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Pronunciation - Minimal Pairs

Minimal pairs are pairs of words that have one phonological element that is different.


In the above case, the vowel sound of both words is the different phonological element.

Practicing minimal pairs can help students localize the often minute differences in pronunciation between one word and another. It also helps students practice the finer elements of common muted vowel sounds which are common to English vowel production. The following lesson provides a lesson outline with a handout minimal pairs sheet.

Aim: To improve recognition and pronunciation skills of single words

Activity:Minimal Pair practice

Level: Any level needing to improve pronunciation skills


  • Write examples of minimal pairs on the board. If students have learned the IPA, it is a good idea to employ the phonetic transcriptions of the words on the board.
  • Demonstrate the correct pronunciation of the minimal pairs written on the board.
  • Elicit students to give examples of other words which use the same changing phonemes.
    Example: bat - bet (written on board) student: "cat - kept"
    It is a good idea to accept more than one phonological difference as long as the target phoneme has been reproduced.
  • Distribute minimal pair sheet.
  • For lower levels: Reproduce the minimal pairs in chorus by first giving the example and then having students repeat together.
  • For upper levels: Have students work in pairs taking turns reproducing the minimal pairs.
  • Repeat as many times as you feel necessary.
  • Have students use the minimal pairs sheet as a model to produce another, similar, minimal pair sheet.
  • Extend activity into a game, by having students distribute their minimal pair sheets to other pairs.

    Added activity: If students are proficient in the IPA, have students transcribe the minimal pairs as a means of strengthening their knowledge of the IPA.

    Minimal Pairs

    lit - light read - red sing - sang
    bed - bad saw - sought boot - boat
    soot - suit but - boot why - way
    know - now wreath - wreathe leak - lick
    look - luck sock - suck vest - vast
    cod - card dug - dog thirst - first
    fair - fear pay - bay read - lead
    need - mead zoo - sue near - ne'er
    catch - cash azure - assure jet - chet
    leige - lease whistle - thistle beige - bays
    fur - fear care - chur noon - nun

    Printable version of minimal pairs sheet

    Back to lessons resource page

    Further Information on the IPA

    IPA Symbol Card Game
    Lesson intended to help students learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

    Phonetics: Introduction
    An introduction and reference guide to the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

    International Phonetic Association
    The association responsible for the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which is the standard alphabet for help with English and other language pronunciation. Information concerning the association.

    IPA Font
    Free downloadable IPA font for creating pronunciation documents on your computer. Provided by the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

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