The /æ/ vowel is spelled <a> followed by two consonants or by one consonant in a monosyllable. The /eɪ/ diphthong is most often spelled <aCV> as in ape or halo, but we also see in this list <ai> in paint and <ei> in feign. It also occurs in the letter names A and J. In several words of French origin such as crêpe, crèche and fête, spellings with <ê> or <è> are given the /eɪ/ pronunciation, but many speakers will use /e/ instead. Notice the occurrence of the homographs bass (fish and low voice) and pasty (Cornish pie, pale-looking). Confusable but doubtfully minimal is randier/reindeer, since randier has three syllables and reindeer only two. The two different spellings of renascence/renaissance form a contrasting pair but have the same meaning.
This contrast is between a short vowel and a diphthong, so it should not cause problems. Indeed many of the problems that do arise are probably due to unfamiliarity with a particular spelling rather than difficulty with the sounds. For languages which do not have an /eɪ/ diphthong and replace it with a monophthong, this may cause a problem, as it is known to do for both French and German speakers.
One potential embarrassing pair is brassière/brazier. This was a confusion that was famously exploited in the film Room at the Top, where the hero exposes his lack of education by mispronouncing brazier and is laughed at.
Interesting pairs include:
The density value is 2.83%. The pairs make 140 semantic contrasts, giving a loading of 55.6%.
act ached ad aid ads aids add aid added aided adding aiding adds AIDS Al ail am aim ant ain't apse apes apt aped as A's ashen Asian at eight automat automate automats automates ax aches babble babel babbles babels Babs babes back bake backed baked backer baker backs bakes backers bakers backing baking bally Bailey ban bane bans banes bass base bass bass bat bait batted baited batting baiting bats baits bract braked brad braid brads braids bran brain brand brained brassière brazier brassières braziers cadge cage cadged caged cadges cages cadging caging cam came can cane canned caned canning caning cans canes cap cape caps capes cat Kate catty Katie clam claim clammed claimed clamming claiming clams claims crack crake cracks crakes crap crêpe craps crêpes crash crèche crashes crèches dally daily dallies dailies dam dame dams dames damn dame damns dames Dan Dane fact faked fad fade fads fades fan fain fan feign fanned feigned fanning feigning fans feigns fat fate fats fates fatted fated fat fête fatting fêting fatted fêted fatten phaeton fattens phaetons flak flake flax flakes frazzle phrasal gabble gable gabbled gabled gabbles gables gal Gael gals Gaels gal gale gals gales galley gaily Gallic Gaelic gammy gamy gap gape gaps gapes GATT gait glad glade grand grained hack hake Hal hail hallow halo hallows haloes has haze hast haste hat hate hats hates Jack Jake jacks jakes jams James jambs James Jan Jane jazz J's knacker nacre knap nape knaps napes lack lake lacks lakes lad lade laddie lady laddies ladies lam lame lams lames lammed lamed lamming laming lamb lame lambed lamed lambing laming lambs lames lassie lacy lat late latter later latticed latest lav lave lavs laves lazar laser lazars lasers ma'am maim mac make mad made madden maiden maddens maidens Mademoiselle Mesdemoiselles mammy Mamie man main mans mains manly mainly mass mace masses maces mat mate matted mated matting mating mats mates Max makes navvy navy navvies navies overtax overtakes pad paid pal pale palled paled palling paling pals pales pal pail pals pails pallor paler pan pain panned pained panning paining pans pains pant paint panted painted panting painting pants paints pasty pasty pat pate pats pates plaid played plait plate plaited plated plaiting plating plaits plates plan plain planned planed planner plainer planning plaining plans plains quack quake quacked quaked quacking quaking quacks quakes rack rake racked raked racking raking racks rakes ran rain ran reign ran rein rand rained rand reigned rand reined randier reindeer rap rape rapped raped rapping raping raps rapes rat rate rats rates ratted rated ratting rating renascence renaissance sac sake sack sake sacks sakes saddest sadist Sam same sand seined sans seines sat sate scan skein scans skeins scat skate scatter skater scatters skaters scrap scrape scrapped scraped scrapping scraping scraps scrapes shack shake shacking shaking shacks shakes shad shade shall shale sham shame shammed shamed shamming shaming shams shames slack slake slacked slaked slacking slaking slacks slakes slat slate slats slates slatted slated snack snake snacks snakes span Spain spat spate spats spates stack stake stacked staked stacking staking stacks stakes Stan stain stand stained strand strained tack take tacking taking tacks takes tap tape tapped taped tapping taping taps tapes trad trade trans trains traps traipse valance valence valances valences van vain vans vanes water-rat water-rate water-rats water-rates wax wakes whack wake whacked waked whacking waking whacks wakes
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, November 2009