KIT lexical set

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The KIT lexical set is one of the twenty-four lexical sets defined by John C. Wells in Accents of English that are in wide usage among phonologists and phoneticians.

Pronunciation in reference accents[edit]

Words of the KIT lexical set are pronounced with the stressed vowel [ɪ] in both RP and General American.


The following are the typical spellings of words in the KIT lexical set.

Spelling[1] Example words in KIT lexical set Exceptions
#iC# if, in, is, it
#iCC igloo, ill, imminent, ink, innovate, irritate, issue, itch idle, isle (PRICE)
irk (NURSE)
CiC# bit, brim, chip, fin, his, rig, skim
CiCC bill, chicken, dinner, drift, fill, king, mirror, wither high, might, etc. (PRICE)
align, bind, child, Christ, hind, microscope, wind (verb) (PRICE)
bird, chirp, circle, circus, etc. (NURSE)
pizza (FLEECE)
CyC# gym
CyCC crystal, hymn, lynch, nymph, rhythm, symmetry, symphony cycle, cyclone, hydrogen, hyphen, psyche, python (PRICE)
CuilC build, built, guild, guilt, quill, quilt

The following spellings are frequent in KIT words, but more commonly spell words in other lexical sets.

Spelling Example words in KIT lexical set Examples from other lexical sets
#iCV idiom, idiot, iguana, image, imitate, iterate ice, icon, iron, item, etc. (PRICE)
CiCV acidic, clinic, elixir, give, opinion, Sirius, spigot, timid, video amino, antique, machine, pique, etc. (FLEECE)
arise, aside, bride, Friday, price, etc. (PRICE)
CyCV cynic, Elysian, Lydian, lyric, Syria, syrup gyroscope, hymen, hype, rhyme, pylon, style, etc. (PRICE)

The following are KIT words with unique or very unusual spellings:

Spelling Example words in KIT lexical set More typical pronunciation of spelling
engC England, English DRESS (e.g. length, strength)
Cieve sieve FLEECE (e.g. believe)
Comen women GOAT (e.g. moment)
CuCV busy, business GOOSE (e.g. fuse, illusion)


The KIT lexical set contains a so-called checked vowel: in other words, the stressed vowel must always be followed immediately by a consonant (other than nonprevocalic /r/).


The KIT lexical set is merged with other lexical sets in the following accents:

  • In American Southern accents, KIT merges with DRESS in the environment of a following nasal. Candidate pairs include pin-pen.
  • In most North American Accents, including GenAm, KIT merges with NEAR in the environment of a following intervocalic /r/. Candidate pairs include Sirius-serious and spirit-spear it.
  • In some American accents, there is a merger between KIT and FLEECE before nonprevocalic /l/, with candidate pairs such as fill-feel.


In some North American accents, words where the KIT vowel immediately precedes a velar nasal (e.g. king) are assigned the FLEECE vowel rather than the KIT vowel. Because there is no contrast between KIT and FLEECE in this environment, this is classified as a redistribution rather than a merger.


In RP and conservative North American speech, the KIT lexical set is realized as [ɪ]. Notably different realizations include:

  • New Zealand English has [ɪ̈] or even [ə], qualities close or identical to the unstressed vowels ("schwa") of words like about or comma.
  • In South African English, the stressed KIT vowel is realized [ɪ] when word-initial, after /h/, before /ʃ/, or adjacent to a velar. It has a New Zealand-like realization of [ɪ̈ ~ ə] in other environments.
  • In American Southern accents, the KIT vowel exhibits a wide range of allophones depending on the phonetic environment. Thus ticket may be [ˈtɪkɪt] while lip may be [lɨəp].
  • In the West Midlands of England and also in Australian English, a very close realization such as [ɪ̝] may be used.
  • In some Scottish accents, it may be more open and back, with a qualities such as [ɛ] and even [ʌ] being heard from some speakers.

In accents that retain phonological length distinctions (e.g. most accents of England, Wales and southern Ireland), the KIT vowel is short, being distinguished from the FLEECE vowel [iː] by length as well as by quality.

Phonological history[edit]

Most words in the KIT lexical set derive from the vowel /i/ ("short I") of Middle English. This includes nearly all words spelled with i.

England and English were already pronounced /i/ by 1500: they, along with wing and fling were earlier pronounced with /e/.

Many words in the NURSE lexical set (most of those spelled ir) were pronounced /ir/ in Middle English, before the fern-fir-fur merger.


  1. ^ of stressed syllable. # represents the beginning or end of a word. V represents a vowel letter; C represents a consonant letter. a, e, i, o, u are always considered vowels. w, y are considered consonants when immediately preceding a vowel, and vowels otherwise. All other letters are always considered consonants.


  • Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English I: An Introduction. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29719-2.
  • Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English III: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28541-0.