Minimal Pairs

What are minimal pairs?

Minimal pairs are two words that are only different in pronunciation by a single sound.  This pronunciation difference can be difficult for English language learners.  Minimal pairs are a great way to practice English pronunciation.

Voiced /th/ and /p/ minimal pairs

voiced /th/ and /p/ minimal pairs

  • then / pen
  • these / peas
  • those / pose
  • they / pay
  • than / pan
  • that / pat
  • their / pair
  • thy / pie

 Click to play

Try this sentence with /th/ and /p/ sounds:

“Put those peas in these pots.”

Try this sentence with /th/ and /p/ sounds:

“I will have another bowl of that pumpkin soup please.”

/sh/ and /b/ minimal pairs

/sh/ and /b/ minimal pairs

  • sheep / beep
  • show / bow
  • shell / bell
  • Josh / job
  • shark / bark
  • shirt / Bert
  • shoe / boo
  • shin / bin
  • she / bee

Click to play

Try this sentence with /sh/ and /b/ sounds:

“The blouse and shirt are in the bag with the sash.”

Try this sentence with /sh/ and /b/ sounds:

“Betty wishes she could show you her new buttons.”

/m/ and /n/ minimal pairs

/m/ and /n/ minimal pairs

  • beam / beam
  • am / an
  • comb / cone
  • term / turn
  • dime / dine
  • game / gain
  • gum / gun
  • clam / clan
  • foam / phone
Click to play

Try this sentence with /m/ and /n/ sounds:

“Neil came to watch Pam’s championship tennis match.”

Try this sentence with /m/ and /n/ sounds:

“The gold medal belongs to the tournament winner.”

/r/ and /p/ minimal pairs

/r/ and /p/ minimal pairs

  • reach / peach
  • rain / pain
  • rink / pink
  • rocket / pocket
  • rail / pail
  • rat / pat
  • wreck / peck
  • rest / pest
  • roast / post
Click to play

Try this sentence with /r/ and /p/ sounds:

“Rachel put the pot roast in the red pan.”

Try this sentence with /r/ and /p/ sounds:

“Please post the restaurant menu near the entrance.”

/t/ and /d/ minimal pairs

/t/ and /d/ minimal pairs

  • ten / den
  • tore / door
  • tip / dip
  • town / down
  • tart / dart
  • tie / die
  • hat / had
  • write / ride
  • sent / send

Click to play

Try this sentence with /t/ and /d/ sounds:

“The lightning and thunderstorm created a tornado.”

Try this sentence with /t/ and /d/ sounds:

“Diana must trim the dead branches during winter.”

/m/ and /t/ minimal pairs

/m/ and /t/ minimal pairs

  • moo / too
  • my / tie
  • map / tap
  • mop / top
  • Mick / tick
  • mail / tail
  • most / toast
  • mall  / tall
  • might / tight

Click to play

Try this sentence with /m/ and /t/ sounds:

“Take the mail to the post office by the mall.”

Try this sentence with /m/ and /t/ sounds:

“Tim’s mother teaches at the museum downtown.”

/r/ and /l/ minimal pairs

/r/ and /l/ minimal pairs

  • rake / lake
  • right / light
  • rock / lock
  • road / load
  • read / lead
  • fry / fly
  • berry / belly
  • crown / clown
  • grow / glow
Click to play

Try this sentence with /r/ and /l/ sounds:

“Leo remembers locking his computer before leaving work.”

Try this sentence with /r/ and /l/ sounds:

“Lana received and email from Robert on her tablet.”

/s/ and /sh/ minimal pairs

/s/ and /sh/ minimal pairs

  • see / she
  • sew / show
  • seat / sheet
  • sour / shower
  • sell / shell
  • sip / ship
  • sack / shack
  • sign / shine
  • sore / shore
Click to play

Try this sentence with /s/ and /sh/ sounds:

“She’d like to sell the truck and save the cash.”

Try this sentence with /s/ and /sh/ sounds:

“A van crashed up the street so let’s find a shortcut.”

/n/ and /t/ minimal pairs

/n/ and /t/ minimal pairs

  • night / tight
  • nap / tap
  • no / toe
  • knot / tot
  • nail / tail
  • name / tame
  • nose / toes
  • nest / test
  • nook / took
Click to play

Try this sentence with /n/ and /t/ sounds:

“Nicole can touch her nose without bending her knees.”

Try this sentence with /n/ and /t/ sounds:

“Tanya sneezed twice when Nick touched her nose.”

/dʒ/ (j) and /tʃ/ (ch) minimal pairs

/dʒ/ (j) and /tʃ/ (ch) minimal pairs

  • jug / chug
  • jet / Chet
  • gin / chin
  • joke / choke
  • jump / chump
  • edge / etch
  • lunge / lunch
  • ridge / rich
  • surge / search

Click to play

Try this sentence with /dʒ/ and /tʃ/ sounds:

“Charles just came from the emergency room in a wheelchair.”

Try this sentence with /dʒ/ and /tʃ/ sounds:

“Jim’s child has a knee injury from jumping off the couch.”

