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Never confuse these vowels again! Sheep vs. Ship Explanation

Oh English. It can be such a crazy language. With irregular tenses, prepositions that don’t follow many rules, and spelling patterns that make no sense (Did you know “colonel” is pronounced like “kur-nuhl”??) 

But if there’s one thing that most English learners fear…it’s these dreaded words:

  • Sheet and Sh💩t
  • Beach and B🤫tch
  • Peace and P💦ss

But worry not! Because today’s video is all about mastering these slightly uncomfortable vowels so you can go to the beach without worrying about how you pronounce it 😉.


Podcast intro:

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 342. And today we’re going to talk about the difference between the tense ‘ee’ as in ‘sheep’ and the lax ‘i’ as in ‘ship’.

Hey everyone. Thank you so much for tuning in for another episode of the InFluency Podcast. Today I have another pronunciation episode for you. It’s going to be a fun pronunciation practice, that will help you distinguish between two important vowel sounds in English. And I have a funny story about those vowel sounds.

When I was in theater school in New York City, 20 something years ago, I remember one day we were sitting in the lobby, just like how it was every single day, and just talking about acting and theater and art and actors. And someone asked me, “Hadar, who’s your favorite actress?” And I said, “It’s Meryl Strip”. Now, everyone started laughing around me and I was like, why is everyone laughing? She’s such a good actress. And then she, my friend said, “Hadar, you meant Meryl Streep?” And I said, yeah, Meryl Str… Oh…. Streep. Because I said ‘strip’, and to strip is a little different.

And then I got why people were laughing and I started laughing as well. And felt a little uncomfortable at the same time because I was supposed to know this. But in my mind, it was always like the short ‘i’ sound. Actually, it was somewhere in between, like a really short high ‘ee’ sound. And this is why, when I said it, it sounded like ‘to strip’, or ‘strep’, instead of ‘streep’.

Anyway, this is not the only pair that could lead into funny situations, as you will hear in this episode. Because there are a lot of words, specifically in this pair, that if you mispronounce them, you might find yourself in an awkward situation. Which is always funny and good to know. So, having said that, let’s get ready to practice the sheep-ship, reach-rich, least-list, sheet-shit vowel pair. Let’s do this.

Video transcript:

Hey everyone, it’s Hadar. Thank you so much for joining me. Today I have a fun pronunciation lesson for you about how to distinguish between the two vowel sounds – the tense /i/ and the lax /ɪ/, as in ‘sheep’ versus ‘ship’, ‘leave’ versus ‘live’, ‘sheet’ versus ‘shi…’, you get the point.

So, the reason why it’s important is because sometimes we might want to say one word, but the other person might hear another word. For example, if I were to say, “I’m going to live here”, and maybe I will mispronounce the /ɪ/ and pronounce it more like an /i/ sound, neutral /i/ sound, and what I might end up saying is, “I’m going to leave here”. In my head, I mean ‘live’, I want to live here, I love this place. But if I don’t pronounce it like this- ‘live’, the person listening to me might hear ‘leave’ – “I’m going to leave here. Bye”. So, there is a difference between the two situations.

Now, usually with similar words like ‘leave’ and ‘live’, ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’, the context makes all the difference. And usually, you’re pretty safe. Okay? So, people understand what you want to say simply because of the context. So, it’s not critical. But mastering this challenge can definitely help you sound clearer, people will understand you quicker, and you will feel more confident communicating.

So in this video, I’m going to teach you how to pronounce each sound, then we’re going to practice together minimal pairs. Then we’re going to practice sentences with minimal pairs. And finally, I’m going to focus on the words you specifically want to learn how to pronounce correctly to avoid awkward situations or offensive situations. So make sure you watch this video all the way until the end.

If you’re new to my channel, then hi, my name is Hadar. I’m a fluency and pronunciation coach, and I am a non native speaker of English. So, I used to be where you are today, and I learned pronunciation, I learned how to distinguish between those confusing vowel pairs. And now I’m teaching you everything that I’ve learned along the way, and how to simplify your pronunciation in English. If you want to learn more with me, check out my website at, or you can follow me on social media for daily pronunciation and mindset tips and lessons.

