I'm a substitute teacher and recently was teaching a kindergarten class about long i sound. They were crossing out words without long i, circling words with long i. One of the words was ink. I told them no, listen , we don't say i nk (say it with a long i to see what I mean) and they crossed it out. Later, looking at the teacher's edition, it had ink circled. I thought it was just a mistake then I saw that an ink bottle was actually used as an example in the book for the long i sound. I thought something was terribly wrong so I looked it up in the dictionary—it shows i in ink as a long i sound (I looked at many dictionaries, all were the same). This can't be right, but I'm wondering if it's one if those things that's just been accepted and not questioned. Or if it's a category that hasn't been explored yet as needing a separate sound to clarify, like words with r-controlled vowels. Any comments on this would be extremely helpful.


I realized I made a mistake with my original post and used long I all the way through. I meant to say that in ink, think, pink, thing, ring, king, etc., in other words, words ending in "nk" and "ng", the "i" is usually pronounced more like a long e sound, like e in meet. At least, that is how I have always pronounced it and heard it pronounced. I'm from California so this could be regional, but I've never heard it pronounced with a short i like in it. Fumblefingers listed words in which a short i occurs, including ink, pink, bit, fit. I definitely hear short i in bit and fit, sounds the same. In ink and pink, i does not sound the same to me, nor have I heard people say it with the same i sound as in bit. Unless the i is getting so quickly blended into the "ng" that it is almost ignored, in which case it should have a special sound category like we teach r-controlled vowels. The pronunciation rules could be very different between the US and the UK .

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    I find it impossible to credit that any reputable dictionary would show the 'long i' vowel in ink. Is it possible that the dictionaries you consulted employ the IPA symbol ɪ for the 'short i' sound, rather than the ĭ symbol, now found only in very old-fashioned US dictionaries? --Could you supply us a reference to the book in question? Commented May 15, 2014 at 16:49
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    Assuming by long/short i you mean the same as most of us, I think perhaps you're simply misreading the phonetic transcription of ink. A short i occurs in ink, pink, bit, fit. The long one is bite, fight. Commented May 15, 2014 at 16:49
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    Could you give us some examples of what you mean by "long i"? It can mean two things (at least), and it doesn't describe the sound, so it's not used, except in education schools. It can either mean the diphthong /ay/ (as in ride), which was pronounced /i:/ in Middle English, or it can mean the tense high front vowel /i/ (as in reed; in UK usage /i:/), contrasting with the lax high front vowel /ɪ/, as in rid. If you're in the UK, you may mean the latter. Or not. Anyway, some examples are always helpful in explaining. Commented May 15, 2014 at 16:57
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    John Lawler, it's unlikely that Linda is in the UK. This country does not use the word kindergarten.
    – Tristan r
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 20:16
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    Linda, I WANT THAT DICTIONARY!!! That is awesome. See , it is happening. there has been a kind of traditional rule developed by IPA that when /iː/ comes before /ŋ/ it is to be written /ɪŋ/ even though it is pronounced /iːŋ/ . Commented May 12, 2016 at 1:29

5 Answers 5


Something funny happens to short i in some California accents; what most of us pronounce as short i (as in sit or king) turns into long e (as in seat or keen) when it's before an "nk" or an "ng". So ink would be pronounced eenk in these accents.

But this is a regional thing, established in California, Michigan, and probably several other regions of the U.S., but there are lots of regions where people don't do this. So the dictionaries are correct; except in California, pink and ring have a short i like bid.

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    Plus, she said "long i", not "long e". I was noticing that tense and lax vowels neutralize before /ŋ/ (but not before other nasals), so that gives phoneme space for California Angma Tensing, and I was thinking that was what she meant, but then I remembered that "long I" was sposta be /ay/. Then I got confused and made my comment above. Commented May 15, 2014 at 17:17
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    @JohnLawler I haven't studied it, but I'm pretty sure you don't have to go all the way out to the West Coast before you find the perceived and/or generated vowel of pink matching the tense one of pea rather than the lax one of pin. But I have no idea what sort of demographic distribution applies here either, like geographic region of origin, age, education, register, etc.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 20:01
  • @tchrist: I think one of these questions showed that it was definitely established in some parts of Michigan, and there are undoubtedly people scattered through many other states who do it (although I don't know if there are regions besides California and parts of Michigan where most people do it). Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 20:54
  • The pronunciation of the letter i before ng and nk is closer to "long e "or /i/ in Standard North American English (basically Midwest).

-The reason is coarticulation, the influence a sound can have on the other sounds around it. the /ng/ sound is present at the end of the work king but also before the /k/ in sink. To make that sound, the back of the tongue is high (you can feel it pressed against the velum, your dangly bit from the roof of your mouth). The height of the tongue causes us to not drop the tongue tip as much as we usually would to make the short I sound in kin or pin.

-while vowel sound in king is pronounced closer to where we make the ee (/i/) in keen, it is also shorter in duration in king than it would be in keen. Distinguishing long and short vowels is different when discussing pronunciation versus spelling. For kindergarteners learning to read, saying it is a "short i" (symbol /I/) better helps elicit the correct spelling with "i" rather than "ee" but another way to circumvent this is to just teach them as a class of "ing" family words. Otherwise, we'd have to develop a "bossy ng" rule like we do with "r", and really all the consonants are bossy because they change the vowels to some degree.


Modern neutral American English often uses the long ee sound before nk and ng. It's not regional so much as it is just the evolution of neutral American English. For example, kin and king are completely different "I" sounds. But unfortunately many English learning materials still teach it as a short sound.

  • It's not a good idea for English classes to teach it as long ee in this position. Lots of Americans still use [ɪ], and we (at least I) perceive them as allophones before "ng", so we don't even notice which pronunciation somebody's using. If ESL classes have a choice between a pronunciation that sounds fine both in the U.S. and the U.K., and one that makes you sound like a foreigner in the the U.K., it's clear which one they should use. Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 14:06

Yes, for my money the "i" in "ink" and "ring" is pronounced long e. Like in "creak" and "leak." I don't get the short i pronunciation with these words.


Here in Maryland we say K-ee-ng (king) and p-ee-nk (pink). A Google search actually brought me to this thread, because I had a similar question regarding my son's Kindergarten homework.

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