The /eɪ/ diphthong is spelled <aCe>, <ai>, <ay> or <ey> in fey, and occurs in the letter names A and K. The /eə/ diphthong is spelled <air>, <ear>, <are>, and <eah> in yeah.
This is a contrast between two diphthongs. The starting positions are very close but the direction of movement is different. Confusions are possible, though not associated with any particular group of learners.
Interesting pairs include:
The density figure is 8.52%. The set makes 52 semantic contrasts giving a loading of 63.4%.
A air A's airs A Ayr A ere A heir A's heirs aid aired backstays backstairs Bailey barely baize bares bane bairn bay bare bays bares bayed bared bay bear bays bears bey bare beys bares bey bear beys bears blade blared blaze blares cane cairn canes cairns chaise shares day dare days dares fade fared fey fair flay flair flays flairs flay flare flayed flared flays falres glade glared glaze glares hay hair hay hare haze hairs haze hares K care K's cares lade laird lay lair lays lairs may mare Mays mares outweigh outwear outweighs outwears pay pair paid paired pays pairs phase fairs praise prayers pray prayer prays prayers repay repair repaid repaired repays repairs shade shared spade spared spay spare spays spares spayed spared staid stared stay stare stays stares stayed stared stay stair stays stairs sway swear sways swears wade wared way wear ways wears way ware ways wares weigh ware weighs wares weigh wear weighs wears yea yeah
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, December 2009