Ship or Sheep?

Listen to the following words – what is the difference in their vowel sounds?

ship sheep

There are 2 key differences – i) the position of the mouth and ii) the length of the vowel.  

The mouth is more relaxed in the < ship > vowel, which is normally shorter than the < sheep > vowel.  Learners should focus on the mouth position of the vowel before thinking about length.

/ʃɪp/ vs. /ʃi:p/ – how do I know which to pronounce?

  • The mouth position of the /ɪ/ in SHIP is between /i:/ and /ə/ – it’s quite relaxed.
  • The /i:/ in SHEEP is produced with spread lips, the tongue is far forward and the jaw is quite closed.
  • A single < i > in the spelling normally indicates that /ɪ/ should be pronounced.
  • Two vowels such as < ee > or < ea > normally indicate the /i:/ vowel.
  • The length of each vowel can change depending on the surrounding sounds and stress.


Repeat the words, the first in each pair is pronounced with /ɪ/, the second with /i:/:

wit/wheat    pit/peat     flit/fleet      kits/Keats     bin/been     sin/seen


Decide whether each word is pronounced with /ɪ/ or /i:/:

A. sip B. sweep C. flip D. critter E. beat F. lip G. knee H. feet I. indigo J. treat K. written L. bead

A. /ɪ/  B. /i:/  C. /ɪ/  D. /ɪ/  E. /i:/  F. /ɪ/  G. /i:/  H. /i:/  I. /ɪ/  J. /i:/  K. /ɪ/  L. /i:/