The /e/ vowel is spelled <e> and <ea> in dead. The diphthong /eə/ is spelled <air>, <are> or <ar> in vary.
Although this is a contrast bewteen a short front vowel and a front centring diphthong, the two sounds begin in almost the same place and confusions occur even among native speakers. This applies particularly before /r/ as in ferry/fairy
The density value is 0.5%. The pairs make 26 semantic contrasts, giving a high loading of 87%.
bed bared belly barely ben bairn bens bairns bled blared cherry chary dead dared dent daren't Des dares Ed aired Fed fared ferry fairy ferries fairies fez fairs fled flared head hared herring haring ken cairn kens cairns lead laird leads lairds Les lairs merry Mary Pres prayers shed shared sped spared stead stared very vary wed wared wherry wary
Credit: John Higgins