All right, so let’s get started with the difference between those two sounds. The first sound is the high /i/ as in ‘see’. This is a front vowel, meaning that the tongue rolls forward to produce this sound. It’s a high vowel, so the tongue rolls forward as high as possible before it touches the upper palate to produce this sound.

/i/ you want to roll your tongue forward and push it forward as much as you can. And then you also might want to pull the lips a little bit. I mean, the entire pronunciation is not based on what you do with your lips, but it helps to bring the resonance of your voice to the front and get a clearer sound – /i/.

Now, this vowel sound is generally longer – ‘seeee’. So, for those of you who substitute this sound with a neutral ‘ee’ sound, notice that the length plays a significant role here as well. So, it’s not ‘seet’ but ‘seeeet’, ‘weeee’. And now we’ll exaggerate it a little bit for the practice.

‘season’, ‘complete’. Roll your tongue forward. Imagine that you have a knob here, that you turn and you move your tongue forward as you do it. ‘eeeee’, ‘complete’, ‘reason’. And yes, I know I did pronounce an R before a high /i/, so you wanna move your tongue from here ‘ur’ to here: ‘rea’, ‘reason’, ‘reason’. ‘feel’, ‘teach’. So, roll your tongue forward, pull the lips a little bit. You can raise your cheeks just a bit, but not too much, and make the sound a little longer. That’s the high /i/ sound.

And by the way, to help you practice this vowel pair, I prepared for you a practice sheet and audio practice. So, you can practice along with it with lists of words, phrases, and minimal pairs. You can just hit play and follow the practice sheet to practice along with me. So you don’t have to remember anything, you can just click on the link below and download this free resource that I’ve prepared for you.

Now, let’s talk about the lax /ɪ/. If for the tense /i/, the tongue rolls forward, all the way forward, and you pull the lips and it’s a longer sound, for the lax /ɪ/ the jaw drops a little bit, so there is a little bit of space between the top and bottom teeth. The tongue, as a result, rolls down a bit: /ɪ/. The lips are relaxed, you’re not gonna pull your lips to the sides. And you wanna imagine as if this vowel sound is somewhere between a neutral /i/ sound and an /e/. Listen: /ɪ/, sit, kid, finish. /ɪ/. It’s not ‘ee’ – ‘keed’, ‘feeneesh’. It’s not ‘e’ – ‘ked’, ‘fenesh’. It’s in the middle – ‘kid’, ‘finish’. /ɪ/.

Now let’s compare the two: seat – sit. Again: seat – sit. Now, most of you might have a sound that you usually use or usually pronounce that is right there in the middle. I call it the neutral ‘ee’ sound. So, it’s a little shorter and lower than the tense /i/. For example, ‘seet’ instead of ‘seeeet’, but it’s a little higher than the lax /ɪ/ – ‘seet’ instead if ‘sit’. So, as you’re practicing it, try not to go to your neutral ‘ee’ sound and try to explore this new sound together with me. seat – sit, beat – bit, leave – live. /i/-/ɪ/. reach – rich, seen – sin, each – itch, feel – fill.

Now, if there’s a part that is a little harder for you, simply pause the video, rewind and watch it again. Okay? So repeat the part that is hard and practice with this video to really hear the difference between the two sounds and to be able to make the difference between the two sounds. And if you’re still not certain if you’re getting it right or not, record yourself along with my video to see if it actually sounds the same when you listen back to it.

Now let’s practice some minimal pairs – so, those similar words inside sentences. First, we’re going to say the words. least – list, least – list, least – list. ‘At least, make a list’. You can add some drama to it, it always helps. ‘At least, make a list’. ‘At least, make a list’. least – list.

seat – sit. ‘Grab a seat and sit down’. ‘Grab a seat and sit down’. ‘Grab a seat and sit down’.

cheap – chip. cheap – chip. ‘It’s a cheap computer chip’. ‘It’s a cheap computer chip’. ‘It’s a cheap computer chip’.

leave – live. ‘Leave me alone and let me live’. ‘Leave me alone and let me live’. leave – live.

