There are 5 words in the English language (6 if we count "Eamon") where the letter combination "ea" makes an "ay" sound rather then an "ee" sound. What are they?

If you already know this please don't answer. This very easily solved with Google so this is more about having something to solve with your mind if you want it.

Hint: one of the words is a proper name, one of them is archaic but should be known by native English speakers.

  • $\begingroup$ There's a related post over on English (I post this now as the three mentioned therein have already been mentioned here.) $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast May 8 '15 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I thought there would probably be something on English about it - this is a well-known fact among people whe study English . I just thought it would make an interesting little puzzle for those who hadn't heard it before. $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ I think your question is a little too broad and a little too opinion based. It is opinion based because I am not sure how to fact check correct pronunciations along the lines with your definition of the "ay" sound. For example: when I look up the pronunciations for 'break' of 'great' I get '/breɪk/' and '/greɪt/' respectively and wonder if these fall under the 'ay' sound you are looking for. Additionally I tend to pronounce words like 'pear' to sound like 'pair' which would also count in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Warlord 099 May 8 '15 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ There are different dialects of English. In most of them, the words "meat" and "meet" rhyme. In some of them, they don't. In some of them, some words spelled with "ea" rhyme with "ay", and most rhyme with "ee". In others, words spelled with "ea" almost never rhyme with those spelled with "ee". You should define which accent of English you're talking about. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – sumelic May 9 '15 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it invites some speculative answers, also isn't a puzzle so much as rules of (common) (American) English. $\endgroup$ – feelinferrety Mar 31 '16 at 2:29

10 Answers 10


Great! still thinking for other 4
What about Eadon??

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Eadon - no. I guess when it comes to names, pronunciation is whatever the person says it is. For this purpose, Reagan is the name so the rest are in the dictionary. $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 13:10

The archaic word should be

Fealty (as in "Swear fealty to your liege, mongrel!") I apparently pronounce incorrectly (if/when I ever say it :P)

Yea is another archaic word which I believe would fit

Other peoples answers which I can take no credit for, just putting them here for completion:

Steak (humphreythehater)
Break (dmg)
Great (dmg)
Shea / Eamon (Glen O)
Reagan (Bailey M)

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, Yea! All found! $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 14:09

What I got thus far:



I don't think anyone has said




The CMU Pronouncing Dictionary lists one which I think is an error (and I've e-mailed the maintainer): menswear.

The various non-proper nouns can be grouped into 4 categories by etymology, but there are certainly more than 4 headwords:

  • beefsteak, steak(s), steakhouse(s)
  • break(s), breakable, breakage, breakaway, breakdown(s), breaker(s), break-even, breakey, breakfront(s), break-in(s), breaking, breakneck, breakout(s), breakthrough(s), breakup(s), breakwater, breaky, codebreaker(s), daybreak, groundbreaking, heartbreak(s), heartbreaking, icebreaker(s), lawbreaker(s), lawbreaking, outbreak(s), strikebreaker(s), unbreakability, unbreakable
  • great(s), great-aunt, greatcoat, greater, greatest, great-grandchild, great-granddaughter, great-grandfather, great-grandmother, great-grandparent, great-grandson, greatly, great-nephew, greatness, great-niece, great-uncle
  • yea(s)

Proper nouns (although classing some of the political ones as proper nouns might be debated):

  • Amoskeag
  • Beatty
  • Breakfield
  • Breakmate
  • Easudes
  • Feagan
  • Greathouse
  • MacLean, McLean
  • McCrea
  • McElyea
  • McShea
  • Rea, Reay
  • Reagan, Reaganesque, Reaganism, Reaganite(s), Reaganomics
  • Relyea
  • Seamus
  • Seay
  • Shea, O'Shea
  • Sleator
  • Treacy
  • Treadaway, Treadway
  • Yeager
  • Yeats


Would the archaic one be



JIMMY has one, I thought I'd give one.

Shea, as in "shea butter" or "shea tree".

EDIT: Also, Eamon would be the proper name.

UPDATE: So I got

"Shea" and "Eamon",



dmg got

"Break" (Himanshu was about half a minute slower),

and Humphreythehater got


I'm not sure if


was considered amongst them, but if it was, then it's the "archaic" one. The other three non-proper-name ones are all in common usage.

  • $\begingroup$ Not shea I'm afraid. Also Eamon isn't the name I had in mind but I suppose we have accept it as a 6th word. $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ If we're still hunting for the proper noun, since this appears to be the most exhaustive answer, I'll suggest it here - how about Reagan? $\endgroup$ – Bailey M May 8 '15 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Reagan - yes! Just the archaic one to go now... $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 13:04

May be it is this can be the answer


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    $\begingroup$ Ready= Reddy, Leather=Lether, Loveable=Luverble not Luvayble. $\endgroup$ – Lefty May 8 '15 at 12:03

The letter combination "ea" makes 3 sounds.

1st "ea" sounding like "ee" as in cream, teach, grease.

2nd "ea" sounding like "E" as in bear, dead, head.

3rd "ea" sounding like "ay" as in

great, streak, break.

  • $\begingroup$ The sound in "bear" actually has 2 different variations depending upon whether the word is stressed or not. $\endgroup$ – Lefty Jun 21 '15 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ uhmm, wouldn't streak be an "ee" sound? I don't think you would str-ay-k in the park at nights. $\endgroup$ – Nyk 232 Jul 10 '15 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ I assume that was supposed to be "steak" rather than "streak". $\endgroup$ – Lefty Jul 10 '15 at 22:54

Seamus is also a proper name that fits the criterion (pronounced SHAY-mus).

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is true. That's why I explicitly ruled out any other names when someone mentioned Eamonn. It's strange really why Reagan is always explicitly mentioned as one of the words but there are really 4 words and any number of (mainly Irish) given names and surnames. $\endgroup$ – Lefty Jul 10 '15 at 23:01

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