The /ɪə/ diphthong is spelled <eer>, <ear> or <are>. The /eə/ diphthong is spelled <air>, <ear> or <are>.
This is a contrast between two diphthongs with a difference in starting position but with the same direction of movement. It is a problem for learners and some native speakers, especially New Zealanders.
Interesting pairs include:
The density figure is 10.4%. The set makes 47 semantic contrasts giving a loading of 47%.
beer bare beers bares beer bear beers bears bier bare biers bares bier bear biers bears beard bared cheer chair cheered chaired cheering chairing cheers chairs cheery chary clear Clare compeer compare compeers compares dear dare dears dares dearie dairy dearies dairies ear air ears airs ear ere ear heir ears heirs eerie airy eerily airily earring airing earrings airings fear fair fears fairs fear fare feared fared fearing faring fears fares hear hair hears hairs hear hare hears hares hearing haring here hair here hare leer lair leers lairs leered laird mere mare meres mares near ne'er peer pair peered paired peering pairing peers pairs peer pear peers pears peer pare peered pared peering paring peers pares pier pair piers pairs pier pear piers pears pier pare piers pares rear rare really rarely rearing raring rhea rare shear share sheared shared shears shares shearing sharing sheer share sneer snare sneered snared sneers snares sneering snaring spear spare speared spared spears spares spearing sparing steer stair steers stairs steer stare steers stares steered stared steering staring tear tare tears tares weir ware weirs wares weir wear weirs wears weird wared weary wary wearier warier weariest wariest wearily warily weariness wariness
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, December 2009