IPA phoneme /ʊə/

From Teflpedia



cure /kjʊr/

British English

ʊə ɔː

sure /ʃʊər, ʃɔːr/

Strict IPA


cure /kjʊə̯r/



cure /kjʊər/

In Received Pronunciation, the IPA phonetic symbol /ʊə/ corresponds to the diphthong sound in words like "cure" /kjʊər/ and "tour" /tʊər/. Currently in Received Pro­nun­ci­a­tion this phoneme is disappearing, in favour of /ɔː/, in the so-called CURE-FORCE merger (also called pour-poor merger).[1] For example "tour" is pronounced either /tʊər/ or /tɔːr/. "Sure" can be pronounced either /ʃʊər/ or /ʃɔːr/.

In General American, on the other hand, /ʊər/ and /ʊr/ can be pronounced [ʊər] at the end of the syllable or before a consonant[2] or [ʊr] before a vowel.[3] Since the difference is predictable it can be said that General American doesn't have an /ʊə/ phoneme. This should be called “CURE pronounced as FOOT” or (less precisely) “the CURE-FOOT merger” but we could find only one reference, as a comment in a blog.[4] See IPA phoneme /ʊ/.

In the United States a few words with /ʊər/ can be pronounced [ɜːr]. This is called the CURE-NURSE merger (also called cure-fir merger).[5] See IPA phoneme /ɜː/ and the Advanced material section.

In Received Pronunciation /ʊər/ and /ɔːr/ are pronounced [ʊə] and [ɔː] unless they are followed by a vowel, i.e. the "r" is normally silent unless it is followed by a vowel.

In General American the "r" is always pronounced.

There are places in the United Kingdom where the "r" is pronounced, and places in North America where it is not pronounced.


Some words which practise the pronunciation of /ʊə/ include the following, taken from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary unless otherwise noted:

  • Not merging into /ɔ:/ (i.e. with [ʊə] sound in Received Pronunciation)
/jʊə/: :bureau - curious - during - endure - Europe - European - furious - fury - impure - manicure - neuron - neurosis - pure - puritan - purity - secure - security - spurious - urine
/ʊə/: mature /məˈtʃʊər/ - Missouri - rural
  • Partially merged into /ɔ:/ (i.e. with either a [ʊə] sound or [ɔː] sound in Received Pronunciation)
/jʊə/ or /jɔː/: cure[6] - you're
/ʊə/ or /ɔː/: :ensure - jury[6] - poor - sure - tour - tourist
  • Fully merged into /ɔː/ (i.e. only some Americans pronounce it [ʊə] or [ʊ])
/jɔː/: your
  • There are more homophones in Received Pronunciation than in American English: poor - pore; sure - shore:

Advanced material[edit]

Received Pronunciation[edit]

In Received Pronunciation some words marked as "Not merging into /ɔ:/" above are actually merging into [u:ə], with two syllables (similar to the pronunciation of "fuel").

For example, "secure" might be pronounced either /sɪˈkjʊər/ or /sɪˈkju:ər/.[6]

Some people use the monophthong /uː/, pronouncing, for example "rural" as /ˈru:rəl/ instead of /ˈrʊərəl/.[6]

Still other people have another monophthong in their pronunciation of /ʊə/, namely [ɵː]. See The demise of ʊə as in CURE Fate 3[6] to hear clips with this sound.

United States[edit]

In General American /ʊə(r)/BrE is /ʊr/AmE and may be pronounced [ʊər] or [ʊr] depending on its position in the word. However some specific words in some parts of the United States are merged into /ɜːr/. All examples taken from Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary (MWLD) at http://www.learnersdictionary.com/ where they appear as only pronunciation (note that /ɚ/ in MWLD is /ɜːr/ in Teflpedia). Only "sure" and its derivatives appear in the Random House Dictionary, and only as a second pronunciation.

  • from "sure" /ɜːr/AmE: assurance, assure, ensure, insurance, insure, sure, surely
  • /jɜːr/:AmE bureau, cure, curious, manicure, pure, puritan, purity, secure, security, spurious, urine
  • /ɜːr/:AmE endure, jury

Not merging into /ɜː/[edit]

These examples have [u], [ʊ] or [uɚ] in the narrow notation used by Merriam-Webster's. In Teflpedia's broad notation we use /ʊ/AmE or simply /ʊə/.

  • during - Europe - European - furious - fury - impure - neurosis - poor - tour - tourism - tourist

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit]

It is a dilemma to teach students a pronunciation that is falling out of use. The words that still have [ʊə] in Received Pronunciation are very few. When teaching General American the /ʊ/ pronunciation should be taught: cure as [ˈkjʊər] and curable as [ˈkjʊrəbəl].

The following section aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.


Spanish speakers don't confuse this phoneme with others, but they tend to pronounce it as [u:ə], which, as shown above, is not uncommon for native speakers.


  1. Wikipedia, English-language vowel changes before historic /r/ § Pour-poor merger
  2. Merriam-Webster's Learners Dictionary, poor as [ˈpuɚ]
  3. Merriam-Webster's Learners Dictionary, tourist as [ˈturɪst].
  4. Language log, Comment by dw July 30, 2010 @ 12:20 am.
  5. Wikipedia, English-language vowel changes before historic /r/ § Cure-fir merger
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Speech talk, The demise of ʊə as in CURE

See also[edit]