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How can I distinguish between the words 'hare', 'here', 'hair', 'heir', 'hire', 'her', 'higher' and 'hear' when pronounced?

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    Some of these have additional homonyms: "air" ("heir"); "higher" ("hire); "hear" ("here"). Also, "error" and "era" are very similar to "air", particularly in AmE. – Kaz Dec 10 '13 at 16:09
  • Kaz, "error" and "era" are not similar to "air" or each other, in the UK. – Tristan Dec 10 '13 at 21:35
  • Error and era are similar in a Boston or New York accent perhaps, but this Californian would recoil at such pronunciation. – choster Nov 15 '14 at 0:21
  • Higher and hire as homophones? Are there people who pronounce higher as a one-syllable word? – Adam Nov 15 '14 at 0:25
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    @Adam. Many native speakers pronounce both higher and hire as /haɪə(r)/. – tunny Nov 15 '14 at 4:11
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Please be aware that the pronunciation could vary from one dialect to another.

However, the words you mentioned seem to be pronounced pretty much the same in both American (AmE) and English (BrE) accents. One main difference here is that BrE is typically non-rhotic ([r] sound is more gentle and subtle), while AmE is typically rhotic.

heir is pronounced "air"
hare and hair are pronounced "hair" (with the same vowel as "air")
here rhymes with "ear", but with "h" sound
hire rhymes with "fire", but with "h" sound
her is pronounced "her"

Your dictionary should provide another good way to check the pronunciation.

Finally, thanks to @Hellion, in listening, to tell which word is which from several possible homophones (e.g. heir or air), context will give you necessary clues.

  • The biggest difference here is that BrE is typically non-rhotic, while AmE is typically rhotic. – snailcar Dec 10 '13 at 7:29
  • How do you distinguish "air" and "heir"? What's difference between "hire" and "hair"? – Anixx Dec 10 '13 at 8:47
  • You said "heir" should be pronounced without the initial consonant, did not you? If it is pronounced with a consonant, how do you distinguich it from "hair"? What is difference between [-ire] and [-air]? – Anixx Dec 10 '13 at 8:56
  • I'm really sorry, I misread heir as hair. This following should be correct. Air and heir sounds identical. Air and hair are different in their initial consonants (glottal stop vs. [h] sound). Hire and hair are different in their vowel sounds ([-ire] vs. [-air]). For the real sound of [hire] and [hair], thefreedictionary.com/hire and thefreedictionary.com/hair will help. – Damkerng T. Dec 10 '13 at 9:01
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    @Anixx, you distinguish between heir and air the same way you distinguish between other homophones: context. – Hellion Dec 10 '13 at 15:26
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How can I distinguish between the words 'hare', 'here', 'hair', 'heir', 'hire', 'her', 'higher' and 'hear' when pronounced?

Context. Here's some hints that can help you.

  • hare isn't too common of a word unless the conversation involves rabbits or animals, the expression hare-brained being a possible exception. So you can assume "hair" if you hear this most of the time.

  • hear is a verb and will be immediately preceded by a subject pronoun most of the time - I hear X... etc. here will not be immediately preceded by a subject pronoun. hear can be the first word of a sentence, but not too often - using hear in the imperative sense, where it would be the first word of the sentence, would be limited to an announcement scenario, or possibly where someone is telling you to listen closely.

  • heir isn't a common word outside of a royal or legal setting. Nine times out of ten this sound is the word air.

  • hire is a verb and will be immediately preceded by a subject pronoun most of the time, or be used in the expression for hire. Higher, being an modifier, will not. EDIT: hire is also a noun, typically used in the phrase new hire or recent hire.

  • her should not sound like the other words, but this could be the case in some dialects. Usually her will occur towards the end of a sentence and preceded by a preposition like "to" or "by." If it occurs towards the beginning of a sentence, it will be immediately followed by a noun, expressing possession - "Her face was beautiful."

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    hire isn't always a verb. Have you met the new hire? She is really smart. – Adam Nov 15 '14 at 0:23
  • Good point. Editing. – LawrenceC Nov 15 '14 at 2:24

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