Today, we’re going to look at minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are paired word and phrases that sound almost exactly the same. These pairs will differ in just one sound… or sometimes just a sound or two.
Minimal pairs are very useful for both listening and speaking practice. ESL teachers and students love them so much that you can find tons of minimal pair lists on the Web. In this post, I’ll give you a few sets of minimal pairs for commonly confused English sounds. Each set will come with audio tracks, so you can carefully listen to the differences in the pairs. And then I’ll give you some links to really good sources of minimal pairs elsewhere online.
English Listening and Pronunciation: Minimal Pairs for the “R” and “L” sounds
- raw, law
- around, aloud
- bar, ball
English Listening and Pronunciation: Minimal Pairs for the “N” and “M” sounds
- new, moo
- announce, amount
- ran, ram
English Listening and and Pronunciation: Minimal Pairs for the “S” and “SH” sounds
- see, she
- rush it, Russet
- mash, mass
English Listening and Pronunciation: Minimal Pairs for the short “A” sound (as in “pat”) and the short “E” sound (as in “red”)
- pat, pet
- red, rad
- net, gnat
English Listening and Pronunciation: Minimal pairs for the short “I” sound (as in “big”), and the long “E” sound (as in “eat”)
- it, eat
- lid, lead
- hit, heat
English Listening and Pronunciation: Minimal pairs for the short “A” sound (as in “nap”) and the long “A” sound (as in “mail”)
- pal, pail
- Hal, hale
- fast, faced
Places to find more minimal pairs on the Web
- English Club’s Minimal Pairs Portal
This page and the links on it cover every major consonant or vowel sound in English, with audio for all minimal pairs. It’s a great resource for practicing the basics of English phonics.
- Speech-Language Therapy with Caroline Bowen PhD: Minimal Pairs
Dr. Caroline Bowen is a professional speech-language pathologist, an expert in pronunciation coaching and accent reduction. Dr. Bowen’s materials don’t include any audio. But they do include a lot of well-designed worksheets with illustrations and good hands-on activities for the handling of small sound differences in English.
- 60 Minimal Pairs (a YouTube video from the Interesting things ESL YouTube Channel)
This is a pretty good “cross section” of what minimal pairs sound like in English. All words are common words you may need to say or hear, spoken very clearly. This is a great “starter” video for mastering minimal pairs in English.
- About.com Grammar: Minimal Pairs
This page is an academic discussion of minimal pairs, rather than a listening or pronunciation tutorial. But it’s written in plain, easy to understand language, and it can really help ESL students understand what minimal pairs are, how they work in English, and why they’re so important. This article includes examples of minimal pairs in common English phrases and sentences.