29: Compare /i/ and /ɪ/ (long e short i--as in sheep and ship)

Learn about the often mispronounced short i sound, and compare it with the long e sound.


Hi everyone! Welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation podcast. This is episode 29, and my name is Mandy.

Last week I talked about the h sound and we practiced a few minimal pairs between words that began with the h sound, and words that are identical except that they do not begin with the h sound.

Here's a repeat of a few of them:


hair, air
hitch, itch
his, is


Words that are the same except one sound are called minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are a great way to compare and contrast between two similar sounds. They are important for training your ears so you can hear the difference between them and then hear yourself to tell if you are saying the words correctly or not. Minimal pairs are really helpful for today's topic, the short i and long e sounds. I hear most of my students say these sounds the same, as the long e sound.

Some of my first podcasts were about long and short vowels. If you haven't heard them yet, or haven't heard them in a while, you may want to go back to episodes 8 and 9 and listen to them. I want to make it very clear that the words "long vowel" and "short vowel" do not refer to the length of time, or duration, the vowel is said. While it is true that some short vowels and said for less duration than long vowels, and today's sound do work out that way, it is not always true, and it absolutely does not describe the difference between two different sounds. The difference between a short a and long a is not the length of time it is said. In modern English pronunciation, those are just titles for sounds. You need to learn the length of each sound separately. Not all short vowel sounds are said for less time than long vowel sounds.

Now that I've told you again NOT to assume that long vowels are said for more duration than short vowels, it is true that for the sounds we'll talk about today, the short i is said for less time than the long e. The major difference between these sounds is not their duration, however, the difference is the placement of the tongue that creates a different sound.

You need to pay very close attention to the middle part of your tongue for these sounds. Both of these sounds are created when the center of the tongue is put closer to the roof of the mouth. The roof of the mouth is the hard, bony part of the inside of the top of your mouth, behind the tooth ridge, and in front of the soft palette. The long e sound is created by putting the center of the tongue very close to the roof of the mouth. The short i sound is created by lowering the tongue from the long e position. Listen to both sounds: long e, short i (long e, short i). Remember from our earlier posdcast that I've assigned key words for each vowel sound, and that the long e key word is the word keep, and the short i key word is the word sit. Can you hear the difference in the vowel sound between those two words? Keep, sit. long e, short i (long e, short i) keep, sit.

These sounds happen completely inside the mouth. My lips can actually be in a lot of different relaxed positions, and I can still correctly create these sounds. If I had a video of myself, I could show you, but I'm hoping you'll just believe me. I can't make my lips into a small circle like the oo sound (the sound in soon) or it will alter the sound. As long as my lips are relaxed, I can create both the long e and short i sound.

Let's practice these sounds with some minimal pairs. I want you to listen for both the difference in sound, and the difference in the duration of the sound. The long e sound does take more time than the short i sound. The most important difference, however is the sound itself. There are lots and lots of minimal pairs between the long e and short i sound, which means that there are lots of opportunities to have you listener misunderstand you.

Here we go, repeat after me if you can. I'll say the word with the long e sound first, then the short i sound.


each, itch
least, list
sleep, slip
green, grin
steal, still


One other thing about these two sounds that causes trouble and embarrassment for many of my students is that confusion between these sounds makes native listeners think they are swearing when they aren't. This is actually really common.

I'm not going to give you the minimal pairs between the curse words themselves, but I will give you words that rhyme with them.

Take the words hit and heat, and substitute the h sound with an sh sound: hit, heat. Also, take pitch and peach and substitute a b sound for the p sound: pitch, peach.

One of my poor students from Brazil won't talk about the beautiful beaches of her country anymore because so many native English speakers have misheard the word beach as a curse word. So please, practice these two sounds. It's a good idea for so many reasons.

Let's practice the long e/short i minimal pairs again. Even if you can't repeat after me because you're on a crowded bus or something, listen really carefully for the difference. You can move your tongue around even if you aren't making any sounds.


each, itch
least, list
sleep, slip
green, grin
steal, still


And here are those stand in words for practicing to not swear


heat, hit
peach, pitch


If you haven't discovered them yet, along with the free online practice for the long e and short i, there is also minimal pairs practice for these sounds. Look in the "more practice" section of each sound page to see other minimal pair practice as well.

I've actually had to write and record this show a couple of weeks before publishing it because I am traveling to Florida to visit my mother for a week, so I'm not certain what next week's show will be yet. It depends on how crazy the week is after I return. I'm really hoping to get to start syllable stress. It is a very important aspect of pronunciation, and it seems that nobody will teach about it. So I will.

As always I'll have the transcripts for this show online, and I'll link to the free long e and short i word list practice as well as the other podcast episodes I mentioned during this show. Don't forget that you can buy the MP3 sound lists for extra practice for both of these sounds. You'll get these two sounds as well as ALL of the other sounds in American English for just $10US. Your purchase does a lot to support this free podcast every week.

That's all for today, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this detailed lesson about the long e and short i sounds. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.