Do 'Pin' and 'Pen' Sound Alike to You?

Some people say the words "pin" and "pen" differently, but other people say them the same way. When they do, it's called a "pin/pen" merger. 

Neal Whitman, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #612

There are other vowel mergers in addition to the “pin/pen” and “cot/caught” mergers. There is also such a thing as a vowel split. There are even chains of vowel changes, where one vowel starts to be pronounced like another one, which then begins to be pronounced like yet another, in a domino-like sequence. We might talk about some of these other changes in a future episode, but if you can’t wait that long, you can find out more about them in the “Atlas of North American English.” I also recommend the most recent episode of the podcast Lingthusiasm—the podcast that’s “enthusiastic about linguistics,” which talks about chain shifts. It’s episode number 17, called “Vowel Gymnastics,” and I’ll put a link in the show notes. If you have funny stories about vowel variations leading to misunderstandings, I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment.

Neal Whitman blogs about linguistics at literalminded.wordpress.com and is a regular columnist for the online resource Visual Thesaurus.

Some dialects have something called the pin/pen merger, which means that people pronounce these two words the same way.


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.

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