Decoding the letter R

From Teflpedia

r

right /raɪt/

The letter R, lower case r (pronounced /ɑːr/) represents IPA phoneme /r/. For examples see IPA phoneme /r/.

R normally modifies the sound of the vowel letters preceding it in comparison to the sound that those letters have before other consonants.

For single vowels there are three sounds:

  • Long monophthong as /ɑː/ in start, sari, starry, starred, starring
  • Rhotic diphthong as /eə/ in square, scary
  • Short or normal sound, which is present before any consonant, as /æ/ in trap, carry, arid

For intervocalic "r" there are two spelling patterns for three sounds. As an example we put the table for "a". V is any vowel.

"VrV" "VrrV"
/ær/ arid carry
/ɑːr/ sari starry
/eər/ scary N/A

Below there is a complete table for all vowels. Cells in yellow indicate that there are very few examples.

Vowel letters Normal sound Normal sound examples Normal sound examples Rhotic sound Rhotic sound examples
"rr" "r" "r" "rr"
a /æ/ hat carry charity /ɑː/ start, sari starry
AmE also with /e/
a, ai /eɪ/ face, wait N/A payroll /eə/ square, scary, hair, hairy N/A
e, ea /e/ dress, head ferry very /ɜː/ verb, learn preferred
ea /eɪ/(*) break N/A N/A /eə/(*) bear N/A
e, ea, ee /iː/ theme, deal, fleece N/A rewrite /ɪə/ mere, near, deer N/A
i, y /ɪ/ kit, myth mirror spirit, lyrics /ɜː/ girl stirred, myrrh
i, y /aɪ/ nice, type N/A virus /aɪə/ fire, tyreBrE N/A
o /ɒ/BrE /ɑː/AmE lot sorry N/A /ɔː/ north abhorred
/ɒ/BrE /ɔː/AmE cloth torrid foreign
o, oa, ou /əʊ/, [oʊ]AmE joke, goat, soul N/A showroom FORCE vowel:
[ɔː, o,AmEAmE]
force, more, glory, board, course N/A
o /ʌ/(*) love worry thorough /ɜː/(*) word
AmE with /ɜː/
u /ʌ/ strut hurry
AmE with /ɜː/
/ɜː/ nurse furry
u /juː, uː/ cute, student N/A Blu-ray /jʊə, ʊə/, [jɔː, ɔː]BrE cure, sure, tourist N/A
oo /uː/ goose N/A /ʊə/, [ɔː]BrE poor N/A
ou, ow /aʊ/ mouth, down N/A dowry /aʊə/ sour N/A

(*) Exceptional sound for this spelling

Examples of intervocalic R[edit]

In the table below we show many examples of intervocalic R and the corresponding rhotic vowel sounds when the spelling uses one vowel letter.

Vowel
letters
Short
monophthong
Short monophthong examples Long
monoph­thong
Long monophthong examples Diphthong Diphthong examples
"rr" "r" "r" "rr" "r"
a /æ/ barrier, carry, embarrass, marriage, marry, narrative, narrow character, characteristic, characterize, charity, comparison, guarantee, parallel, paragraph, salary /ɑː/ safari, sari, scenarioBrE barring, jarring, scarring, sparring, starring, starry /eə/ caring, hilarious, Mary, parent, rarely, Sarah, scenario,AmE scaring, staring, variable, variation, variety, various, vary
e /e/ berry, cherry, deterrent,BrE errand, error, ferret, ferry, herring, interrogate, merry, sherry, terrible, terror, terrorist, territory American, austerity, ceremony, cherish, clerical, derelict, derivation, dexterity, experiment, herald, heresy, heritage, heroism, heron, hysterical, imperative, inherit, merit, numeric, peril, perilous, perish, posterity, prosperity, severity, sheriff, sincerity, spherical, stereo, sterile, therapy, verify, verification, very /ɜː/ deferring, deterrent,AmE deterring, inferring, preferring, referral, referring, transferring /ɪə/ criteria, criterion, experience, hero, material, period, series, serious
i /ɪ/ irrational, irrefutable, irregular, irrelevant, irreparable, irresistible, irrigation, irritation, mirror conspiracy, delirious, miracle, mirage, satiric, spirit /ɜː/ stirring, whirring /aɪ/ irate, Irish, ironic, irony, pirate, siren, spiral, virus
/aɪə/ admirer, desirable, firearm
o /ɒ/BrE /ɑː/AmE borrow, sorrow, sorry, tomorrow N/A /ɔː/ boring, chlorine, choral, explorer, exploring, glory, ignoring, historian, memorial, moreover, notorious, restoring, scoring, storage, storing, story abhorring [oə] Now merged with /ɔː/
/ɒ/BrE /ɔː/AmE abhorrent, correlation, correspond, corridor, horrible, horror, porridge, torrent, torrid foreign, forest, historical, majority, moral, orange, origin, priority
u /ʌ/ concurrence, concurrent, currant, current, currency, curry, flurry, hurricane, hurry, recurrence, surrogate /ɜː/ blurring, blurry, concurring, furry, purring, occurring /ʊə curable, curious, jury, lurid, mural, neural, plural, puritan, rural, spurious
/ʊ/ Burundi, guru, Jurassic, uranium
y /ɪ/ Thyrrhenian lyrics, pyramid, syringe, tyranny /ɜː/ /aɪ/ gyrate, thyroid, tyrant
/aɪə/

R in combinations[edit]

  • "rh" sounds like "r"
rhinoceros - rhyme - rhythm
  • "wr" sounds like "r"
wrap - wrapper - wrist - write - wrong

See also[edit]