I am confused about the pronunciation of "message", if we look it up in a dictionary, the written phonetic is "ˈmes.ɪdʒ" (Cambridge Dictionary), but it is pronounced as if it was like "a" in hat ("hæt"). But, in IPA for English "e" is not "æ", for example red has a phonetic like "red". I have listened to the pronunciation for that word in many different places like forvo, Longman Dictionary and so on. So where is the problem? Why is message pronounced like "ˈmæs.ɪdʒ" although it has to be "ˈmes.ɪdʒ"? It was a little hard for me to clearly explain it, but I hope I could tell it.

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    At least in the following dictionaries, if you listen to it, it is pronounced as [ɛ] (the vowel in pet): Merriam-Webster, Oxford Dictionaries, American Heritage, Collins, Macmillian, and Cambridge. Commented May 8, 2018 at 6:35
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    Note that many of these dictionaries don't use IPA for pronunciation keys; for example, in this guide to pronunciation in American Heritage dictionary, they say that for the IPA [ɛ], they use the symbol [ĕ]. Commented May 8, 2018 at 6:35
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    The first syllable in "message" is pronounced like "mess-", not "mass-" or "miss-".
    – tautophile
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 6:40
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    It's not pronounced like mæs.ɪdʒ. I suspect your ears need practice distinguishing English vowels. Vowels in different languages (and in different dialects of English) don't correspond perfectly to each other. Commented May 8, 2018 at 9:15
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    @A F: they may not be exactly the same vowel (and in fact, they probably aren't, because the exact vowel is influenced by the consonants surrounding it), but all your examples are heard as /ɛ/ and not as /æ/ by native English speakers. Try listening to the difference between message and passage. Commented May 8, 2018 at 11:14

1 Answer 1


You may be confused by the fact that the vowel sound in red is substantially longer than the vowel sound in message, primarily because the /s/ in message causes the preceding /ɛ/ to become shorter due to prefortis clipping.

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