Minimal Pairs

Pairs of words that differ by only one sound are called minimal pairs. When students are learning a foreign language, some sounds don’t exist in their native languages, and these sounds can be difficult to say and hear. It’s a good idea to study some of the tricky words side-by-side. This helps students realize that the words don’t sound the same, and with some practice, they’ll learn proper pronunciation.

Here are eight sets of pairs. Each set has five pairs, for a total of ten words. The files are designed to be displayed with a big-screen TV or projector. When repeating after the teacher, the teacher should typically say both words, to expose the contrasting sounds.

For a quick quiz, the teacher says a word, and students raise their right or left hand to indicate which word they (think they) heard. Or, students can say right or left out loud. Then the teacher indicates the answer. After a few minutes of teacher-led practice, make pairs and ask students to quiz each other, in the same style as before. When students are quizzing each other, there’s a chance that the speaker will mispronounce a word, leading to general confusion, so close the topic by repeating after the teacher.

Set A

  1. bath / bus
  2. fly / fry
  3. hat / hot
  4. ball / bell
  5. lock / rock

Set B

  1. sheep / ship
  2. fan / van
  3. mouse / mouth
  4. cap / cup
  5. light / right

Set C

  1. cat / cut
  2. flute / fruit
  3. pen / pin
  4. play / pray
  5. race / rice

Set D

  1. glass / grass
  2. hair / her
  3. map / mop
  4. horse / hose
  5. sink / think

Set E

  1. man / men
  2. base / vase
  3. wash / watch
  4. bees / peas
  5. heat / hit

Set F

  1. slow / throw
  2. cart / cat
  3. bag / bug
  4. box / fox
  5. heel / hill

Set G

  1. dock / duck
  2. clown / crown
  3. sleep / slip
  4. warm / worm
  5. list / wrist

Set H

  1. ear / year
  2. walk / work
  3. peach / pitch
  4. girl / gull
  5. fast / first

lock rock

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