208: Cone/corn, coat/court

Practice the difference between the or sound and the long o sound.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 208th episode.

Today I want to talk about something that is definitely more important for American English than British English, and that's the difference between the or sound (or sound) and the long o sound (long o).

I want to thank Christopher, a native Korean speaker, for bringing this topic to my attention!

If you learned British English, you probably learned to not really say the /r/ part of the or sound except in specific circumstances when other vowels are involved. To American ears, not including the /r/ makes words like corn sound like cone or court sound like coat. Can you hear the problem?

In American English, we include the r sound of all four r-controlled vowels. These are:

schwa+r (schwa+r), as in the word stir
the ar sound (ar sound), as in the word star
the air sound (air sound), as in stair
and the or sound (or sound), as in store

Let's talk about how exactly the or sound and long o sound are alike and different, except for the obvious necessity of the r sound in the or sound in American English.

The long o is what we call a two-sound vowel, or diphthong. Two-sound vowels, like their name implies, include two sounds in their pronunciation. The long o begins with a sound like (uh) and then moves into a w sound (long o). If your lips don't close into the small circle that creates the w sound at the end of the long o, you stand a good chance of being misunderstood.

Say the long o sound after me (long o, long o).

Let's say some long o words:


To say the or sound, the beginning of the sound is similar to the beginning of the long o, but we don't move into the w sound. Instead, we move into an r sound (or sound).

Say the or sound after me (or sound, or sound).

Did you get all the way to a nice, clear r sound?

If not, here are some tips for the r sound. First, I recommend creating the /r/ by using the back of the tongue. This is a little confusing at first, but let's give it a try.

The back of the tongue is raised so the sides of the tongue touch the back teeth. The center of the back of the tongue is lower and the air travels through the groove to create the sound. The tip of the tongue might point upward, or might be left low.

Let's try just the r sound (r sound, r sound).

Now, when we create the or sound, the sound begins with the mouth more open and the jaw lowered. Then, when you move into the r-part of the sound, let the mouth close a little. This will help you get the back of the tongue high enough to create a solid r sound.

Let's try the or sound again (or sound, or sound).

Repeat these words after me:


Did you do okay?

Now we're going to do some long o sound, or sound minimal pairs. A minimal pair is two words that are the same except for one sound. I'm going to say both words, then leave time for you to repeat after me. I'll say the word pronounced with the long o sound first.

scone, scorn
coat, court
tone, torn
cone, corn
row, roar
so, soar
code, cord
poke, pork
bone, born
foam, form
snow, snore

If you want more practice with these sounds, our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2 includes practice word lists with almost one hundred high-frequency words, including audio, for you to use as listen-and-repeat practice. There is no other resource with so much sound practice all in one place. You can get a downloadable copy of Pronunciation Pages 2, with the audio in MP3 format, by going to www.pronuncian.com.

Don't forget, if you want to suggest a podcast topic, you can let us know on social media. We're on Facebook at facebook.com/pronuncian, and our Twitter handle is @pronuncian. We'd love to hear your comments and questions at any time.

Christopher, I hope this podcast helps you with these troublesome sounds!

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.