The /æ/ vowel is spelled <a> followed by two consonants or by one consonant in a monosyllable. The /3/ vowel is spelled with many different combinations of one or two vowels plus <r> as in earn, jerk, flirt, work and turn. None of these pairs will be minimal for speakers of rhotic accents (those accents in which /r/ may occur before other consonants or silence).
This is a contrast bewteen a short and a long vowel and causes few problems for learners, though it is a recognised difficulty for Swahili speakers.
There is one taboo word pairing: shat/shirt.
Interesting pairs include:
The mean density is 2.4%. The pairs make 95 semantic contrasts, giving a loading of 55%.
act irked ad erred add erred Al earl Ali early and earned Ann earn Annie Ernie as errs ax irks babble burble babbled burbled babbles burbles babbling burbling back burke backed burked backing burking backs burkes bad bird bag berg bags bergs bally Burley ban Bern ban burn banned burned banning burning bans burns banish burnish banished burnished banishes burnishes banishing burnishing banner burner banners burners bant burnt bast burst bat Bert batch birch batches birches Batley Birtley batten burton battens burtons batty Bertie blab blurb blabs blurbs cab curb cabs curbs cabby Kirkby cad curd cads curds cat curt cattle kirtle chap chirp chapped chirped chapping chirping chaps chirps dandle dirndl dandles dirndls fallow furlough fan fern fans ferns Fanny ferny farrier furrier flat flirt flats flirts gad gird gadded girded gadding girding gads girds gaggle gurgle gaggles gurgles gal girl gals girls GATT girt had heard Hal hurl has hers hats hertz jack jerk jacked jerked jacking jerking jacks jerks Jackie jerky jam germ jams germs jamb germ jambs germs jazzes jerseys jazzy Jersey lack lurk lacked lurked lacking lurking lacks lurks land learned latch lurch latched lurched latches lurches latching lurching mac murk madder murder Madge merge mammon merman masses mercies massy mercy navvy nervy pack perk packed perked packing perking packs perks pad purred pal pearl palled pearled palling pearling pals pearls pally pearly pallier pearlier palliest pearliest Pam perm passion Persian passions Persians patch perch patched perched patches perches patching perching quack quirk quacks quirks salmon sermon sapless surplus sat cert savant servant savants servants scat skirt shack shirk shacked shirked shacking shirking shacks shirks shat shirt smack smirk smacked smirked smacking smirking smacks smirks spam sperm span spurn spanned spurned spanning spurning spans spurns spat spirt spats spirts spatted spirted spatting spirting Stan stern Stanley sternly tack Turk tacks Turks tacky Turkey tan tern tans terns tan turn tanned turned tanning turning tans turns tanner turner tanners turners taps turps tattle turtle tattles turtles tax Turks wax works whack work whacked worked whacker worker whackers workers whacking working whackings workings
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, January 2011