Minimal pairs

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Language units large and small

Marked forms of words - Inflection, Derivation, Declension, Conjugation · Diminutive, Augmentative

Groups and categories and properties of words - Syntactic and lexical categories · Grammatical cases · Correlatives · Expletives · Adjuncts

Words and meaning - Morphology · Lexicology · Semiotics · Onomasiology · Figures of speech, expressions, phraseology, etc. · Word similarity · Ambiguity · Modality ·

Segment function, interaction, reference - Clitics · Apposition· Parataxis, Hypotaxis· Attributive· Binding · Coordinations · Word and concept reference

Sentence structure and style - Agreement · Ellipsis· Hedging

Phonology - Articulation · Formants· Prosody · Sound change · Intonation, stress, focus · Diphones · Intervocalic · Glottal stop · Vowel_diagrams · Elision · Ablaut_and_umlaut · Phonics

Speech processing · Praat notes · Praat plugins and toolkit notes · Praat scripting notes

Analyses, models, software - Minimal pairs · Concordances · Linguistics software · Some_relatively_basic_text_processing · Word embeddings · Semantic similarity

Unsorted - Contextualism · · Text summarization · Accent, Dialect, Language · Pidgin, Creole · Natural language typology · Writing_systems · Typography, orthography · Digraphs, ligatures, dipthongs · More linguistic terms and descriptions · Phonetic scripts


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A minimal pair is a term primarily used in phonology, where it is a pair of two phrases in a language that differ in only one phonetic aspect (phone, phoneme, toneme, or chroneme) yet still have a distinct meaning. (it may not necessarily be minimal in a weighed, feature/property sort of sense, just in amount(verify))

Side notes to that definition:

  • This does not necessarily have to be a pair. In some cases there may be minimal triplets or such.
  • If features interdepend, minimal pairs may differ in more than one aspect, but still be considered a minimal pair.


Minimal pairs are useful to indicate what variation is significant and what is not, in a particular pronunciation system. For example that "seal" and "zeal" will be heard as different words by English speakers even if they know neither, and that another language's phonology may means its listeners will not hear that difference without training.


You can regularly generalize results in the explanation of whether a particular articulation feature to distinguish between words, for example whether glottal stops are significant or not (though this can depend on phonetic context).


Aspects that minimal pairs study include:

  • phone use and variation, e.g.
    • the vowel set a language uses, including pthongs
    • voicing of consonants in significant places (initial consonant, final consonant, distinguishing in sets of similar words)


But also aspects

  • stress (e.g. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and to some degree Dutch and others)
  • chronemes (length)
    • length of vowels (e.g. Latin, German, Hungarian, Thai)
    • length of consonants (e.g. Latin, Italian, Polish, Hungarian)