I was reading a book on English spelling (Dictionary of the British English Spelling System, by Greg Brooks) and it mentioned that the Short A sound (æ) can be spelled using the following graphemes:

  • a, as in cat
  • i, as in timbre
  • ai, as in plaid
  • al, as in salmon
  • ei, as in reveille (only in British English)

It also mentions in a table that the Short A sound can be spelled with the letters ae. But I didn't see any examples in the book.

Does anyone know of any words that have the letters "ae" used to make the Short A sound (æ)? A single example would be really helpful - and an exhaustive list would be even better.

  • I often hear "anaesthetic" pronounced with a short A in the second syllable. It is not accented though, so is not clear.
    – Peter
    Apr 25, 2021 at 14:36
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    I think of it as a silent "l" in "salmon", rather than "al" making the short "a" sound. Apparently, the "l" in "salmon" has never been pronounced but was introduced to bring the word closer to its Latin original. In French (where we got it from) it is still "saumon".
    – rjpond
    Apr 25, 2021 at 21:52
  • Well, the A in your example "cat" is a short A, so it's either referring back to that example or maybe incorrectly referring to an A that makes a schwa (ə) sound. In the English name "Michael," "ae" has that sound. Your question is difficult to impossible to answer since either you or that book is incorrect in premise, making any answer, at best, a stab in the dark. Apr 25, 2021 at 21:53
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    The short æ sound was actually spelled "æ" (which was a single letter called "Ash", not the pair of letters "ae") in Old English. Ælfrik and Cædmon mentioned in the answer were of course Old English words which later fell out of use, and whose spelling was never "modernized."
    – alephzero
    Apr 26, 2021 at 0:32
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    @BenjaminHarman the modern pronunciation of "Michael" is a typical example of English retainig the spelling of a foreign word but mangling the original pronunciation - compare "Michael" and "Israel" which are both Hebrew. In musical settings at least, Israel usually retains its correct 3 syllables, "Is-ra-el".
    – alephzero
    Apr 26, 2021 at 0:40

1 Answer 1


It's not common for the digraph ⟨ae⟩ to represent /æ/. ⟨ae⟩ is usually pronounced:

  • /iː/ (encyclopaedia, aether, aeon)
  • /ɛ/ (aesthetics, aerial in AmE)
  • /eə/ or /ɛː/ (aeroplane, aerial in BrE).

The only word where ⟨ae⟩ represents /æ/ I've been able to find is Gaelic: /ˈɡæl.ɪk/. However, it's also pronounced with the diphthong /eɪ/: /ˈɡ.lɪk/.

As @LPH pointed out in a comment, Caedmon and Aelfrik are two other words that have ⟨ae⟩ represent /æ/.

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    You can add "Aelfrik" (abbot) and "Caedmon" (English poet, flourished 658–680). (only æ for both)
    – LPH
    Apr 25, 2021 at 15:46
  • Fantastic, many thanks to you both!
    – kanamekun
    Apr 25, 2021 at 22:48

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