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Can someone describe the difference in pronunciation between these three English words: Fen, Fan and Fang.

'Fen' is the easiest, because it's just like the first syllable in 'fence'. What other common / easy-to-pronounce words have the syllables 'Fan' or 'Fang' in them?

I can hear the difference in all three (based on listening to soundbites on dictionary websites), although I can't really describe the difference, it just sounds 'different'. And I can't seem to reliably pronounce the difference.

Apparently 'Fen' = /fen/, 'Fan' = /fæn/ and 'Fang' = /fæŋ/

What is the difference between a 'n' and a 'ŋ'? Are there any other common English word pairs that I could use to grasp the difference between 'e' and 'æ', and between 'n' and 'ŋ'. Any tips on practicing these similar-ish sounds?

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  • Those aren’t quite right. Only fan is what you have, /fæn/, like in ran or fancy. Fen is /fɛn/ like in wren or men, while fang is /feŋ/ like in rain or same. So they each have a different vowel.
    – tchrist
    Oct 17 '15 at 22:38
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    @tchrist. I have never heard "fang" pronounced as /feŋ/. In my (British) English "fan" and "fang" have the same vowel.
    – fdb
    Oct 17 '15 at 22:44
  • @fdb There’s a great deal of vowel neutralization before resonants: think merry–marry-Mary or pin–pen. In this case, the tense and lax phonemic distinction is completely neutralized before /ŋ/, so there are no minimal pairs for [æŋ], [ɛŋ], and [eŋ]. Those are all allophones and changing which one you say does not make it a different word. In North America, this is often [eŋ], but it is not a different word if you swap in one of the other two vowels.
    – tchrist
    Oct 17 '15 at 22:59
  • @tchrist: This is true, but only for some dialects (you never mention that it doesn't apply to all of them). Historical /ɛŋ/ is uncommon, but does occur in some words (such as strength, length) and it is kept distinct from historical /æŋ/ in some dialects. For speakers with such a distinction, a minimal pair might be the name "Ang" (in "Ang Lee") and the IPA letter "eng." Using /e/ or /ɛ/ in fen is a notational choice; there are also some phonetic justifications for using the symbol /e/ when transcribing some dialects.
    – sumelic
    Oct 17 '15 at 23:09
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    'pen', 'pan', 'pang'. 'Ben', 'ban', 'bang!'. 'den', 'Dan', 'dang!'. 'ten', 'tan', 'tang'
    – Mitch
    Oct 17 '15 at 23:31
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It's dialectual difference that caused the vowel of "fang" to be different than "fan".

Short a dialectual difference, in North American English (opening the footnote gives your answer)

Now let's get on to differentiating /ŋ/ and /n/.

/ŋ/ is a velar nasal, i.e. a nasal sound made with the same parts of the mouth as the hard G sound /g/.

/n/ meanwhile is an alveolar nasal, made with the same parts of the mouth as the D sound /d/.

I actually noticed this when on dictionaries like Wiktionary would all transcribe "dragon"'s A vowel as short A, even when it didn't sound like short A for every person in my life I spoke with. (I am a native speaker) I asked why so, and as an answer they gave me a link to that Wikipedia article.

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I'm a native English speaker (American-Californian), and I pronounce the 'a' of 'fan' and 'fang' the same way. Like you said, the 'e' of 'fen' is pronounced like in 'fence.' The 'a' of 'fan' and 'fang' is more open (that is, the mouth is held more open) and the front of the tongue is lower than the 'e' sound in 'fen.'

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