The IH /ɪ/ vowel
The IH vowel is not very common in other languages, which makes this vowel challenging for many of my clients.
The IH vowel is in the words bit, live, and window. To make this vowel, the tongue tip is down, behind the back of the bottom front teeth. The middle of the tongue is arched up towards the roof of the mouth, and the jaw opens, but not quite to mid level. The lips are relaxed, in a neutral position.
The most important pronunciation tip about the IH vowel is that it is a lax vowel, which means there is less tension in the tongue, lips, and jaw when you say this sound. IH. You should be able to feel this difference in muscular tension if you put your hand underneath your chin as you say the IH vowel and a tense vowel, like EE. EE. IH. There is less muscular tension with IH.
Changes in vowel length
It is also important to understand how the IH vowel changes, depending on the word in which it occurs. When IH comes before a voiceless consonant, like in the word bit, the IH vowel is said a little bit faster than when it comes before a voiced consonant. Listen to the difference in the length of the IH vowel in the words bit and bid. Bit. Bid. Bit. Bid.
This change in vowel length is common in American English. When vowels occur before a voiceless consonant, they are often said for a shorter duration. And when vowels occur before a voiced consonant, they are often said for a little bit longer. Bit. Bid.
IH vowel in slow-motion
Let’s take a closer look at the IH vowel in the word bit.
The jaw drops for the IH vowel, but notice how the lips are neutral. The tongue is forward, and the middle part of the tongue is arched up towards the roof of the mouth. The tongue tip is down behind the bottom front teeth.
IH vowel before a nasal consonant
One more important pronunciation tip about the IH vowel is how it changes when it comes before a nasal consonant. Listen to how I pronounce the word sing. Sing. The vowel is the IH vowel, but it sounds more like the EE vowel. Sing. This IH vowel becomes more nasalized because of the NG consonant, and that changes the way the IH vowel sounds. It sounds more like IH +EE, IH + EE. Sing. So the vowel begins as IH, but then the tongue moves up as you progress to the nasal consonant. IH +EE. Sing. Sing.
This is common in American English when vowels come before nasal consonants - the vowel is not pronounced as a pure vowel. So think of pronouncing the IH vowel as IH +EE. IH + EE. Sing.
IH vowel + nasal consonant in slow-motion
Now let’s take a closer look at the IH vowel when it comes before the NG nasal consonant, in the word sing.
Notice how at the beginning of the IH sound in sing, the tongue is forward and the middle part of the tongue is arched up towards the roof of the mouth. Then as the word progresses to the NG consonant, notice how the tongue pulls back during the vowel as it prepares for the NG consonant.
Stressed IH vs. Unstressed IH
When the IH vowel is in a stressed syllable, the pitch of the voice glides up and then down. IH. Bit. IH. Bit. But when IH is in an unstressed syllable, the vowel is said faster and at a lower pitch. IH. The IH vowel is unstressed in a word like decide.
On the left is the stressed IH vowel in the word bit. And on the right is the unstressed IH vowel in the word decide. Notice the difference in jaw opening between the stressed and unstressed positions. The unstressed IH has a smaller jaw opening, in part because of the D sound that came just before the IH vowel in the word decide, and the D sound and the IH sound are made with the same amount of jaw opening.
Stressed IH. Bit. IH. Unstressed IH. IH. Decide. IH before the nasal consonant NG. IH + EH. Sing.
Practice words and sentences
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Quick. IH. Quick.
She took a quick step back.
Big. IH. Big.
I have a big family.
Started. IH. Started.
The race started at noon.
Wing. IH + EE. Wing.
The eagle spread its wings.
Listen. IH. Listen.
I want you to listen closely.
Livid. Both stressed IH and unstressed IH. Livid.
He was livid with rage.
Thanks so much for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!