Phoneme /ɑː/ in General American

From Teflpedia
This phonetics article is adapted for General American. For an article valid in most of the English speaking world see IPA phoneme /ɑː/. For British English and received pronunciation see Phoneme /ɑː/ in Received Pronunciation and IPA phoneme /ɒ/.


start /stɑːrt/


palm /pɑːm/


lot /lɑːt/



lot /lɑt/

In General American IPA phonetic symbol /ɑː/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "start", "art", "palm", "spa", "lot" and "stop".

In Received Pronunciation, the IPA phoneme /ɑː/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "start", "art", "bath", "ask", "palm" and "spa".

In most of North America the father-bother merger is in effect.[1] This means that IPA phoneme /ɒ/ sounds exactly like /ɑː/. This is the reason why "lot" and "stop" are mentioned in the first paragraph. Since many of the words with the phoneme /ɑː/ are spelled with the letter ‘o’, this phoneme is sometimes informally called “short o”. Moreover in Teflpedia (and also in /ɒ/ means /ɒ,BrE ɑːAmE/.

Many people pronounce /ɑː/ and /ɑːr/ with different vowels (e.g. lodge as [lɑdʒ] and large as [lɑːrdʒ]); however since the difference is predictable there is no problem using the same symbol in both cases (e.g. /lɑːdʒ/ and /lɑːrdʒ/).

Common words[edit]

Some common words which practice the pronunciation of /ɑː/ include the following:

  • with "a": calm, father, wasp, watch
  • with "ar": apart, are /ər, ɑːr/, aren't, argue /ˈɑːrɡjuː/, argument, arm, army, art, article, artist, bar, car, card, carpet, charge, charm, chart, dark, department, far, farm, garden, guard /ɡɑːrd/, guitar, hard, harm, large, march, mark, market, park, part, partner, party, regard, remark, sharp, smart, star, start, target /ˈtɑːrɡɪt/, yard
  • /ɒ/ or /ɔː/: wallet - want - wash
  • /ɒ/ or /ʌ/: what
  • with "o": body - bother - clock - cost - doctor - follow - got - holiday - hot - involve - job - lot - model - not - possible - probably - problem - shop - stop - top

Spelling anomalies[edit]

  • heart /hɑːrt/
  • knowledge /ˈnɒlɪdʒ/

Less common words[edit]

  • with "a": iguana - llama - palm - piñata - wad - wander
  • with "o": Congo, connoisseur /ˌkɒnəˈsɜːr/, Honduras, Morocco
  • with "e": entrepreneur /ˌɒntrəprəˈnɜːr/

/ɑː/ or /ɔː/[edit]

All these words have an /ɒ/ sound in Received Pronunciation. In North America they may sound /ɑː/ or /ɔː/.

  • Boston - chocolate - gone - on - wash

/ɑːr/ or /ɔːr/[edit]

Main article: Decoding exercises: "orV" and "orrV"

  • General American /ɑːr/: borrow - sorrow - sorry - tomorrow
  • General American /ɔːr/: Florida - foreign - orange

Cot - caught merger[edit]

Main article: Cot-caught merger

In many parts of North America (about half the United States and nearly all of Canada)[2] /ɑː/ and /ɔː/ sound the same. This is in addition to the father - bother merger, where /ɑː/ and /ɒ/ sound the same. This means that caught /ɔː/, cot /ɒ/, father /ɑː/ and bother /ɒ/ have all the same stressed vowel /ɑː/. In this accent /ɔː/ appears only followed by /r/ and the pronunciation is normally [oɚ] or [o], north is [noɚrθ] or [norθ] and glori is [gloriː].

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit]


In Latin America American English is taught (the United Kingdom is far away). Spanish speakers tend to pronounce /ɑː/ according to the spelling. They will pronounce "palm" as [pam] and "lot" as *[lot].

See also[edit]


  1. Wikipedia, Father-bother merger
  2. William Labov,The Organization of Dialect Diversity in North America, The o/oh merger [i.e. The /ɑː - ɔː/ merger].

External links[edit]