I think most of us can agree, English pronunciation vs spelling (vs conjugation) is strange:

Read (present tense)
Read (past tense)
Red (color)
Reed (plant)

contrast with

Lead (direct, present tense)
Led (direct, past tense)
Lead (the metal)

... however, I'm currently teaching Japanese students English, which generally makes no distinction between L and R-based sounds. Is there any similar set(s) of words I could use as an example that would avoid this potential confusion? I'm trying to make each sets' differences more obvious audibly. Ideally, new sets have some similarity/difference in different conjugations of a verb (something irregular); I'm hoping for "related" results. Probably, the stranger the better.
I speak (probably standard) North-West American English, if this makes a large difference.


To forestall too many questions about what sounds Japanese "natively" supports, here's the sounds usually used in transliteration to English. Note that everything ends in a vowel (whose sounds are constant, and pronounced identically as in Spanish). Not having a given sound doesn't mean it can't be heard - it just means that distinguishing between it and the "nearest neighbor" is difficult/impossible. I probably only need to replace one set, so something without an L/R sound is what I'm looking for.

  • 2
    The Chaos should give you ample inspiration, I would think :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 8:50
  • are you looking specifically for a long vowel/short vowel "ae" pair? if yes, and additionally without liquids, there's mean-meant
    – msam
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:27
  • Based on comments under Ronan's answer, this question is unclear regarding exactly what you are looking for. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 10:16
  • Might I suggest you watch this youtube video which contains MANY examples like what you're looking for, as well as several other confusing oddities of the english language.
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 13:53

3 Answers 3


Sure, there are more oddities you could use:

  • eat (present), ate (past), eight (number)
  • say (present), said (past), saying (present participle), saying (noun, meaning "proverb")
  • sell (present), sold (past), cell (noun), solder (noun, not pronounced as one may first think)
  • throw (present), threw (past), through (preposition)
  • know (present), knew (past), no (negation), new (adjective)
  • dive (present), dove (past), dove (the bird)
  • sew (presented), sewn (past participle), sewer (noun, meaning "tailor"), sewer (noun, meaning "drain")

Moreover, these could lead to some interesting practice sentences:

He ate eight pancakes.
His love for her knew no bounds and was new every day.
I am saying a very wise saying that was said long ago.
The dove dove toward the ground.
He sold the solder to the soldier in the cell.
He threw the newspaper through the window.

  • Yeah, definitely something along these lines.
    – Clockwork-Muse
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:30
  • @Clockwork - You can probably write a few more of your own by perusing a list like this one.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:34
  • Ah, thanks, that might help too. You learn all these words, but they become to instinctual.. "I think it's spelled this way", "I've written that word several times, but never heard it in conversation, so I think it's pronounced...", "What was that part of speech again?". Makes me wish I'd kept some of my own school textbooks.
    – Clockwork-Muse
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:40
  • "I say, she said that he was saying he was sane." Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 13:54
  • Solder is pronounced as one might think, in the UK.
    – Matt Ellen
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:11

-ough words are great for these kind of eye rhyme.

Dough and Though are pronounced the same, but spelled differently,

While you'll get Through, Tough, Bough, Trough, and many other alternative -ough pronunciations despite them all having the same suffix.

  • Dough - Though are sometimes pronounced the same, sometimes not
    – msam
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 8:53
  • Cough and Slough
    – mplungjan
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 8:55
  • Hmm, I guess I should make it more clear I'm hoping there's a set with a similarity/difference in the conjugation of a verb...
    – Clockwork-Muse
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:00
  • @Clockwork-Muse you mean like 'bred & breed and bread' ?
    – Frank
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:16
  • @Frank and then of course bleed, bled... oh, wait. :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 9:21

I think this is actually a problem of phonetics. What you need is professional know-how how to teach the clear pronunciation of l and r to speakers of languages where this opposition is not in their language system. Such speakers have to know where the tip of the tongue is positioned in the mouth cave and that the tongue stays attached to the frontal gum. There is special literature on phonetics where the articulation is described.

The production of a frontal r is much more complicated as the tip of the tongue touches the gum shortly and disconnects at once. If I had to teach such things to speakers of South East Asia I would have to think about designing diagrams of these articulations, of real models of the mouth room, and of special articulation exercises. But I know the task is no easy one.

  • ...we're working on that already. The point of this question was not about getting them to distinguish between those sounds, it was about some of the irregularities in English itself. The only reason I mentioned the initial language was to explain why I couldn't use the original set. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 12:32

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