R-Controlled Vowels

What are Vowel Sounds? 

English uses a combination of different letters to make 15 vowel sounds. We usually divide these into three categories: long vowels, short vowels and other vowels.  However, there’s another set you need to know!  Yes, some of the trickiest vowels sounds to pronounce are r-controlled vowels since the pronunciation of the vowel is affected by the rhotic r in American English.  To find out how these same combinations are pronounced in British English, check out these articles:


What are r-controlled vowels?

In American English, there are 4 additional sounds that can be created if the letter r follows a vowel sound. In fact, because the r affects the vowel sound, we sometimes refer to this as the “bossy r”. Keep in mind that American English is very different from British English in this respect.

  • ‘schwa+r’ /ɚ/  ex. stir
  • ‘ar sound’ /ɑr/ ex. car
  • ‘or sound’ /ɔr/ ex. fork
  • ‘air sound’ /ɛr/ ex. stair

Practice with R-controlled vowels in context:  

Read the following sentences out loud:

  • After dinner we’re going to the fort.
  • There are many birds at the farm.
  • The cat will start to purr at the bird.
  • Her little girl fell from the bar at the park.
  • I will start making the tarts for the party.
  • Carl will hurl the ball on the turf.

Need help? 

To learn more about English pronunciation and practice it in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional and experienced English teacher.  In fact, the first week is free for you to try it out!  

Sabine Hobbel

Sabine Hobbel

Sabine Hobbel has been helping people improve their English since 2004; the knowledge she gained from completing her Master's degrees in Psychology and in English helps her every day. She has lived in 4 different English-speaking countries and she currently lives in the Italian Alps.
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