Minimal Pairs /ɑ:/ and /ɜ:/

as in fast and first

Below is a list of words that vary only by one having the vowel sound /ɑ:/ and the other the vowel sound /ɜ:/.

You can use this list to practise the sounds, or as a list of words to be careful in pronouncing.

Both sounds are long single sounds but the mouth position is different, with /ɑ:/ having a much wider open mouth position. This is why your doctor asks you to say this sound to show him or her inside your mouth. /ɜ:/ is much more like the sound people make when they are disgusted.


fast first


bath berth

far fir

ha her

hard heard

heart hurt

pass purse


bath birth

bard bird

car cur

card curd

far fur

farm firm

guard gird

hard herd

Pa per


bar burr

barn burn

card Kurd

cart curt

carve curve

dart dirt

par purr

park perk

part pert

sharper Sherpa

star stir


arc irk

barbs burbs

blah blur

carbs curbs

harpies herpes

parched perched

parp perp

quark quirk

sarge surge

shark shirk

tarps turps