160: w+a (want), w+a-r (warm), w+o-r (work)

Less-known patterns for the aw sound, schwa+r, and or sound.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 160th episode.

In our last episode, I explained non-phonetic words. Non-phonetic are the words whose pronunciation we cannot predict based on their spelling. These words should be memorized. However, you can't just memorize the non-phonetic words, you also need to memorize the common spelling patterns for each sound!

Since this episode deals a lot with English spelling patterns, it will probably be easier to understand if you're reading the transcript while listening. You can find the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Some basic phonetic patterns can go a long way. A very good pattern to know, for instance, is the vowel-consonant-e pattern for long vowels. We can guess that the words cake, bike, and home are pronounced with the long a, long i, and long o, respectively, because of their vowel-consonant-e spelling.


Sometimes, though, the patterns don't apply to a huge number of words. Then, as learners, you need to decide if the pattern is worth memorizing or not.


Today we're going to talk about a small set of phonetic patterns. If we study them in a set, then at least you can be aware that they exist. You'll know that this is a set of patterns that you need to pronounce with care.


Today's set of patterns is the letter w plus a, w plus o-r, and w plus a-r. You see, the letter w before the letter a or the letters o-r or a-r causes weird things to happen to the pronunciation of the letter a or the letters o-r or a-r. Some examples will help.


Listen to the words want, wash, and watch. We could guess that, since the letter a is between two consonants, those words would be pronounced with a short a sound (short a). After all, they're pronounced with a short a in the words chant, cash and batch. But, want, wash, and watch aren't pronounced with the short a sound. Instead they're pronounced with the aw sound (aw sound). Listen closely: want, wash, watch. Why are they pronounced with the aw sound? Because the letter w comes before the letter a. This is one of the less-frequent patterns for the aw sound.


Here are some words spelled w plus o-r: work, word, and worth. It would make sense for those words to be pronounced with the or sound (or sound), like they are in the words cork, cord, and north. But they aren't. Instead they're pronounced with a schwa+r sound (schwa+r): work, word, and worth. Why are they pronounced with schwa+r? Because the letter w comes before the letters o-r and w+o-r is one of the patterns for schwa+r.

Now listen to the words warm, warn, and war. It would make sense that those words would be pronounced with the ar sound, like they are in the words harm, barn, and car. But they're not. Instead they're pronounced with the or sound. Why? You guessed it: because the letter w comes before the letters a-r and w+a-r is one of the patterns for the or sound.

To help you hear and compare these sounds, I'm going to say the words that have the common pronunciation when the letter w is not involved, and then examples of words spelled with the letter w involved. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me.

First, a regular short a (short a) pronunciation when the letter a is between two consonants:


And now the w+a spelling for the aw sound (aw sound):


Here is theor spelling pronounced as the or sound (or sound):


And here is w+o-r being pronounced as schwa+r (schwa+r):


Finally, here are some words spelled ar and pronounced, as we would expect, with the ar sound (ar sound):




And here is the w+ar spelling which causes the letters ar to be pronounced with the or sound (or sound):



The question really is: how can you learn these patterns? Well, you are in luck because all of these patterns are included in Pronunciation Pages 2! Yes, that's the same book I mentioned in the last episode that includes all of the non-phonetic words patterns. Both the digital and physical version of this great reference guide come with MP3 audio files so you can listen to and repeat native English speaker pronunciation during your practice. It's a great way to learn, and every purchase you make of any of our products directly supports our ability to keep providing these podcasts to you for free. So go to www.pronuncian.com and click "products" to find all of our products.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world come to learn.

Thanks for listening.