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English Sounds and Spelling (#3), by Dennis Oliver

English Sounds and Spelling #3:


The English / I / sound (the vowel sound in bit and hit)
is sometimes difficult to hear, but it's not too difficult
to spell: its most common spelling is i + consonant(s).

Here are some common words with the / I / sound:

bid, big, bill, bin, bit;
chicken, chill, chimney, chin, chip, clip, click, clip;
did, difference, dig, dill, dim, din, dip, dish, ditch;
fig, fill, film, fin, fish, fist, fit, flip;
gill, gin, gist, glint, grid, grill, grim, grip, grit;
hid, hill, him, hip, his, hissed, history, hit, hitch;
ill, in, is, it, inch, itch;
kid, kill, kin, kiss, kit, kitchen;
lick, lid, lift, limb, limp, lint, lip, list, lit;
mill, missed, mist, mitt, mix;
nick, nil, nip;
pick, pig, pill, pin, pit, pitch;
quick, quill, quip, quit;
rich, rid, rim, rip, river;
sick, sill, sin, sip, sister, sit, slim, slip, stick, still, stitch;
shin, ship;
tick, till, tin, tip, trick, trill, trim, trip;
thick, thin, this, thistle;
wick, will, win, wish, witch, wrist


In a few words, the / I / sound also has other spellings.
Here are the most common ones:


  build, guild, guilt, guitar

  crypt, cryptic, cynic, gypsy, hymn,
mystery, mystic, mystical


Special Notes:

1. The sounds of the first vowel in women,
busy, and business are exceptions. They are
all pronounced with the / I / sound, even though
they use spellings which are normally used for
other sounds.

Be careful! A few common words with / I /
have the same pronunciation but different
spellings and meanings:

billed / build; gild / guild / gilled; gilt / guilt;
him / hymn; mist / missed

3. In some dialects of American English, the vowel
sounds / I / and / e / pronounced the same (as / I /)
before nasal sounds (particularly / m / and / n /).
In these dialects, pin and pen or him (hymn)
and hem have the same pronunciation.

A number of common words spelled with typical
/ iy / spellings are pronounced with / I /, not with
/ iy /, when they are followed by r:

beer, cheer, deer, jeer, leer, peer, queer,
sheer, steer, veer

dear, clear, fear, gear, hear, near, rear,
sear, shear, spear, tear (noun), year

here, mere

pier, tier

  * Vowel sounds with r will be treated later.

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