Is there a difference for the native English speaker between "see" and sea"?

For example when saying the following sentence: "I see sea".

I've tried to listen to both of them in Cambridge dictionary and I didn't find a difference. Both sound the same for me. Is it just to my ears or is it correct?

  • Why would you think they are pronounced differently when the dictionary entries you linked say they're both pronounced "/siː/" ?
    – ColleenV
    Jan 12, 2018 at 3:52
  • I don't know the international alphabet yet. Then I never used to look at this. Jan 12, 2018 at 4:00

1 Answer 1


No, there is no difference. See, sea and C are pronounced the same in English, at least the English that I speak. Let's have a little fun:

I can see the sea in one CC (cubic centimeter) of sea water.

I would suggest that spelling in English is more of an art form than a science, and it isn't going to help you to look for subtle differences in pronunciation in words that are spelled differently. Doing that assumes — usually incorrectly — that those differences are there.

There are indeed some rules in English spelling (you can google those, so I won't get into them), but there are exceptions to nearly all of them, and there are some spellings that simply don't make much sense at all.

Here are four words that rhyme:

was, fuzz, does, because

(Some southeastern people pronounce "because" more like "buh-KOWZ." But most Americans pronounce it to rhyme with the others.) Here are four words that are pronounced differently:

rough, bough, dough, through

Here are four words that are pronounced exactly the same as those four:

ruff, bow, doe, threw

(Bow has two pronunciations; the one that is pronounced the same as bough is the bending-at-the-waist version, not the ribbon-in-the-hair or archery version. Also, for a full list of different ways to pronounce -ough-, see this.)

So, spelling in English is pretty much a rote learning concept. You can get clues, from the etymology of a word and such, but in the end you just have to memorize the spellings of words. You may find this article about "spelling bees" (spelling contests) interesting and enlightening.

I will leave you with this amusing little poem: Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer.

  • 1
    There's an old nursery rhyme: "A sailor went to sea sea sea / to see what he could see see see / but all that he could see see see / was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea" Jan 12, 2018 at 8:50
  • @georgewatson I remember that. :) Haven't thought of it in years.
    – BobRodes
    Jan 12, 2018 at 16:12

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