Listen to today’s lesson: Advanced /r/ Words

In this lesson, we will practice advanced vocabulary with tricky spellings that include the letter ‘r’. The first section includes words with silent ‘r’ in which no /r/ sound is pronounced. After the first section, most of the words include an /r/ sound that is pronounced. English Jade subscribers should follow along with the lesson PDF to see the spelling and IPA transcription of each example word.

Pronunciation Note on /r/

The /r/ sound as represented by the letter ‘r’ is a sound that many non-native speakers of English struggle to get right. This is either because /r/ doesn’t exist in speaker’s native language, e.g. Japanese and some dialects of Chinese, or because /r/ is pronounced differently in the speaker’s native language. 

To give an example, Spanish speakers of English often mispronounce the /r/ sound. This is because in Spanish the /r/ sound is trilled. When pronouncing a trilled /r/ the tongue rolls against the alveolar ridge multiple times which vibrates the sound of the /r/. A trilled /r/ sounds sexy in English, but in terms of pronunciation it is incorrect. 

Another variation in the pronunciation of /r/ is the flapped /r/ which is found in most Scottish dialects and South African English. The flapped /r/ is close to the trilled /r/ in that it is pronounced by making contact with the alveolar ridge. However, the flapped /r/ only makes contact with the ridge once as it glides past it. Here is an example of me speaking the Elvish language with a flapped /r/: ‘“Ennyn Durin Aran Moria.’ 

And finally, In Standard British English we have what’s called a ‘Standard English R’. In linguistics, it is called the postalveolar approximant. When making this /r/ sound the tongue tip gets very close to the alveolar ridge but it does not vibrate against it. You can still hear vibrations coming from the vocal chords but it is nothing like the strength of vibrations in the trilled /r/ in Spanish.

All that’s rather technical. The best way to get to grips with /r/ is to listen closely and then practice. So here we go!

Practice the Pronunciation of silent /r/

fibre: figs are high in fibre

lustre: the lustre of Royal Worcester

meagre: a meagre diet of gruel

Practice /r/ words with tricky spellings

wraith: the nine ring wraiths

wreak: one day I will wreak my revenge

rhinoceros: God only knows the rhinoceros’ nose

catarrh: phlegm and catarrh, aargh!

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Listen to today’s lesson ‘non-rhotic’ /r/

Note: Many English words have a letter /r/ in their spelling that is not pronounced in the standard British English accent. This is because Standard British English is non-rhotic. This means that /r/ is dropped when it follows the final vowel in a word. Some examples of words with no /r/ sound are: car, better, turn and world. 

Why are these words spelt with a letter ‘r’ if no /r/ sound is pronounced in them? The reason is because the pronunciation of the English language is constantly evolving and accents change across the generations. We used to pronounce the /r/ in these words, but now we don’t. The /r/ sound first began being lost in some English words back in the 15thcentury. Slowly, as the centuries passed, /r/ became softened and was gradually dropped from more and more words. 

In 1780 the actor and elocution teacher Thomas Sheridan stated that /r/ ‘always has the same sound and is never silent’. However, his assertion isn’t backed up by the evidence. Linguists know for a fact that /r/ was being increasingly dropped in the late 18thcentury; they can tell by tracing /r/-less spellings in documents from that time. What Thomas Sheridan had probably meant, speaking as an elocution teacher, was that he thought /r/ ought not to be dropped. 

The loss of rhoticity from the standard British English accent was unstoppable, however. By the early 1800s the southern English accent had fully transformed into a non-rhotic accent. This accent eventually became known as R.P. ‘Received Pronunciation.’

Whether a variety of English or a specific accent is rhotic or non-rhotic is one of the biggest distinctions that can be made in English.

Non-Rhotic English Examples:

Standard British English, Welsh English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English

Rhotic English Exampes:

General American, Scottish English, Irish English, Canadian English

English Rhotic Accents Examples:

Manchester, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, the West Country

The pronunciation of /r/ following the final vowel in a word does not occur in the standard English accent. Therefore, knowing when not to pronounce /r/makes a big difference to the overall quality of your English accent. When you get this right, it’s as if you’re wearing an accent tuxedo and everyone else is wearing an accent tracksuit. 

Practice this lesson so that you commit these /r/-less words to memory. And if you’re a subscriber to English Jade, make sure you follow along with the lesson pdf.  This will be useful to you so you can see the IPA transcription of each /r/-less word example.

Practice Non-Rhotic English









Get the full lesson notes and recordings by becoming a subscriber to English Jade. CLICK HERE.