/b/ and /v/ minimal pairs

/b/ and /v/ minimal pairs

  • ban / van
  • bale / veil
  • best / vest
  • bat / vat
  • bet / vet
  • berry / very
  • boat / vote
  • bent / vent
  • curb / curve
Click to play

Try this sentence with /b/ and /v/ sounds:

“Vicky went on a vacation to the Bahamas.”

Try this sentence with /b/ and /v/ sounds:

“Ben and Val bought souvenirs at the art exhibit in Venice.”

/t/ and /p/ minimal pairs

/t/ and /p/ minimal pairs

  • tie / pie
  • tall / Paul
  • teal / peel
  • ten / pen
  • tail / pale
  • tea / pea
  • tin /pin
  • teach / peach
  • tan / pan
Click to play

Try this sentence with /t/ and /p/ sounds:

“Tom gave the pen to his teacher Mr. Paul.”

Try this sentence with /t/ and /p/ sounds:

“Polly tapped on the map with the protractor.”

/r/ and /b/ minimal pairs

/r/ and /b/ minimal pairs

  • row / bow
  • red /bed
  • rug / bug
  • rack / back
  • run / bun
  • rag /bag
  • right / bite
  • reach / beach
  • rail / bail
Click to play

Try this sentence with /r/ and /b/ sounds:

“Barry used a blue screwdriver to build the rack.”

Try this sentence with /r/ and /b/ sounds:

“Use a razor blade to break down the brown boxes.”

/d/ and /b/ minimal pairs

/d/ and /b/ minimal pairs

  • die / buy
  • do / boo
  • duck / buck
  • den / Ben
  • day / bay
  • date / bait
  • dark / bark
  • dust / bust
  • dug / bug

Click to play

Try this sentence with /d/ and /b/ sounds:

“The dogs bark down by the bay at dusk.”

Try this sentence with /d/ and /b/ sounds:

“During winter bears hibernate in their dens.”

/y/ and /dʒ/ minimal pairs

/y/ and /dʒ/ minimal pairs

  • yam / jam
  • yet / jet
  • Yale / jail
  • mayor / major
  • yell / gel
  • mayor / major
  • yellow / jello
  • yacht / jot
  • yak / Jack
Click to play

Try this sentence with /y/ and / dʒ/ sounds:

“I am a junior at Yale College.  I finish my major next year.”

Try this sentence with /y/ and / dʒ/ sounds:

“I suggest you learn a second language at a young age.”

/p/ and /f/ minimal pairs

/p/ and /f/ minimal pairs

  • pan / fan
  • pin / fin
  • paint / faint
  • pig / fig
  • pine / fine
  • peel / feel
  • pat / fat
  • pair / fair
  • pile / file
Click to play

Try this sentence with /p/ and / f/ sounds:

“Peter and Frank play football on Fridays.”

Try this sentence with /p/ and / f/ sounds:

“The golfer played poorly on the fifth hole.”

/sh/ and /ch/ minimal pairs

/sh/ and /ch/ minimal pairs

  • shoes / choose
  • shop / chop
  • share / chair
  • sheep / cheap
  • shoe / chew
  • ship / chip
  • mush / much
  • leash / leach
  • wash / watch
Click to play

Try this sentence with /sh/ and /ch/ sounds:

“Shannon chose the television show that we watched.”

Try this sentence with /sh/ and /ch/ sounds:

“Shane is in the kitchen sitting in a chair finishing his lunch.”

/k/ and /g/ minimal pairs

/k/ and /g/ minimal pairs

  • back / bag
  • pick / pig
  • clock / clog
  • dock / dog
  • pick / pig
  • lock / log
  • rack / rag
  • sack / sag
  • pluck / plug
Click to play

Try this sentence with /k/ and /g/ sounds:

“Put the grocery sack on the rug by the back door.”

Try this sentence with /k/ and /g/ sounds:

“The dirty glasses and forks go in the sink.”

/f/ and /v/ minimal pairs

/f/ and /v/ minimal pairs

  • fan / van
  • fine / vine
  • fail / veil
  • fear / veer
  • half / have
  • proof / prove
  • fender / vendor
  • strife / strive
  • surf / serve
Click to play

Try this sentence with /f/ and /v/ sounds:

“Vanessa found the cutest souvenirs for the kids.”

Try this sentence with /f/ and /v/ sounds:

“Fiona gave her keys to the valet in front of the elevator.”

/i:/ and /I/ minimal pairs

/i:/ and /I/ minimal pairs

  • sheep / ship
  • feet / fit
  • cheap / chip
  • leek / lick
  • eat / it
  • heat / hit
  • bean /bin
  • leave / live
Click to play

Try this sentence with /i:/ and /I/ sounds:

“Most people have milk with their tea in England.”

Try this sentence with /i:/ and /I/ sounds:

“We grilled chicken for dinner and had coffee with dessert.”

Basic ESL Workbooks

Workbook 1
Lessons 1-15 Buy
Workbook 2
Lessons 16-30 Buy
Workbook 3
Lessons 31-45 Buy

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