Have you heard of Minimal Pairs? A minimal word pair consists of two words that vary by only a single sound.
For example, conta calculation and conto tale – the only difference is in the final sound (the vowel sounds represented by a and o).
Practicing with minimal pairs is a great way to perfect your pronunciation and comprehension because it teaches you to hear the subtle differences between similar sounding words. As you’ll see in the examples below, even a tiny change in pronunciation means you could be saying something much different from what you intend to say!
While we’re at it, let’s also make a distinction between minimal pairs, homophones, and homographs.
- Homophones are words with the same exact pronunciation but different meanings
- Minimal pairs are words that have the same pronunciation except for only a single sound, also known as a fonema (phoneme). That single sound difference is the only thing that lets you know they are two different words – they are minimally different.
- Homographs are words that are written the same exact way but pronounced differently. Some minimal pairs can also be homographs but that’s not the norm.
Let’s dive into some minimal pairs!
Open vs. Closed Vowels
é vs. ê
- sé cathedral sê be
- erro - erro I make mistakes - mistake
- sede - sedeheadquarters - thirst
- céu sky seu yours
ó vs. ô
- só alone sou I am
- olho - olho I look - eye
- pós post pôs put
- sóis suns sois you are
- avó grandmother avô grandfather
Oral Vowels vs. Nasal Vowels
é/ê vs. en
- meta goal menta mint
- peso weight penso bandage
- cedo early sendo being
- violeta violet violenta violent
í vs. in
ô vs. on
u vs. un
Nasal Vowels vs. Nasal Vowels
en vs. an
on vs. un
A reduced vowel is another name for a weak sounding vowel. The examples below are not pairs but trios that only sound different because of the reduced vowel.
- da of female de of do of male
- fala speaks fale speak formal falo I speak
- faça do formal face regarding faço I do
- salta jumps salte jump formal salto jump noun
- riscas stripes risques scratch verb riscos scratches
ne vs. nhe
ni vs. nhe
xe vs. je
le vs. lhe
- falo I speak falho I miss
- rola turtle-dove rolha cork
- mala suitcase malha mesh
- vela candle velha old female
li vs. lhe
ve vs. fe