Now, while it’s not gonna be a big deal if you mispronounce those words and you say, “I just ate some cheaps”, instead of “chips”, here’s the thing. There are a few specific words that if you mispronounce them, it might sound as if you’re saying something naughty or inappropriate.

For example, when you’re talking about going to the beach, okay? The beach is a lovely place to be at. It has a tense /i/ sound: beach, beach. But if you don’t raise your tongue and prolong the sound a little bit, when you say that you’re going to the beach, it might sound that you’re saying “I’m going to the bitch”, which is probably not what you’re trying to say.

Or when you are in a work meeting – true story, happened to one of my students – and you say “Let me pull out the spreadsheet”, and you mispronounce the word ‘sheet’ and you say, “Let me pull out the spreadshit”, then, you might hear a few giggles in the room.

No, there is no problem with that. And it’s usually a really funny situation. But… I mean, you might want to be aware of it so that you are in control of those situations.

And I’ve also heard someone saying that they’re really working hard towards the ‘piss process’, where in fact, they meant the ‘peace process’.

So, when practicing this lesson, make sure that you specifically focus on the words ‘peace’, ‘sheet’, and ‘beach’. Just a friendly tip from me.

All right, that’s it. Now, if you want to practice this a bit more, be sure to download the free practice PDF that I’ve created for you with words, phrases, and sentences. And of course, minimal pairs, along with audio practice that you can play in your car and just repeat after me to build that pronunciation confidence.

Now, if you want to learn more sounds with me and practice with me even more, then just so you know, soon we’re going to open doors for New Sound, my signature program that focuses on pronunciation and confidence in English. And this is where I teach everything I know about pronunciation and prosody, which is intonation, rhythm, and stress. Doors are closed, but if you click the link, you can sign up to get on the list to learn more about the program when we do open doors.

And I have a challenge for you. In the comments, write down a sentence that if you mispronounce one of the words there, it might have an awkward meaning. So, get creative and let’s see your examples in the comments. Real stories are also welcomed.

Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
342. Never confuse these vowels again! Sheep vs. Ship Explanation

Ready to practice with me? Click here to download your free PDF

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High /i/ as in “Sheep”

Let’s start with the high /i/ sound, like in the word “sheep.” When pronouncing this sound, your tongue should be positioned high and towards the front of your mouth. Try it out yourself, and if you need some guidance, practice along with me here. 

This sound is found in words like:

  • See
  • Reason
  • Believe
  • Feel

Spelling rules for high /i/ as in “Sheep”

Usually, we’ll find this sound spelled with two vowels in English, ee, ie, ea. However, there are some common exceptions such as “complete” and “magazine”, which are spelled with only one vowel, but still pronounced with high /i/.

Lax /ɪ/ as in “Ship”

Now, moving to the more relaxed version, the lax /ɪ/ sound in “ship.” Here, the tongue is positioned slightly lower and the jaw and lips are relaxed. This sound is much shorter than the high /i/ sound. 

This sound is found in words like:

  • Sit
  • Kid
  • Finish
  • Middle

Spelling rules for lax /ɪ/ as in “Ship”

Usually, we’ll find this sound spelled with the letter i. However, there’s one important exception that I want to show you, which is the word “been”. In American English, the word “been” is pronounced with the short, lax /ɪ/, even though it has two vowels. 

Let’s Practice!

To help you refine your pronunciation skills, I’ve prepared a free practice PDF for you. Download your “sheep-ship” practice now!

Ready to Take It to the Next Level?

If you’re ready to keep working on even more pronunciation and tricky sounds in English, get on the waitlist for my signature program, New Sound! New Sound is my 3-month program designed to transform your pronunciation, confidence and clarity, with many opportunities to work with my coaches and me, and connect with an incredible community! Join the waitlist today, doors are opening soon!

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3 Responses

  1. We I said it is raining Hail , always sounds like it is raining Hell.
    Need help with heel, hell , hail .😬

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