I sometimes use Cambridge Dictionaries Online and this useful website doesn't only help on words' meanings but also their pronunciations.

I can pronounce new words almost correctly even I heard before how are they pronounced on the site.

But I'm still confused on the difference between /ɪ/, /i/, and /ə/.

I know how to pronounce /ə/ which is also called schwa sound.

I know how to pronounce /i/, but I don't know how to pronounce /ɪ/ properly. By the way does it have a special name?

I just picked up a random word. The first picture shows American pronunciation and the second picture shows British pronunciation. But the subject is not the differences between them.

My second question is that in both pronunciations the first vowel sound is supposed to be pronounced /i/ not /ɪ/, I think. Is there a big difference between the last sound /i/ and the first one /ɪ/ ?

Screenshot of the word 'infinitely' in AmE

screenshot of the word 'infinitely' in BrE

  • I believe these are IPA symbols. Print dictionaries usually have an easy-to-find pronunciation guide; unfortunately, these can be harder to find in online dictionaries!
    – J.R.
    Dec 11, 2014 at 0:00
  • 1
    @J.R. Those pronunciation guides a re rubbish! You hardly need one with a good online dictionary - you can hear it! :D Dec 11, 2014 at 1:15
  • 1
    /i/ is referred to by linguists as a tense vowel, /ɪ/ as a lax one. If your language does not make this distinction, it may be hard for you to hear, but it is very clear indeed to any native English speaker.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 4, 2020 at 10:27

4 Answers 4


/i:/ is the vowel that we find in the word FLEECE. I put that word in capitals because that is how that vowel is often referred to by linguists: the fleece vowel - or FLEECE for short. (This is not random, the word was specifically chosen for a number of specific reasons.) It is the vowel sound at the end of the word guarantee. In transcriptions of British English it has a colon [ : ] in the symbol to describe the length.

/ɪ/ is the vowel in the word KIT. It is known as the kit vowel - or KIT for short. It is the vowel we find in prefixes and suffixes, the bits we stick onto the beginnings and ends of words. So, for example it is the vowel we hear in --ing verb endings.

The vowel represented by /i/ at the ends of words in dictionaries is usually referred to as the happy vowel - HAPPY. This vowel may sound like either FLEECE or KIT.

If you say the < y > sound that we find in the word yes, and then say the < e> we find in the word end, the kit vowel is somewhere between the two sounds. This is the first vowel in the word infinitely. This word would sound very odd to a native speaker if it was said with a fleece vowel, /i:/! It would sound like a made-up word: eenfinitely.

The Original Poster asks if there is a big difference between these vowels. If we are talking about the physical difference between the sounds, the answer is: no. In fact, it is very unusual to have two vowels that are so similar in one language. They are very close together. In most languages these would count as one vowel. However, if we are talking about the meaning, or the effect on a listener, the answer is: yes! There is a big difference. There are very, very, very many words that we can be confused about if you say the wrong vowel. For example, the words peace and piss. Nobody wants to say Piss man!, when they mean Peace man!.

If you want to type IPA script, this website is very useful

Hope this helps,


  • 1
    A schoolfriend from Egypt, living in the UK, used to have great fun [intentionally, once he learned] with his pronunciation when asking for more writing paper - 'Can I have another sheet?' Dec 11, 2014 at 12:40
  • 'This vowel may sound like either FLEECE or KIT, but is always short in duration' - and that means exactly what?! It's shorter than FLEECE but longer than KIT? It can sound like KIT and then it's also as short as KIT, then why is it a distinct vowel?!
    – BazAU
    May 29, 2019 at 4:18
  • "In transcriptions of British English it has a colon [ : ] in the symbol to describe the length." ///// Are you sure it's a colon and not [ː]??
    – Void
    Jan 6, 2021 at 7:13
  • @Void It’s technically the latter. (But there’s no well-known term for the latter, and unless you’re actually publishing it’s a distinction without a difference, as they say.) Jan 6, 2021 at 8:43

I haven't seen this notation before--they're not the symbols I learned--but it fits the American pronunciation.

Using these symbols, /i/ is pronounced like the "ee" in sheep. I would call that a "long e" sound, which sounds like the name of the letter < e >.

/ɪ/ is pronounced like the < i > in ship or hit, which is a "short i" sound. The first syllable of "infinitely," then, sounds like "in".

The two are significantly different.

I hope that helps!



I feel the opposite actually.

/ɪ/ as a symbol to show the sound we hear in "it".

/i/ as a symbol to show the sound we hear at the end of happy.

/iː/ as a symbol to show the sound we hear in fleece, and to show how British Received Pronunciation often asks its speakers to pronounce vowels longer.

This way is much clearer to differentiate sounds.


The i-sign without dot stands for the short /i/. And /i/ stands for the long i. This is a relatively new notation. Earlier it was /i/ for the short i, and /i:/ for the long i. I don't use the new notation and still use the old one, which is much clearer.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .