Rhyming with 'shorter' and 'border,' this is a quirky word.
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 207th episode.
Today's show is a special request from listener Nick. Nick wants to know how to pronounce the word quarter. Actually, I enjoyed Nick's email so much, I want to read it aloud here. Here it is:
I struggle with the word quarter, and I know many other ESL learners see this word in their nightmare dreams too. I have had the same awful dialog in the store or bank:
Me: Could you please change/split my dollar bill into QUARTERS?
Person at the counter: Sorry… What do you want?
Me: I want some Q-U-A-R-T-E-R-S for my laundry machine.
Person at the counter: Ahh! You need QUARTERS. Here you are, sir!
Me: Thank you.
The problem is, I do not see the difference between me and Americans pronouncing this word. However, they do not understand me.
Please help me with this word.
Thanks Nick. I especially liked the "pause, deep thinking, revelation," part!
So, what's going on with this word? Kind of a lot, actually. We have to deal with the letters q-u, then we have two different r-controlled-vowels, and we have a t sound allophone. It's no wonder that Nick is having problems!
To begin with, let's talk about the q-u sounding like k plus w (k sound+w sound). Some people really miss the w part of this sound. If Nick was missing the w sound, he'd be saying quarter as quarter (no w sound). If I heard quarter (no w sound) I might have a really hard time understanding, even with context.
The next issue is the or sound (or sound) part of the word. If I put the k sound plus w sound plus or sound together, I get (quar-). This is the same as in the words quart, quartz, quarrel, and quarantine.
Now we need to deal with that letter t. If you've listened to very many of these podcasts already, you know the trouble the letter t can be. The letter t has a lot of pronunciations in American English and the one you might be the most familiar with is when it sounds like a d sound. It's easier to hear in words like water or meeting, but it also happens in the word quarter. If I slow the word down, you can probably hear it more easily: quar-ter.
The reason the t sound turns into that quick d sound, also called an alveolar stop, in the word quarter is that the t is between two r-controlled vowels: it has an or sound before it, and schwa+r after it. I'll link to the pronuncian.com lesson from this page's transcript so you can see the t sound allophone charts. For now, know that the letter t in the word quarter sounds like a quick d sound.
That same t-as-d pattern also works in the words that rhyme with quarter. Those are words like shorter, reporter, and supporter. Oddly, though, the word quarter is nearly a rhyme with the word order o-r-d-e-r, because of that d-like transformation. I'll say those two words side by side so you can hear it: quarter, order. We could also nearly rhyme it with border, recorder, and disorder.
I like to tell you these rhymes because sometimes seeing different spellings for the same sound can help your brain get unstuck when it was a weird spelling pattern that was causing a mispronunciation.
Now, one last thing to talk about in the word quarter, and that's the final sound, schwa+r. The key thing to remember about schwa+r is that it's pronounced as just an r sound. Don't add any vowel sound to it. Really. Just say the r sound, no matter how much it is not intuitive to do that!
This means that in the word quarter, you need to transition directly from the d-like sound into the r sound (d sound+r sound). If you try to add a vowel between the d sound and r sound, you might be misunderstood. This is true with all the words we've talked about as rhyming words and near rhyming words to the word quarter. Listen closely:
Notice, too, that quarter is the only word in that list that is not spelled with o-r. If it helps you to think of it as spelled o-r in order to say it correctly, go ahead and do that. It's always okay to trick your brain a little when working with pronunciation.
I'm going to say that list of words again, this time leaving time for you to repeat the words after me. Ready? Here we go:
If you want to see the transcripts for this episode, go to www.pronuncian.com and click 'podcasts' and then click episode 207. I'll also include links for the or sound, schwa+r, and t sound allophone lessons. That way you can learn and practice even more! Those lessons are also available in our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2. Pronunciation Pages 2 also comes with MP3 audio files so you can get lots and lots of that valuable listen-and-repeat practice.
Don't forget, if you have a pronunciation question and would like us to do a podcast about it, you can tell us on social media by finding us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/pronuncian, or on Twitter, where our handle is @pronuncian.
That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world come to learn.
Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.