How many sounds does the letter ‘a’ make?

Letters and sounds

My earliest memory of learning the English alphabet for the first time is the song – a b c d, e f g… h i j k, l m n o p… l m n o p q, r s t… u v w, x y z. For a long time, I did not realise that the song used the letter names and not necessarily the letter sounds. It is only after my involvement in learning and teaching English through Phonics at NumberNagar®, I realised the difference.

What does this mean? A letter is a written representation – also known as grapheme. A sound is a distinct vocal expression – also known as phoneme. In the English language, there are two peculiarities in the letter-sound relationship. One – the letter name may or may not be the same as the sound made by the letter. Two – the same letter can make multiple sounds.

In most Indian languages, these two peculiarities are absent. The letter names and letter sounds are the same, and usually, one letter makes one sound. The languages where the letters and the sounds have a one-to-one relationship are said to possess ideal phonemic orthography. The English language deviates significantly from an ideal phonemic orthography. This fundamental difference between English and Indian languages makes English learning challenging for Indian learners.

Therefore, learning English using the Phonics method is highly beneficial to master the fundamentals of language learning. That is the primary objective of the NumberNagar® Phonics methodology.

Sounds of letter ‘a’

Owing to the non-ideal phonemic orthography of English, the letter ‘a’ makes more than one sound. In fact, it makes five different sounds. Let us look at these five sounds, shall we? In the following paragraphs, the sound is denoted using both International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) notations.

Sound 1 –

‘a’ as in apple – short vowel sound – æ (IPA)          ă (AHD)

Sound 1 of a

Other examples: bat, cat, cap, man

Sound 2 –

‘a’ as in snake – long vowel sound – eɪ (IPA)           ā (AHD)

Sound 2 of a

Other examples: cake, bake, gate, made

Sound 3 –

‘a’ as in father – broad sound – ɑː (IPA)                   ä (AHD)            

Sound 3 of a

Other examples: car, bath, ask, grass

Sound 4 –

‘a’ as in ball – o sound – ɔː (IPA)                   ô (AHD)

Sound 4 of a

Other examples – call, war, fall

Sound 5 –

‘a’ as in many – e sound – ɛ (IPA)                 ĕ (AHD)

Sound 5 of a

Other examples – any, anything, anywhere

This is not a common sound for letter ‘a’. Can you think of any other examples?

Listen to the five different sounds made by the letter a, in this audio.

Five sounds of letter ‘a’

Is it not interesting to know about the sounds of the letter a? Do you have any stories about the letter ‘a’ and its sounds? Please share in the comments section.

You can find more articles on Phonics related concepts here. Stay tuned for more to come.

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Featured image credits: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Co-Founder and Specialist at NumberNagar®
Dr. Soumya is an Educator and Researcher with a passion for reading, writing and teaching. She holds a PhD in Chemistry (Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA). Her experience as a student and a teacher in two countries led her to pursue a career in Education. Her core work at NumberNagar® involves quality delivery of product and services at every stage of the customer life cycle. She leads the team that makes this happen. Previously she has taught Chemistry to first year undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. She is a voracious reader and challenges herself to read 50 books every year.
Dr. Soumya Sreehari

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2 Replies to “How many sounds does the letter ‘a’ make?”

  1. This is remarkable, Soumya. The aspects that we don’t notice are beautifully elucidated in this short and crisp blog.

    Keep them coming,
    Srikanth

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