R Colored Vowels

January 7th, 2021 by

1.1.1        R-Colored Vowels




Overwhelm [oʊvɚˈwɛlm̩]

Stir [stɚ]



Early [ɝli]

Bird   [bɝd]

Worm [wɝm]



Art [ɑrt]

Start [stɑrt]

Star [stɑr]



Orb [ɔrb]

Morbid [mɔrbɪd]

Store [stɔr]



Air [ɛr]

Fairly [fɛrli]

Stair [stɛr]


In English, there is an ‘r’ consonant [ɹ] and then a number of places where an ‘r’ sound is added to a vowel.  It can be written different ways, but I am using the most common which is an upside down ‘r’ [ɹ]. The first two rows indicate the position of the vowel and the hook that is attached to it indicates that you simultaneously make an ‘r’ sound.  The two symbols [ɚ] and [ɝ] both indicate the same sound, but [ɚ] is used in unstressed syllables and [ɝ] is used in stressed ones just as [ə] is used in unstressed syllables and [ʌ] is used in stressed one.

The last three rows add an ‘r’ symbol after the vowel to indicate that it is “r colored.”

The symbol [ɔ] stands for a rounded low back vowel that is close to [ɑ].  In some dialects of English the words “cot” and “caught” are pronounced differently, [kɑt] and [kɔt].  In California English, they are pronounced the same.

Though the IPA has the symbol, ‘r,’ it stands for the rolled (or trilled) ‘r’ that is found in Spanish, Finnish, and many Slavic languages and is not the common English ‘r’ consonant. To differentiate the English ‘r’ consonant is represented as an upside down ‘r’ [ɹ].

Rhotic Liquid /r/

December 28th, 2020 by

The most difficult English sound for speakers of many languages is the ‘r’  sound. Though it is considered a single phoneme, that can occur in four different places.  It can occur as a consonant, as a vowel, and attached to vowels.  

 SpellingPhonemeRepresentative Words
1.'r'/ɹ/"red" /ɹɛd/
"bread" /bɹɛd/
2.'ir,' 'or'/ɝ/"bird" /bɝd/
"work" /wɝk/
3.'er,' 'or'/ɚ/"butter" /bʌɾɚ/
"freer" /fɹiɚ/
4.."or"/ɔr/"bore" /bɔr/
"oar" /ɔr/
5.."air," "ear"/ɛr/"bear" /bɛr/
"air" /ɛr/
6.."fear," "ear"/ɪr/"beer" /bɪr/
"ear" /ir/

The first row of the table is the sound of ‘r’ as a consonant.  We write it as an upside-down ‘r’ /ɹ/. This is the sound in words like, “red” /ɹɛd/,, or “tried” /tɹɑɪd/. 

A right-side-up ‘r’ /r/ is used to stand for the trilled ‘r’ that that occurs in many languages such as Spanish and Finish.  For instance Spanish “perro” /pero/ and Finnish “Hari” /hari/. 

The second and third rows are two ways of representing the same sound, a vocalic ‘r.’  Vocalic consonants are constants that act as a vowel and can be the core to a syllable. The sound is the ‘r’ sound in “bird,” “early,” “letter,” and “paper.”  The reason that there are two ways of representing the same sound is that same as for /ʌ/ and /e/, when the syllable is stressed, we write the sounds as /ɝ/, and when it is unstressed, we write it is ɚ/.  

“bird” /bɝd/
“early” /ɝli/
“letter” /lɛɹɚ/
“paper” /peɪpɚ/

The fourth, fifth, and sixth rows add an ‘ɹ’ symbol after the vowel to indicate that the vowel sound merges into the /ɚ/ sound similar to a diphthong.   Following is a list of the r-colored vowels

Three of the vowel sounds are written with two symbols, but /ɝ/ and /ɚ/ are not. They have been written as /ʌɹ/ and /əɹ/. However, that misses the fact that you are making the vowel sound and modifying it with the ‘r’ sound by curling back your tongue or bunching it up. Some linguists write /ɔɹ/, /ɑɹ/, and /ɛɹ/  as single symbols. Remember not to get too hung up on symbols because there is some variation. I try to be consistent on this website. 

Beginning of WordMiddle of WordEnd of Word
2./ɝ/Early [ɝli]Bird [bɝd]Worm [wɝm]
3./ɑr/Art [ɑrt]Start [stɑrt]Star [stɑr]
4./ɔr/Orb [ɔrb] Morbid [mɔrbɪd]Store [stɔr]
5./ɛr/Air [ɛr]Fairly [fɛrli]Stair [stɛr]
  1. Early morbid art is fairly rare. [ɝli mɔrbɪd ɑrt ɪz fɛrli ɹɛr]
  2. The early bird catches the worm. [ðə ɝli bɝd kæt͡ʃz ðə wɝm̩]
  3. The moon orbits the Earth. [ðə mun ɔrbɪts ðə ɝθ].
  4. Air is necessary to breathe.

Lateral liquid /l/

December 28th, 2020 by

The ‘l’ sound also can serve as a vowel, as in the word “bottle” It is not a nasal, such as ‘m’ and ‘n’ because the air is not flowing through your nose when you make the sound. /l/ is called a lateral sound because when you make it, the air flows along the sides of your tongue.  There are several

Listen to the /l/ sounds in each of these three words, “led” [lɛd], “bill” [bIɫ], “bottle” [bɑɾlɫ̩].

The three ‘l’ sounds are different. In the first one, you stop the air with your tongue at the ridge between the roof of your mouth and your teeth (the avelar ridge), the second you lift your tongue, and the third you sort of lower your tongue. The third ‘l’ is a vowel.

Say the sentences in the next subsection along with the audio and try to place your tongue in different places to make the three different sounds.  Remember, in each case, the air is escaping on the sides of your tongue.

Some Example Sentences with the Lateral Liquid /L/

  1. Bill led the battle [bɪɫ bɪɫ lɛd ðə bæɾɫ̩]
  2. Sell the useful lead [sɛɫ ðə jusfɫ̩ lɛd]
  3. All leaves settle slowly [ɑɫlivz sɛɾɫ̩ sloʊlɪ]


How to make the ‘R’ sound in English

October 9th, 2018 by

How to pronounce the /r/ sound in English

October 9th, 2018 by