Certain English words are pronounced with two different vowels depending on the dialect of the speaker, namely with /ɑː/ or /æ/ (in IPA notation). These include:

can't, last, fast, past, path, vast, dance

Can you point me to a list of all common words with this property?

I recently heard the word “path” in a sound recording pronounced as /pæθ/, and didn't recognize it despite repeatedly listening. I was aware that “can't” has two pronunciations, but I didn't know this about all these words. I am asking this question so that in the future I have less trouble understanding such words.

Update: for search, here is a list of some such words that may be similar, based on the answer: advance, advantage, after, answer, ask, aunt, branch, brass, can't, cast, castle, chance, class, command, contrast, dance, demand, disaster, draft, enhance, example, fast, glass, glance, grant, graph, grass, half, last, laugh, mask, master, nasty, pass, past, path, photograph, plant, rather, sample, shan't, staff, task, vast.

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    Is this the BrE trap/bath split?
    – Mitch
    Sep 29, 2015 at 16:07
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    There is no such list. The sounds differ in different countries and in different parts of those countries. You haven't even specified the country. Sep 29, 2015 at 17:27
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    @chasly: why would I need a country? I want to listen to English speakers from any country and try to understand them. I believe the particular speaker I mention in the question is from the US though.
    – b_jonas
    Sep 29, 2015 at 18:17
  • @Mitch: yes, it appears to be. That article also gives a mostly complete list, so perhaps make that an answer.
    – b_jonas
    Sep 29, 2015 at 18:24
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    @PeterShor Some also pronounce 'aunt' as /ɔnt/. See english.stackexchange.com/a/96439/4972 (and your comment there).
    – Mitch
    Sep 29, 2015 at 19:50

1 Answer 1


What you are hearing is the infamous trap–bath split.

Some accents (like GenAmE) do not distinguish the vowels in trap and bath (both /æ/). But many BrE (RP and mainstream) and Oceanic (AusE, NZE, SAE) make a distinction. In contexts before /f, s, θ, ns, nt, ntʃ, mpl/, the /æ/ changes to /ɑː/.

So it depends on which country you’re in. Trap sounds mostly the same in AmE and BrE, but bath sounds ‘Englishy’ in BrE to Americans (and vice versa to the English).

The Wikipedia article on the phonological history of English short ‘a’ and in particular its trap–bath split article give the rule, lots of examples, and the many exceptions.

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    Here in the East Midlands, central England, the vowels in trap and bath are the same. They are /æ/. Me myself, I consider this perfectly mainstream, even though I don't speak that way myself. Mar 24, 2020 at 12:37

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