How do I decide if an “i” is pronounced long or short?

I am an English teacher who has never really learned the complex rules of teaching pronunciation. Many learners here in Spain have difficulties deciding whether an “i” in a word is long or short. Unfortunately, even the basic general rule of “it’s a long ‘i’ if it’s a short word with a silent ‘e’ at the end” doesn’t work, as we came across “live” and “give”… and the multisyllable “practice/practise”.

I can’t seem to find a pattern (emphatise vs expertise, and sign vs signature and signal came up).

Can anyone point me in the direction of a relatively simple explanation?


There isn’t a relatively simple explanation, I’m afraid. As you’ve pointed out, there are more exceptions-to-rules than than there are rules; however, there are some general guidelines that might help you:

  • before double consonants

    before double consonants, ‘i’ is usually short regardless of its position in a word: as in bitten, hidden, miffed, bigger, piggy, ribbon, nibble, chill, pillow, immune, simmer, dinner, innocent, snippet, hippo, irregular, irrelevant, miss, bliss, issue etc (the only exception I can think of is ‘dissect’ which can be pronounced either with a short ‘i’ or long)

  • in prefixes

    ‘i’ in common prefixes such as in- (im-, il-, ir-), infra-, inter-, intra-, hemi-, dis- etc is pronounced short (exc. bi- and di-)

  • before the suffix -tion

    before the suffix -tion (in simple words, ition words), it’s almost always short as in competition, condition, inhibition, exhibition, recognition, transition, addition etc

  • in ity and ible

    in ity and ible, it’s usually short (either /ɪ/ or /ə/) as in ability, activity, elasticity, sexuality, visible, edible, eligible, tangible, divisible etc but there may be exceptions

  • in the suffix -ise/-ize

    the ‘i’ in the suffix -ise/-ize is almost always long as in realise, actualise, mesmerise, hypnotise, formalise, italicise, memorise etc. Also, as @rjpond pointed out in a comment: “Expertise” is a relatively recent borrowing from French (“machine” is also from French) so the “i” is /i:/ (which isn’t short, but isn’t diphthongised either).

  • in ic and ical words

    before ic and ical, ‘i’ is almost always short as in classic, lunatic, logic, ironic, fanatic, genetic, classical, historical, physical, mechanical, etc

  • before digraphs

    a digraph is ‘a combination of two letters representing one sound’ (Lexico). For example, the ck in ‘back’ or the ph in ‘physics’ or the ng in ‘ring’. Before consonant digraphs (and consonant trigraphs), ‘i’ is usually short as in stick, brick, ring, king, fish, lavish, ridge, bridge rich, sandwich, witch, pitch etc

  • in -ing

    in the inflectional suffix -ing, ‘i’ is almost always short as in making, raining, killing, selling, feeling, hiding, watering, hitting, sitting, calling etc

  • words ending in ign

    words ending in ign usually have the long ‘i’ sound as in sign, consign, malign, design, resign, align, assign, benign etc.

  • before gh words

    before gh, ‘i’ is usually pronounced long ‘i’ as in sight, fight, might, high, sigh, height, slight, night, bright, right etc (ex. ‘weight’ which is pronounced with /eɪ/)

  • before nd and ld

    before nd and ld, ‘i’ is sometimes long as in wind (v.), kind, blind, mind, mild, child, find etc (for w[ɪ]nd vs w[aɪ]nd, read this answer)

  • before silent e

    words ending in iCe (‘i’ being letter ‘i’, ‘C’ another consonant, ‘e’ the silent e) are usually, not always, pronounced with a long ‘i’ as in hide, site, kite, white, wife, oblige, like, spike, bike, file, tile, while, time, prime, line, fine, pipe, gripe, size etc. Exceptions: recipe, clandestine, astatine and routine (long ‘e’: /iː/), urine (can also be pronounced with long ‘i’), iodine (it can also be pronounced with long i), ive-words below etc

  • words ending in ive

    ive words are tricky. Most words having the prefix -ive have short ‘i’: relative, conservative, fricative, figurative, active, argumentative etc. By contrast, live (adj), dive, drive, five, revive, alive etc are pronounced with a long ‘i’

  • CiC words

    words in which ‘i’ is flanked by two other consonants is usually pronounced short as in signal, signature, sit, fit, kit, hit, lit, spit etc (ex. title, vital)

There are also other exceptions such as:

There are no hard and fast rules. Sorry.

(Long ‘i’ is /aɪ/ as in bite, short ‘i’ is /ɪ/ as in bit.)

Source : Link , Question Author : Patricia , Answer Author : Toby Speight

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