I noticed that I pronounce the A differently based on the intended meaning:

I belong to the A-team. (like ey in they)


I belong to a team. (like a in apple)

Are the pronunciations supposed to be different or is it an artifact of how I have learned to pronounce the alphabet and the article?

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    I just pronounced both sentences to myself (though I inserted "the" between "to" and "A-team" in your first example), and they sound identical to me. Maybe being conscious of it changes one's pronunciation, or maybe the sounds aren't distinguished in my dialect, etc etc YMMV. – Dan Bron Jul 25 '16 at 20:21
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    Yes, as bib describes, the "cardinal" A is pronounced as a "long A" -- roughly "aeee". The article A is pronounced several different ways, depending on the speaker and the context (adjacent word sounds cause different pronunciations). The article may be pronounced "uh" or "ah" or some such. Though for emphasis ("I said a team, not the team") the long-A pronunciation is used. – Hot Licks Jul 25 '16 at 20:47
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    @musically_ut: native English speakers do not pronounce the article "a" like the a in "apple." They use the "schwa" sound, which only occurs in unstressed syllables. – herisson Jul 25 '16 at 20:48
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    @DanBron: what about "I belong to uh team" (where "uh"=schwa). For you, would this also be a possible pronunciation of the second sentence? – herisson Jul 25 '16 at 20:58
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    @sumelic Yeah, that's possible too. I think that might be more common when we're paying less attention or are not specifically trying to emphasize the team or anything. Not sure. I've used both, I'm sure, but my instinct when reading this question was to say "I've joined hey basketball team" to myself. – Dan Bron Jul 25 '16 at 20:59

In this case, when the vowel a is pronounced long and capitalized, A is an ordinal. The A Team is superior to the B Team. (you rarely hear about the C or later teams.)

A-team: A group of elite soldiers or the top advisers or workers in an organization.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

B-team is usually derogatory

Derived from high school varsity and junior varsity sports, where the "B Team" is made up of the stragglers and uncoordinated losers. Used in a situation in which someone drops, breaks, messes up, stutters during an insult, or just acts a fool.

Urban Dictionary

There was a television show in the US for several years called The A-Team. They were a group of very effective, but unconventional heroes who solved intractable problems (usually with both force and guile). Wikipedia

Although many dictionaries offer a long a pronunciation for the indefinite article, in common speech it is almost always pronounced short, as a schwa.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

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    @musically_ut- It has nothing to do with the TV series. Think of the sentence "I live in a house that has the shape of an A." It might be an artifact of my regional accent (midwest USA), but I usually pronounce those two A's differently. – cobaltduck Jul 25 '16 at 20:37
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    A-team and B-team are somewhat colloquial terms in the US to signify first and second levels. The pronunciation here though is the same for A team, and team A from a sequence such as teams A, B, C, etc. were letters are being used as ordinals. In these cases, at least in the US, A is pronounced long as in "hay". When used as an article, like "a team", it is most often "uh", but some do still pronounce it like "hay" and may be more common in other English speaking countries. When used as the letter A as in an a-frame house, it is always like in "hay". – dlb Jul 25 '16 at 21:58
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    The terms 'A-team' and 'B-team' are also common in the UK, and here also we would usually pronounce the "A" in "A-team" differently from in "a team". – TrevorD Jul 25 '16 at 23:24
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    @musically_ut Not only in America. In Australian english a is 'uh' unless it is being specifically stressed. – Maree Jul 26 '16 at 3:13
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    I'm not going to vandalise your answer, but I want to say that the correct definition of an A-Team is "a crack commando unit sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit" – user53089 Jul 26 '16 at 4:32

The article a is pronounced in many ways, but it is rare to pronounce the letter A in any way besides the ay from "play". Using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the capital A is almost always pronounced as /eɪ/. The article a may be prounounced as /eɪ/ ("play"), or it may be relaxed to /ʌ/ ("run"). (Note: some feel this is better represented as /ə/, which is an unvoiced vowel such as "comma", but its not agreed whether there is even a difference in English phonology, so if "run" and "comma" appear to have the same pronunciation to you, don't worry about this detail.)

