Pure vowel 5: /a/

Our final pure vowel is /a/.

How it sounds

The closest vowel sound English has is the “a” found in “apple”. However, there are many regional variations in English when pronouncing this syllable – American English sounds more like an “e” sound, as does “Received Pronunciation”, or “BBC” English, which can sound rather nasal. Listen to the vowel sound, and be very careful when making it that you are not producing the “e” sound:

Mouth position

/a/ is a “front vowel”, meaning that it is produced further forward in the mouth. The front of the tongue should be resting behind your bottom teeth, with the mouth and lips quite open and relaxed.


What to avoid

English has lots of ways of pronouncing “a” (compare “later”, “fast”, “although”). The realisation of these sounds depends on where they occur in the word, what letters surround them, and whether the “a” is emphasised or not. Imagine how difficult it must be for Spanish speakers to learn English! Spanish /a/, as a pure vowel, does not have the same variety of pronunciations as our English equivalent. We need to be careful that we don’t transpose our wide variety of vowel sounds into Spanish, unconsciously applying the same rules that we use in our own language. Listen to some of the following pronunciations:

Tapas: Correct

Tapas: Incorrect

Palabra: Correct

Palabra: Incorrect

Abre: Correct

Abre: Incorrect

Listen again to the “incorrect” pronunciation of “palabra”, slowed down:

All of the vowel sounds in this are wrong! The first and third syllable use the “schwa” sound which we met earlier. We have to avoid this extremely common mistake if we really want to sound less like English native speakers! Make sure that every “a” uses the pure vowel /a/:


Phoneme /a/ exercises