I've read different questions about pronouncing 'a' like this : Sounds of the letter a

In my native tongue-Arabic- there are 3 degrees of pronouncing 'a'

  • degree one is like able

  • degree two is like marry

  • degree three is like are

My confusion is in 2 things:

  1. The symbols used in answers like æ, ə, etc. are difficult to me (please guide me how to understand them)

  2. Can you tell me when specifically should I use each one of these three degrees?

  • 2
    Those pronunciation symbols are part of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Please do your research. – Nihilist_Frost Jan 11 '16 at 12:40
  • @Nihilist_Frost The international IPA symbols and the ones used specifically for English have different values. They represent different types of sounds. Also the Original Poster is asking about sound/spelling correspondence - which isn't covered by the IPA, or even by most coursebooks. So I think it's a fair question. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 11 '16 at 13:07
  • 1
    @Araucaria This is why I didn't file a close vote. I was seeing how he has problems understanding those symbols. – Nihilist_Frost Jan 11 '16 at 13:34
  • Long: the -ey in "They". Short: the -a in "hat/cat/bat/rat/chat..." – lurker Jan 11 '16 at 23:22
  • @lurker That is only basic building blocks. Get "Amelia", "usage", "a", and "martial" and you'll have a problem. – Nihilist_Frost Jan 11 '16 at 23:41

There is no consistent rule. English spelling is a harsh mistress. You'll have to pick up each case separately.

To demonstrate:

a, cat, Mars, able, usage,

have respectively /ə, æ, ɑ, eɪ, ɪ/.

Dictionaries to look up IPA pronunciations in may help you.

For the symbols:


The IPA symbols are a bit different between English and others. Most notably in their R sounds, T's, and sometimes vowels too.

For IPA transcriptions, try Dictionary.com, Macmillan Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Wiktionary, ...

Also, Dictionary.com transcribes /j/ (the Y consonant) as /y/ (a vowel sound that doesn't exist in English) for some reason.

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