I received a great question recently from a student about the pronunciation of words that start with ‘e’. I thought I’d share my response in case it can help you!
“Hi Annie. Some confusion with phonetics regarding the e sound. In economy takes the ee sound, in elephant takes the e sound and so in many other words. Any phonetic rules about the e sound? Thanks!”
“You asked a very good question which has caused me to go back and do some research. There isn’t a strong rule that explains this pronunciation difference. Usually I can identify some patterns that explain it but this one doesn’t seem to be following any of the standard rules!
So, I went through the most common words that start with ‘e’ and was able to create categories. There are 3 different possible pronunciations for the beginning ‘e’ sound. It’s either /e/ as in ‘elephant’, /ee/ as in ‘each’, or /u/ as in ‘up’.
Often, it happens where a word starting with ‘e’ can be pronounced as /ee/ or /u/ and both are correct. I’ve put an astrics* next to those.
Extra – ‘ex’ is always /e/
Each – the ‘ea’ together creates /ee/
English – ‘eng’ always uses /ee/
And then you have the R-vowel words. These might start with the ‘e’ and then have ‘ar’ after. These will typically be pronounced as /er/ as in ‘her’.
I wish there was a more consistent rule that would explain which sound to use in words that start with e!! Hopefully this list will help you get a feel of how these sounds are used and can help you hear them and pronounce them better.
This was a great question, keep asking so we can all learn from each other!”