In general, you will find English speakers relax a to be pronounced /ʌ/. However, you will find it pronounced /eɪ/ for emphatic reasons. You'll see this most often in cases where a sentence is worded ambiguously, and the extra stress on a will be used to draw the listeners attention to the fact that you're about to use the exact wording of their sentence very carefully.

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    Rather than the same vowel as run, surely the unstressed a should be /ə/ -- schwa, at least in British English and the varieties of American English with which I'm more familiar. I can't think of an accent in which a and run have the same vowel – Chris H Jul 26 '16 at 6:38
  • @ChrisH: Personally, I'd identify the vowel in a with the vowel in run (I can't think of any minimal pairs in my accent) but as you note this is not the standard analysis. – herisson Jul 26 '16 at 7:50
  • @sumelic how would you transcribe that vowel? Minimal pairs seem tricky to find. Also the IPA chart with audio on wikipedia has a very different /ʌ/ to "run" on (e.g.) oxforddictionaries.com. – Chris H Jul 26 '16 at 10:56
  • @ChrisH Even though we write /ʌ/ for the STRUT vowel, generally it's a central vowel closer to [ɐ]. – Aeon Akechi Jul 26 '16 at 14:02
  • @ChrisH I've updated a bit to reflect the discrepency. Personally, when I listen to /ʌ/ on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA_vowel_chart_with_audio it is the sound that I associate with a. Sadly that particular chart doesn't have a sound for /ə/, so it was hard to compare with. From what I read on the topic, it is not clear in English whether /ə/ should be depicted separately in English or whether it is merely an unstressed version of a nearby vowel – Cort Ammon Jul 26 '16 at 14:08

If you're talking about "a team," (lower case), you are talking about a "random" team. (The a is pronounced as in America, which is to say as a "short" a.)

If you're talking about "the A team," you're talking about a "non-random" team that is "the best" or "number 1." The letter "A" (upper case) is synonymous with this, since A comes first in the alphabet. Then you use the long "A" (preceded by the word "the" for emphasis (since there is only one A team.)

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    Actually, the vowel used in "a team" is pretty much never pronounced the same as the "a" in apple by native English speakers. The "a" in "apple" is stressed /æ/ ("short a"), while the vowel in "a team" is unstressed and reduced in quality to /ə/ (the schwa). – herisson Jul 26 '16 at 0:44
  • In US / UK pronunciation, the lowercase 'a' in a team is typically pronounced like the a in the word America if it's not pronounced like the name of the letter A. Perhaps the apple 'a' is more common in (continental) Europe. – Lawrence Jul 26 '16 at 1:10
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    @Lawrence: OK, changed it to "America." – Tom Au Jul 26 '16 at 1:58

There is a lot of regional variation in the pronunciation of "a". "Ay," "uh," and "eh" are all fairly common, and that's just between different socio-economic groups in my own, local area. Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive history, with listing of regional differences that's quite fascinating.

When you make it part of the hyphenated word "A-team" normal phonetic interpretation is replaced with the name of the letter. So far as I know, everybody calls it "ay," regardless of how they pronounce its sound when speaking.

The hyphen also changes the emphasis. "a team of players" has equal emphasis on "a" and "team". "the A-team of players" has strong emphasis on the "A"

  • I would have to find which box the books ended up in to give you titles. To be fair they were my great grandmother's school books originally, so things may have changed over time. But I do remember the section in question. If a one-syllable word ends in a vowel, and has only one vowel, the vowel is long, with a warning that when giving a speech to a large crowd you'll find that the people in the back have a hard time distinguishing "a" from "the" unless you actually follow that rule. Do note that TAE advises against using the long a because it sounds "formal, precise, and mechanical." – Perkins Jul 26 '16 at 4:38
  • Since, from what I'm finding, there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement; and since it's not really germane to the question at hand, I'll adjust the answer to exclude the irrelevant bits. – Perkins Jul 26 '16 at 4:40
  • No problem. It's better to stay on topic anyway. It's interesting that the sources discouraging the use of the long A seem to be of the opinion that it sounds too formal/adds unnecessary emphasis though. Makes me wonder if the old Jesuit school books were drawing from an older source. That kind of vowel softening seems to be a cyclic pattern in English. – Perkins Jul 26 '16 at 17:00

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