We’re where we were.

That sentence uses the words “where”, “were”, and “we’re” which sometimes get confused by learners of English. Those words are all pronounced differently, and it is important to say them correctly because they are frequently used words. Some students are not sure how to pronounce them, and perhaps some of the confusion comes from the words “there”, “they’re”, and “their” which are homonyms and do sound the same.

The homonyms “there”, “they’re”, and “their” are often tricky for native speakers of English when they write – it’s easy to use the wrong spelling since they sound the same. But native speakers are not confused when they hear these words, because they expect these words to have the same sound.

However, “where”, “were”, and “we’re” do not sound the same. Native speakers’ ears expect them to sound different, so it can cause miscommunication if you don’t say them correctly.

How to pronounce them.

WHERE – In this word, the “E” sounds more like “A” because of the influence of the “R”. This word is one syllable and it is a homonym with the words “ware” and “wear”.

WERE – In this word, the “R” sound is acting as the vowel (the “E” is has no sound), and it is one syllable.

WE’RE – This is a combination of the words “we” + “are”. Even though native speakers sometimes pronounce this the same as “were”, this word will be most clear if you pronounce it as two syllables, and keep the Long-E sound of the “E”┬áin “we”.

So now you can say: We’re where we were.


This or These?

“Do you mean 1 or more than 1?”

Have you ever been asked a question like that after trying to say something with the word “this” or “these”? If so, you’re not alone. It can be hard to clearly pronounce these two words.

The primary difference between “this” and “these” is the vowel sound, and that’s the tricky part.

The word “this” uses the Short-i sound, and “these” uses the Long-E sound. These two sounds are very similar, but there is one key difference that many students of English do not know about. The key is tongue tension. Long-E and Short-i use basically the same tongue position, but for Long-E the tongue (which is a muscle) is tense, and for Short-i the tongue is relaxed.

Here is how I coach students:
Say “E”, then keeping your tongue in the same place, relax it: “E” > “i”

There are actually quite a few words that can be confused because of these two vowel sounds. Here are a few examples:
beat – bit
cheap – chip
deed – did
each – itch
eat – it
ease – is
feel – fill
heat – hit
he’s – his
leap – lip
leaving – living
steal/steel – still
seat – sit
seek – sick
wheel/we’ll – will

Even if a word with Short-i does not have a similar word with Long-E, it can make it hard to understand if you do not relax your tongue. I recently heard a U.S. medical doctor (who was not born in the U.S.) in a TV news interview say “…this is the beegest breakthrough in cardiology…” Even though this doctor spoke English quite well, his vowel error stood out. He was trying to say “biggest” but his tongue was not relaxed for Short-i, so it sounded like “beegest”.

Back to “this” and “these”. The second difference between these two words is the “S”. In “these” the “S” should sound like “Z”.

So that’s the difference between “this” and “these”!


Good news!! This topic has been updated and expanded!

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