Should I use "a" as in "map" or "e" as in "pet"? Merriam-Webster says both ways are ok.

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    Pronunciation of these vowels varies regionally in the US. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 14 '18 at 16:21
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    As far as I know, the basic pronunciation is the same in most places for this a sound. What is different is the a in path and bath. There are two a sounds, one is different, the other the same. The rr might be trilled in BrE by U-speakers. – Lambie Oct 14 '18 at 16:39
  • Is there any reason to doubt Merriam Webster on this? – James K Oct 14 '18 at 17:10
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    Some speakers rhyme "marry" and "carry" and "hairy" and "Mary". Some would even say "keery". Some speakers would use the sound of the initial "a" in British "garage". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 14 '18 at 18:18
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    Standard English, BrE or AmE, pronounces one of the a's the same way; and another a differently: both say bank, both don't say bath. Regional variations on both sides like keery is another issue. As for AmE, standard pronunciation for carry and marry are the same unless you're a southerner. – Lambie Oct 14 '18 at 21:30

There's practically an entire field of academic literature written on what's called the Mary-marry-merry merger. In "standard" British English (i.e., what's called "Received Pronunciation"), those three words are pronounced differently and the "a" in "marry" sounds distinctly like the "a" in "map."

However, among a majority of a American English speakers (57% according to that wikipedia page, including me), all three of those words are pronounced identically with something closer to the "e" sound. Within the US, the question of whether those words are pronounced the same or differently is usually one of the ways experts will try to locate the origin of your particular dialect (the dialects that do differentiate these three words are mostly confined to a few large Northeastern cities like New York and Boston and their surrounding metro areas).

Whichever pronunciation you choose is going to depend on whether you're trying to sound more BrE or AmE.

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