  • leave [liyv]
  • live [lɪv]
  • bean [biyn]
  • bin/been [bɪn]
  • cheap [tʃiyp]
  • chip [tʃɪp]
  • read [riyd]
  • rid [rɪd]
  • seat [siyt]
  • sit [sɪt]
  • meet [miyt]
  • mitt [mɪt]
  • deep [diyp]
  • dip [dɪp]
  • sheep [ʃiyp]
  • ship [ʃɪp]
  • heal [hiyl]
  • hill [hɪl]
  • he’s [hiyz]
  • his [hɪz]

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4 comments

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