In Athenaze, the pronunciations of E (ε) and H (η) are given as comparable to the English words get and bed, respectively. Other than H (η) being held longer, in my American English pronunciation there is no real difference between the sound of e in get and bed.

However, Wikipedia lists two different IPA pronunciations: [e] for E (ε) and [ɛː] for H. While I'm not very well versed with the IPA, the pages for each of those pronunciations seem to indicate that, in my general American pronunciation, E (ε) is pronounced like may and H (η) is pronounced like bed.

What is the best way to describe the sounds of both vowels for someone with an American English accent?

  • Related question on pronunciation of H (η).
    – Adam
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:11
  • 1
    For you, the main difference will in the quality, because your mother language does not distinguish the vowel length. For me it will be the opposite, for me certainly the main difference is in the quantity because in my language the length is phonemic and we happily treat our short and long i as the versions of the same vowel even if they are actually different in the quality on the IPA chart. I can also see that in the Draconis' answer that concentrates solely on the quality aspect. Aug 1, 2023 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


The big problem here is that most American dialects don't actually have an [e] sound on its own. We have [ɛ] ("bed"), and we have [ej] ("may"), but we don't have just [e]. This makes it difficult to describe the pronunciation of ε in terms of American English.

You can think of [e] as the very first part of "ate", before it shifts higher, or you can think of it as the vowel in "met", except with the tongue slightly higher in the mouth.

Or, if you have any experience with other languages, we can describe it in terms of Italian (for example). But that's not the question asked.

  • 1
    Would it be accurate to say that [e] is further back on the tongue than [ɛ] ("bed"), but not as far back as [ɪ] ("pit")? The IPA chart of vowels seems to indicate this.
    – Adam
    Jul 31, 2023 at 18:08
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    @Adam – [e] is closer to [i] than [ɛ]. The best thing is to listen to French, German or Italian as they all have the pure [e] in their vowel repertoire – cf l'été, Besen, bolognese.
    – Lumi
    Jan 11 at 23:01

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