Long e - short e

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For a note on how AWE organizes its group of articles on vowels, basically by aspects of sound and of writing, see category:vowels.

The letter e (upper case E) represents a vowel. It is used in different ways in English. This page is about the various sounds of the vowel: there is another page at E (written letter) which deals with the way the sign E (or e) is used.

  • The sounds it represents are varied (and one of its common uses in writing is to modify the sounds of other vowels - the so-called silent '-e-'). Some of the variation comes between different varieties of spoken English, where, for example, the pronunciation of 'beat' in Irish accents can rhyme with the RP 'date', 'late'. Historically, the poet Alexander Pope rhymed 'tea' with 'say', like the modern pronunciation of the [river] 'Tay'. The remarks that follow are based on current (2011) RP usage.
    • As a short vowel,
      • it has the sound represented in the IPA as IPA: /ɛ›/. It is to be heard in such words as 'get', 'hen', 'bed' and 'deck'.
      • In unstressed syllables such as 'emit' and 'barrel', particularly in final position, '-e-' often represents a schwa (IPA: /ə/), as in 'thinker', 'Campbell' and 'quicke'n'.
      • In 'England' and 'English', as well as a few words like 'pretty', written '-e-' represents the sound of IPA: /ɪ/, usually written with an '-i-' in English. Some speakers use this sound in words like 'market' and 'biggest'; most do in the realization of the past tense '-ed' after '-t' or '-d', as in 'cited', 'haunted' and 'clouded', and the plural marker '-s' after a sibilant, such as 'cases', 'places' and 'dozes'.
    • If E is called a long vowel, it may fall into one of several branches.
      • The sound most commonly called long '-e-' (the sound represented in as IPA: /iː/ is found in such English words as 'be' and 'he'. This may be spelled with a silent '-e-' after a consonant following an '-e-', as in here' and these'.
        • This may be realized as a falling diphthong before '-r-', as in 'hero' and 'serious', IPA: /iːə/
      • In words such as 'her' and 'certain' (usually, as in these examples, when it follows an '-r-'), e represents IPA: /ɜː/.
    • In some words adopted from foreign languages, the sound of '-e-' may have the continental value represented by IPA: /e/ - for example, from French: 'cafe' (or 'café-' with the French acute accent); from Italian, latte (pronounced 'lah-tay' IPA: /læ (or ɑː) te/and Julius Caesar's famous remark on conquering Brittania veni, [vidi, vici], whose first word is best pronounced 'VAIN-ee', IPA: /ve niː/.


You may also want to see E (written letter) or long vowel - short vowel.
Much of the information on this page has been taken from McArthur and Bell (2004).