In American English, the letter "A" is pronounced at least five different ways.

What written symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is used for the vowel, or vowel group, shown in the leftmost column of the table below?

That is, what written symbol is used for the sound produced by Americans who speak the following works aloud:

and, man, hand, ran, sand

Examples of Words
Which Use
Vowel One

Examples of Words
Which Use
Vowel Two

Examples of Words
Which Use
Vowel Three

Examples of words
Which Use
Vowel Four

Examples of words
Which Use
Vowel Five

And sAw AmericA Age
Apple pArt Ability Able
Ask rAw UmbrellA pAge
Answer clAW Again sAge
hAnd pAW Ago engAge Effect
mAn strAW Ahead
Effort Election
cAn LAW Alone _ Else
rAn gnAW Apply _ End (EH-N-D)
sAnd _ About
_ _
After _ _ _ _
Act _ _ _ _
  • 5
    Sorry, but this can be trivially found with a little research. The site rules say we don't answer "Questions you haven't tried to find an answer for", and this is pretty simple to find an answer to. For example, have you looked in an English dictionary that has IPA on its entries?
    – jogloran
    Jun 28, 2023 at 4:47
  • 2
    In addition to @jogloran’s point (which is 100% true – you can easily find the answer on Wiktionary, for instance), there are several mistakes in your table. Firstly, the vowel in part is different from all the ones in -aw for those who don’t have the cot–caught merger. Secondly, the first e in election is /ə/, not /ε/, the e in effort is /ε/, not /eɪ/, and the e in economic is more commonly /iː/. Thirdly, effort and the entire last column except any don’t contain the letter a at all, so they’re not even examples of what the table is supposed to show. Jun 28, 2023 at 7:20
  • @jogloran Someone who is very new to linguistics may not know how to go about finding that answer. Not everyone knows that English dictionaries with IPA symbols exist. I had never seen a dictionary with IPA before I got to grad school. Kind and helpful answers are more useful than dismissive replies.
    – Laura E
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:28
  • Laura, we have to set the bar somewhere. Otherwise, the site's going to devolve into poorly-researched questions of no interest to anyone. I think "look up a dictionary" is a pretty low bar to set.
    – jogloran
    Jun 30, 2023 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


The IPA symbol for the vowel sound that you are asking about is /æ/. What might be helpful to know is that there are a couple of websites that are useful for finding/typing these symbols, and that is how I quickly copied the character to paste it here, in order to answer your question! One is https://ipa.typeit.org/ and another is https://www.lexilogos.com/keyboard/ipa.htm

  • For a simple /æ/, you probably don’t need to go to some website at all. At least on a Mac, you can write æ on a standard US keyboard just by hitting Opt + '. Jun 28, 2023 at 7:25
  • Good to know for Mac users, I don't have a Mac, so I always have to copy-paste, or do "insert symbol" in Word.
    – Laura E
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:49
  • 1
    Huh, it seems you’re right – the standard US keyboard layout on Windows doesn’t let the user type any diacritics at all (and the UK one only a few). You have to switch to the US/UK International layout to be able to properly type even just Western European languages like French or Spanish. I’ve never (voluntarily) used the Windows US layout, but this still comes as somewhat of a surprise. Jun 29, 2023 at 14:24

The phoneme there is written as /æ/. But you may have gotten confused because the /æ/ in "hand" sounds very different from the /æ/ in "after." This is because of æ-tensing, which alters the phonetic realization of /æ/ before nasal consonants in American English.

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