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How to pronounce sheet to minimize the risk of confusion with shit?

Usually what one means is clear from the context, but it'd still be very awkward if it accidentally sounds like shit.

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@R C Quite a few French friends have asked me the same question. Also 'beach' and 'bitch'. :-) –  camden_kid Mar 11 '13 at 12:42
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I wanna sheet on my bed and I wanna fork on the table! –  mplungjan Mar 11 '13 at 12:50
    
It seems like the confusion might be prone to go the other way around. (If shit and sheet sound like near homophones, I'm guessing that it's the former that's being said with the off pronunciation.) –  J.R. Mar 11 '13 at 14:25
    
I had a roommate once from Greece. He had trouble distinguishing these words, both in hearing and speaking. Also confusing them with sit and seat. All four of them seemed about the same to him. –  GEdgar Mar 11 '13 at 14:27
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marked as duplicate by Mitch, FumbleFingers, kiamlaluno, MετάEd, KitFox Mar 12 '13 at 14:31

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1 Answer

It sounds like your KIT and FLEECE vowels aren’t far enough apart.

The difference is that the KIT vowel is /ɪ/, and the FLEECE vowel is /iː/, with a bit of length added to it, too.

The KIT vowel is a little bit more open and a little bit further back than the FLEECE vowel:

IPA vowel chart

Many minimal pairs exist for these two, with bit and beet perhaps the most often cited.

This is an error sometimes made by Spanish speakers in English. I am guessing that your first language does not consider the KIT and FLEECE vowels to be distinct phonemes the way English does.

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For those who don't make the distinction, I find the extra is that the FLEECE vowel is also diphthongized, that is length is not enough, it must also have the y-glide or in IPA /ij/. –  Mitch Mar 11 '13 at 12:58
    
@Mitch For some speakers, perhaps, but certainly not for others, who have only a monophthong there not a diphthong. See here. –  tchrist Mar 11 '13 at 13:38
    
Yes, that's true. But the question was how to emphasize the tense /i/ to avoid confusion with lax /ɪ/, and diphthongization of /i/ is one strategy. –  John Lawler Mar 11 '13 at 15:19
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I have noticed that my romance-language-speaking friends tend to retain the pure vowel sounds instead of adopting the diphthongization of words - and despite that, their "shit", "sit", "ship" and "bit" frequently sound like "sheet", "seat", "sheep" and "beat". (I say "huh?" a lot.) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 11 '13 at 17:56
    
I wanna sheet onna bed and fork onna table –  mplungjan Jan 17 at 5:45
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