IPA phoneme /ɪə/

From Teflpedia
Revision as of 13:29, 1 September 2017 by Ghoti (talk | contribs) (Less common words: tier)



near /nɪə̯r/



near /nɪr/



near /nɪər/

In English, in Received Pronunciation, and in some parts of North America the IPA phonetic symbol /ɪə/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "near" and "deer".

In General American this phoneme is merged with /ɪ/. This means that mirror and nearer rhyme. In most American dictionaries /ɪr/ must be understood as [ɪr] before a vowel and [ɪər] at the end of the word or before a consonant. For example /ˈmɪrər/ means [ˈmɪrər] and /dɪr/ means [dɪər].

In Received Pronunciation /ɪər/ is pronounced [ɪə] unless it is followed by a vowel, i.e. the "r" is normally silent unless it is followed by a vowel. Instead of as a diphthong /ɪə/ may be pronounced as a long vowel [ɪː] or (less often) as two syllables [ɪjə].[1]

In General American the "r" is always pronounced. Besides, in some parts of North America the beginning of this diphthong is tense, i.e. /ɪər/ sounds [iər] or [iɚ].[2]

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

In strict IPA diphthongs need an inverted breve under their less prominent vowel: /ɪə̯/. See Ambiguity below.

Common words

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

  • with "ea": appear - beard - clear - dear - ear - fear - gear - hear - near - tear - year
  • with "ee": beer - career - cheers! - engineer - peer - volunteer
  • with magic e: atmosphere - here - mere - severe
  • with "e": Algeria - criterion - era - experience - interior - material - Nigeria - period - series - serious - we're
  • with "ei": weird
  • BrE /ɪə/, AmE /ɪə/ or /iːə/: theory
  • BrE /ɪə/, AmE /ɪə/ or /iː/: hero - zero

Less common words

  • with magic e: austere, interfere
  • with "e": bacteria, Ceres
  • with "ie": cashier, fierce, frontier, piercing, tier


  • cereal - serial; dear - deer; hear - here; peer - pier.

/ɪrV/ vs. /ɪərV/


near /niɚ/



mirror /mirɚ/

In many places in North America the sequences /ɪrV/ and /ɪərV/ (where V is any vowel) are pronounced the same, as [iːɹ, iɹ, iːɚ] or [iɚ]. Most American dictionaries use /ɪr/. Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary uses /ir/.[3]

See Mirror–nearer merger in Wikipedia.


Some dictionaries use /ɪ/ before a vowel, and "previous" is represented as /ˈpriːvɪəs/, with /ɪ/ and /ə/ in different syllables. Ambiguously "near", which has a diphthong, is represented as /nɪər/. There are several ways to deal with this ambiguity.

Using IPA syllable separation, "previous" is /ˈpriː.vɪ.əs/ and "near" is /nɪər/.

Using inverted breve, "previous" is /ˈpriːvɪəs/ and "near" is /nɪə̯r/.

Most dictionaries simply ignore the difference. Since the dipththong /ɪə̯/ occurs only before /r/, the ambiguity /ɪə̯/ vs. /ɪ.ə/ appears in very few words such as happier /ˈhæpɪər/ (more exactly /ˈhæp.ɪ.ər/). Someone not familiar with the pronunciation could think it is /ˈhæp.ɪə̯r/.

Other dictionaries, and also Teflpedia, use /iː/ before a vowel (see Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/ § Unstressed syllable). "Happier" is represented as /ˈhæpiːər/ and "near" is /nɪər/, with no ambiguity.

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1

Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.


  1. Geoff Lindsey, The British English vowel system, 8 March 2012.
  2. Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary uses the notation /iɚ/. See near.
  3. Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary, mirror, period.

See also

External links