Why is 帰り (かえり) pronounced like it is?

So I find it quite peculiar that 帰り almost sounds like it should almost be spelled かいり and not かえり like it is. And I don’t necessarily mind that it’s like this, but why? Is it the り or any of the consonant+い sounds that modify the あえ sound? I don’t know enough vocabulary off the top of my head to know if this is a consistent pattern or just some sort of oddball irregular word.

I’m not sure that I totally understand the basis for your question, and I’m still somewhat of a beginner/intermediate learner, but in my dictionary one of the kunyomi readings for 帰 is かえ.

And 帰り would seem to be the masu-form stem of 帰る. (帰ります)


I think they mean pronunciation, and it’s usually because it’s not pronounced かり, but えり.

(I don’t know pitch accent but something like that.)


OK - yes, pronunciation-wise I see that point… It’s perhaps subtle, but the pronunciation does seem to ‘warp’ a bit there.

Go to Google Translate and put in かえり and then put かいり.

Hit the microphone button next to what you typed, and tell me if your can tell any difference in actual pronunciation of the vowels.

That’s my question.

It’s subtle, but yes, there’s a difference.

Reminded me of this post.

Sometimes we can hear something different based on accent, or even just different ways a person says a word.

Especially when it comes to vowels.

In this case, i and e are similar enough that they cause this confusion.


Just FYI, this is something people commonly get mixed up, and it’s not just in Japanese: historically, there was quite a lot of confusion between AE and AI in Latin, and if I remember correctly, some of that can be seen in later Vulgar Latin spellings that were based on the original words.

It’s something to get used to, and I can assure you the two sounds are definitely different. However, yeah, sometimes, in a conversation, they might sound slightly more similar. In those cases though, usually context is enough to figure out what’s going on and which word is which.


Bonus thought:
Sometimes people get these sounds mixed up early on because they’ve mislearned what sound the え vowel makes. Lot’s of online introductions say it is pronounced like the English “ay” as in play. When we say “ay” in English, it’s actually a diphthong that ends in a high vowel identical more or less to い. え is actually pronounced like “eh” as in leg. If you’ve made this mistake I’d recommend over-emphasizing the “eh” sound for a while to fix it. Believe it or not, how you expect something to be pronounced affects how you hear it considerably. Early on I learned え as “ay”, and it messed with both the way I pronounced it and the way I heard it.

If this isn’t what’s happening for you, hopefully, this helps someone else!
For what it’s worth, かえり and かいり sound quite noticeably different to me today.


I don’t know if that helps, because あえ in isolation sounds way different than when smushed into かえり.

Why would it go from an obvious difference to something that’s practically the same as あい. Why doesn’t the whole word sound closer to the vowels in isolation?

If it’s related to the い sound in り actually causing the sound to morph, that’s a good enough answer.

They don’t sound different though. If I listen to a sample of 帰り on forvo, I can clearly hear the /a/ and /ɛ/ just as I would with あえ in isolation.

It sounds like you need more exposure and practice with this sound combination. Or perhaps you’re hearing the い in あい more as /ɪ/ than /i/, which is a bit closer to /ɛ/ when in vowel combinations.

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+1 for the “this got better for me the more I studied” camp.
They sound completely different for me now.


This type of vowel reduction is common and varies a lot from language to language, accent to accent, speaker to speaker. It’s more obvious when people talk fast and casually.

In Russian this phenomenon is vastly more pronounced (especially in a Moscow accent). Unstressed “o” will be reduced, sometimes to the point of sounding like “a”, and unstressed “e” can sound like “i”.

For instance many people know that “thank you” in Russian sounds something like “spasiba”, but the Russian spelling is спасибо which transliterates to spasibo. Because the final o is unstressed, it ends up sounding very much like an ‘a’ (at least in a typical Moscow dialect).

Japanese doesn’t have stress but it has pitch accent and that can lead to similar phenomena with some vowels being reduced in some contexts and not always sounding the same way.


Yes. And you will be able to hear it as well if you continue to expose yourself to the sounds of the language. I have the same issue with the “can do” form of verbs. E.g. 行きます (いきます: to go) vs 行けます (いけます: can go). When spoken quickly, it’s hard to make out the difference, and in truth it’s a bit subtle. I suspect that a lot of the meaning comes from context, even if there is a meaningful but subtle difference in the sound.

weight - wait
weigh - way
neigh - nay

Shall I continue?

Those are genuine homophones, though (at least in my accent), whereas かえり/かいり are not.


The sound doesn’t change! It’s the same in かえり. Maybe somehow you’re listening to a peculiar recording? I listened to google translate as you suggested, and it’s the same vowel sounds in かえり and あえ. I think as you train your ear you’ll hear the difference too. I wouldn’t get too bogged down about this; just keep moving forward and practicing your listening when you normally would.

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Maybe the intonation is throwing you off? The intonation rises on the え.

I feel like you’d really sense it if you tried saying 帰って (かえって, go home) and 貝って (かいって, shellfish + って)


I just recommend sounding out あい and あえ separately. Both end up making a very similar sound due to the nature of going from the あ to the え/い. The difference is that you’ll end on an い sound if you’re pronouncing あい and an え sound if you’re pronouncing あえ. It sounds obvious but keep that in mind when listening for the difference.

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