Pronunciation pitfalls

An English woman once said to me that English is not a logical language. "Actually," she said, "the only logical thing in English is that you negate only once (as opposed to Spanish, for example, that forces a double negation)."

There are many reasons why English is not a logical language, but today I'll just analyze words that look similar and that you'd consequently expect to sound fairly alike, but really don't.

One of the most obvious examples is probably:

finite (adj.) /ˈfaɪnaɪt/ - infinite (adj., noun) /ˈɪnfɪnət/
(boy, the prefix changes the sound completely!)

«The world's resources are finite.» (long i)
«Human stupidity is infinite

Another example:

anxious (adj.) /ˈænkʃəs/ - anxiety (noun) /æŋˈzaɪəti/
(the i is long in anxiety, but not in anxious)

«I always feel anxiuos before an exam
«The time before an exam is full of anxiety

Yet another one:

live (adj., adv.) /laɪv/ - live (verb) /lɪv/
(the pronunciation changes according to the grammatical function)

«They live in a house with a live snake

And the last one for today:

(to) read /riːd/ - (to have) read /red/

«I'll read that book I read yesterday

The following words have different meanings, and therefore different roots, but I think they are still worthy of mention:

grin (verb, noun) /ɡrɪn/ - grind (verb, noun) /ɡraɪnd/

«She always grins when she has her coup of coffee in the morning
«She had three cups of coffee today. She grinds it fresh everyday

one /wʌn/ - cone /koʊn/

«One cone for me, please!»

suit /suːt/ - suite /swiːt/ (yes, like sweet)

«She looks so sophisticated in her business suit
«The hotel's business suite looks so sophisticated!»

Can you think of some other cases like these? Please share them with us! Leave your comment :-)

(Do you need help with the audio?)


Ignacio said…
I just came up with this pair:

courage (noun) /ˈkʌrɪdʒ/ - courageous (adj.) /kʌˈreɪdʒəs/

«She always shows great courage.»
«She is a very courageous woman.»

Ignacio said…
Two more pairs:

aunt (noun) /NAmE ænt/
ant (noun) /ænt/
(different spelling, same pronunciation)

«My aunt met an ant called Sally.»

cough (noun) /NAmE kɔːf/
enough (noun) /ɪˈnʌf/
(same spelling, different pronunciation)

«I couldn't stop coughing. I've had enough.»

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