The /eɪ/ diphthong is spelled <aCe>, <ai>, <ay> or <ei> in freight, and occurs in the letter name A. The /aɪ/ diphthong is spelled <iCe>, <igh>, <ie>, <y> and <uy> in buy, and is found in the letter names I and Y.
This is a contrast between two front closing diphthongs. The contrast is unstable in some British accents, notably Cockney, exemplified in the old joke:
Injured patient: Have they brought me here to die?The contrast features in a memorable line from the song Gee Officer Krupcke in the musical West Side Story, "He's depraved on account he's deprived." I have not heard of this distinction causing problems for foreign learners. Many learners do not use a diphthong corresponding to /eɪ/ but they will tend to replace it with a monophthong /e/.
Nurse: Nah, yesterdy.
Interesting pairs include:
The density figure is 5.6%. The set makes 203 semantic contrasts giving a loading of 50.1%.
A I A's I's ace ice aces ices Ada Ida aid I'd aids ides ail I'll ail aisle ails aisles ail isle ails isles aim I'm allay ally allayed allied allaying allying allays allies appraise apprise appraised apprised appraises apprises appraising apprising array awry arrays arise assayed aside assays assize Avon Ivan babel Bible babels Bibles bail bile bailors bylaws bait bite baiting biting baits bights bake bike baked biked bakes bikes baking biking bale bile bane bine basin bison bay buy bayed bide baying buying bays buys belay belie belayed belied belaying belying belays belies birthrate birthright birthrates birthrights braid bride braids brides brain brine brainier brinier brainiest briniest brains brines brainy briny breadthways breadthwise broadways broadwise caned kind chain chine chains chines chaise shies claim climb claimed climbed claiming climbing claims climbs clave Clive craze cries dace dice dame dime dames dimes Dane dine Danes dines Dave dive day die days dies deign dine deigned dined deigning dining deigns dines deprave deprive depraved deprived depraves deprives depraving depriving dray dry drays dries edgeways edgewise endways endwise fail file failed filed failing filing failings filings fails files fain fine fate fight fates fights favour fiver favours fivers feign fine feigned fined feigning fining feigns fines feigned find fête fight fêtes fights fêting fighting fey fie flay fly flaying flying flays flies fray fry frayed fried fraying frying frays fries freight fright freighted frighted freighting frighting freights frights Gael guile gale guile gaols Giles gay guy gays guys gazes guises glade glide glades glides grained grind grape gripe grapes gripes hake hike hate height hates heights hay hi haze hies heinous highness Kate kite knaves knives label libel labelled libelled labelling libelling labels libels lace lice laden Leiden lain line lake like lakes likes lame lime lamed limed lames limes laming liming lane line lanes lines late light lately lightly later lighter latest lightest lave live laves lives lay lie laying lying lays lies layer liar layers liars leastways leastwise lengthways lengthwise longways longwise mace mice mail mile mailed mild mails miles maim mime maimed mimed maiming miming maims mimes Maine mine mains mines make mike makes mikes male mile males miles maser miser masers misers mate might mate mite mates mites matey mighty may my nay night née nigh neigh nigh obeyed abide overlay overlie overlaying overlying overlays overlies paid pied pail pile pails piles pain pine pained pined paining pining pains pines paint pint paints pints pale pile paled piled paling piling pales piles pane pine panes pines paper piper papers pipers pay pie pays pies payer pyre payers pyres plate plight plated plighted plates plights play ply played plied playing plying plays plies players pliers praise pries praise prise praised prised praises prises praising prising praise prize praised prized praising prizing praises prizes pray pry prayed pried prays pries praying prying prays prise prays prize prayed pride pail pile pale pile race rice raid ride raiding riding raids rides raider rider raiders riders rail rile railed riled railing riling rails riles rain Rhine rained rind raise rise raises rises raising rising raiser riser raisers risers rake Reich rakes Reichs rape ripe rapist ripest rate right rated righted rates rights rating righting rate rite rates rites rate write rates writes rating writing ratings writings rave rive raved rived raves rives raving riving ray rye ray wry rays rise relay rely relayed relied relaying relying relays relies remainder reminder remainders reminders remained remind safer cipher sandpaper sandpiper sandpapers sandpipers sate cite sated cited sates cites sating citing sate sight sates sights sated sighted sating sighting sate site sates sites seined signed shade shied slate slight slated slighted slates sleights slating slighting slay sly slayer slyer sleigh sly sleighed slide space spice spaced spiced spaces spices spacing spicing spade spied Spain spine spake spike spate spite spates spites spay spy spaying spying spays spies spray spry sprayer spryer stale style staled styled stales styles stalest stylist staling styling stay sty stays sties strayed stride swain swine tail tile tailed tiled tailing tiling tails tiles take tike takes tikes tale tile tales tiles tame time tamed timed tamely timely tames times taming timing tame thyme tape type taped typed tapes types taping typing they thy trace trice traced triced traces trices tracing tricing trade tried trait trite tray try trays tries twain twine twains twines underlay underlie underlain underline underrate underwrite underrates underwrites underrating underwriting vain vine vale vile vane vine vanes vines vapour viper vapours vipers wade wide wader wider waif wife wail while wailed whiled wailing whiling wain whine wains whines wain wine wains wines wait white waiting whiting waits whites waiter whiter waive wive waived wived waives wives waiving wiving wail while wails whiles wail wile wails wiles wane whine waned whined waning whining wait Wight way Y ways Y's weigh why weigh Y weighs Y's weight white
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, December 2009