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Today I discovered the word "scurry" and I immediately found that I couldn't tell it apart with "scary". I looked it up and found that it boils down to differentiating ɝ and ɛ, at least according to these Wiktionary entries:

scurry

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/scurry

Audio

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AEn-us-scurry.ogg

scary

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/scary

Audio:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AEn-us-scary.ogg

They seem to sound same to me at this point. How could I learn to tell the difference? One idea that comes to my head is to look for words that only differ by this sound, but I'm not sure how to start looking.

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    In my British accent the two words are completely different. In what kind of English do you find them indistinguishable? – Kate Bunting Jul 11 '20 at 17:08
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    Apart from its different sound, the pronunciation of the u vowel in 'scurry' is typically shorter than the a vowel in 'scary', which can be drawn out for emphasis. The Wiktionary pronunciation of 'scary' seems atypically short. To my BrE ears, it sounds like 'skerry' which is what they claim to be a homophone (but IMO isn't). – Weather Vane Jul 11 '20 at 18:44
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    You have to hear it. The two are different phonemes. – Lambie Jul 11 '20 at 18:44
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    After listening to the linked clips, I think I can understand how some non-native speakers might have trouble distinguishing these sounds. (They sound very clearly different to native speakers of course.) It may help to consider some simpler minimal pairs: for example fair/fur, pair/purr and maybe even hair/her. – TypeIA Jul 11 '20 at 19:13
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    @WeatherVane fairy and ferry are homonyms in many accents (or at least in mine, anyway) – The Photon Jul 12 '20 at 5:26
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A minimal pairs exercise might be helpful in learning to both hear the difference and then to produce it in your own speech. Listen to pronunciation of both words in each pair and try to hear the difference: fur/fair blur/blare purr/pair burr/bear her/hair lure/lair were/wear

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