TOEFL iBT Pronunciation–[e] and [ɛ] vowel sounds: Do You Know the Difference?

Listen to this post: Pronouncing Gate and Get Vowel Sounds

To have clear pronunciation, you need to pronounce your vowels sounds clearly since they vital to the syllables of the words you speak. In some cases, it may be hard for you to distinguish one vowel sound from another. Two such vowels are the mid front unrounded tense vowel, i.e. [e] as in gate and the mid front unrounded lax vowel, i.e., [ɛ] as in get.

Being able to pronounce the [e] and the [ɛ] vowel sounds are important to your being intelligible as you complete the two independent and four integrated speaking tasks of the TOEFL iBT. The fewer problems you have pronouncing these two sounds, the greater chance you have of getting a high TOEFL iBT speaking score.

Nonetheless, many non-native speakers have difficulty pronouncing these two sounds. (1) These speakers may be unsure of which words use these two vowel sounds. (2) They may also be unaware how to pronounce the two sounds. Whatever the reason, these speakers will not be able to advance in their speaking and pronunciation proficiency until they have mastered these two sounds.

To solve this problem you will need to improve your sound and spelling recognition of words in English. A good start on solving this problem is to reread this blog post out loud and see if you can identify which words contain the [e] and the [ɛ] vowel sounds. Then you can continue your awareness by reading newspapers out loud with the same purpose.

Another solution to this problem is to understand how these two sounds differ phonetically.

Articulation tip for the [e ] sound:

  • Produce this sound with a hard tongue.
  • Like the [ɛ] sound, the [e] sound is a mid front unrounded vowel.
  • This is a long vowel sound. In American English, it sounds like a diphthong consisting of two vowels, one gliding into to the next: e—-i.
  • Articulation tip for the [ɛ ] sound:
  • Produce this sound with a soft tongue.
  • Like the [e] sound, the [ɛ] sound is a mid front unrounded vowel.
  • This is a short vowel sound.

For more information, go here:

Michael Buckhoff’s “7 Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT Exam!” 

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3 thoughts on “TOEFL iBT Pronunciation–[e] and [ɛ] vowel sounds: Do You Know the Difference?”

  1. Pingback: Better TOEFL® Scores » Blog Archive » Improve your TOEFL iBT Speaking and Pronunciation Today!

  2. Carla:

    I started the blog back in October of 2008, and it is starting to get busy. Maybe one project that we could work on not too far down the line is to conduct an interview. Then you could post the video at your site, and I could post it in my upcoming newsletter. I would frame the interview at “Interview a TOEFL iBT Expert” you being the expert. Let me know if you are interested. E-mail me at to get more details!

    Good luck with your classes!


  3. Hi, Michael!

    Congratulations on your blog!
    It’s a fantastic, informative and useful resource for TOEFL students around the world.

    Classes in Argentina are starting again in March. I will certainly direct my TOEFL students here to find useful tips to follow and discuss in class.

    It would be great if we could keep in touch during the year and develop an international collaborative project together.

    Best regards from Argentina,

    Carla Raguseo

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