Vowels 3 and 5, /e/ versus /ɑ/    148 pairs      [vestvast.html]

The spelling of /e/ is <e> or <ea>, and the sound occurs in the letter names M, S and X. The spelling of /ɑ/ is <ar> or <a> in command, father, last and khan.

This is a contrast between a long and a short vowel, fairly well separated in the mouth. In spite of the well-known first chapter in The Education of Hyman Kaplan in which he confuses vast first with west and then with vest, it is not a big problem for learners, though slightly more so for learners of US English than of British RP.

The only pairs with taboo words are fetid/farted and S/arse.

Interesting pairs include:

chemist calmest
headship hardship
impeller impala
level larval
pestle parcel

The mean density value is 2%. The pairs make 90 semantic contrasts, giving a loading of 61%.

ate art 
beck bark 
  becks barks 
bed baa'd 
bed bard
  beds bards
belly barley 
ben barn
  bens barns 
Bess baas
better barter 
  bettered bartered 
  bettering bartering 
  betters barters 
blench blanch 
  blenched blanched 
  blenches blanches 
  blenching blanching 
blessed blast 
chemist calmest 
commend command 
  commended commanded 
  commending commanding 
  commends commands 
Debbie Darby 
deck dark
decker darker 
deft daft 
  deftly daftly 
den darn 
  dens darns 
dense dance 
denser dancer 
eft aft 
ego argot 
emery armoury 
Emma amah
etch arch
  etched arched 
  etches arches 
  etching arching 
etcher archer 
  etchers archers 
feather father 
  feathered fathered 
  feathering fathering 
  feathers fathers 
fem farm 
fester faster 
fetid farted 
head hard 
header harder 
heady hardy 
  headier hardier 
  headiest hardiest 
headship hardship 
  headships hardships 
heavy Harvey 
heck hark 
  hecks harks 
helot harlot 
  helots harlots 
hem harm 
  hemmed harmed 
  hemming harming 
  hems harms 
hep harp 
Hetton hearten 
impellers impalas 
Ken Calne 
kennel carnal 
ken khan
  kens khans
Kent can't
kept carped 
lead lard 
  leaded larded 
  leading larding 
leather lather 
  leathers lathers 
ledger larger 
left laughed 
legs Largs 
Len Larne 
lend larned 
lens larns 
lest last 
level larval 
M arm
Med marred
mellow Marlow 
mesh marsh 
  meshes marshes 
Met mart
Metz marts
M's alms
neck nark 
  necked narked 
  necking narking 
  necks narks 
peck park 
  pecked parked 
  pecking parking 
  pecks parks 
pecker parka
  peckers parkas 
pest passed 
pester pastor 
  pesters pastors 
pestle parcel
  pestled parcelled 
  pestles parcels 
  pestling parcelling 
pests pasts 	
pet part
  pets parts 
  petted parted 
  petting parting 
petty party 
reft raft 
Reg raj
S arse
  S's arses
shed shard 
  sheds shards 
skep scarp 
  skeps scarps 
slender slander 
speck spark 
  specks sparks   
speckle sparkle 
  speckled sparkled 
  speckles sparkles 
sped sparred 
stead starred 
stet start 
Ted tarred
Teddy tardy
ten tarn 
  tens tarns 
Terry tarry
vest vast 	  
wrench ranch
  wrenches ranches 	 
  wrenching ranching
X arcs
yen yarn 
  yens yarns 

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, January 2011