212: /r+ɚ/ “explore” into “explorer”

Adding /ɚ/ (schwa+r) to an /r/ can be difficult. Make it into two syllables, but don't add a vowel sound between. Learn how here!

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy’s American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Amanda is this is our 212th episode.

Today’s topic comes from a lister named Alex. Alex wrote: 

I'm writing you with a request for a podcast for a couple of sounds that have been haunting me for a while. I listened carefully to your podcast on how to pronounce ‘quarter,’ and it was of great help. I have trouble forming words that are formed when the original word ends in r sound  and schwa+r sound is added. For example, ‘explore’ becomes ‘explorer.’ ‘Murder’ becomes ‘murderer.’ ‘Poor’ + schwa +r= ‘Poorer.’
I don't know how to make those final two r sounds together. Is it a long r with no pause in between? Is there a pause? I know you said schwa+r is really only the r sound. But how to combine two /r/s without inserting an extra sound? Every time I hear a native speaker say ‘explorer’ or ‘murderer’ or ‘poorer’ I just hear a final long "r" sound but I can't reproduce the sound. I always end up adding an extra syllable and it sounds different. 

(See the /ɚ/ pronunciation lesson, spelling lesson, and practice page!)

Now that is an excellent question Alex! It did make me think about what is exactly going on with words like this.

I went back and reviewed the episode I did about the word ‘quarter,’ and I realized that I never actually told you how to pronounce the schwa+r. All I said was:

Now, one last thing to talk about in the word ‘quarter,’ and that's the final sound, /ɚ/ (schwa+r). The key thing to remember about /ɚ/ is that it's pronounced as just an /r/. 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!

I’ll tell you how I create a /ɚ/ after an /r/. First, I need to explain what the ‘bunched r’ is. The bunched r is an /r/ that occurs in the back of the mouth, and it’s the way most non-native English speakers find easier to pronounce. This is a little complicated, so listen closely: 

The bunched /r/ is created by curling sides of the back of the tongue up into the top back teeth. Now, only the sides of the back of the tongue are lifted; the centerline of the tongue—from front to back—stays a bit lower. It’s okay if the tip of your tongue curls upward a little, but don’t let it touch anything in your mouth. The important part is that the sides of your tongue are higher than the center of your tongue. The sound is (/ɚ/).

To create /ɚ/ after an /r/, all I need to do is lower the centerline of my tongue a little between the sounds. I’m not lowering it so much that it creates a vowel sound. I’ll say the two sounds together: (/r/+/ɚ/). 

Alex was worried above that an extra syllable was being created when /ɚ/ happens after an /r/. However, that’s not a problem because that’s how it should happen. What we don’t want is to add a vowel sound between the sounds.

If I add a vowel between /r/ and /ɚ/, it’ll sound like (rur, or rer). I don’t want that; I want (/ɚ/, /ɚ/). 

Can you hear the difference? I’ll say them again. Here it is with a vowel between: (rur, or rer)

And here it is without a vowel between: (/r/+/ɚ/, /r/+/ɚ/)

All I’m doing is lowering the back of my tongue a little bit, then raising it again.

Let’s put this in context. Here some words with an /r/ or any other r-controlled vowel followed by /ɚ/:

explorer
murderer
poorer
enterer
laborer
preparer

Now, not to make you too crazy, but here are some examples where /ɚ/ is spelled ‘o-r.’ Remember, /ɚ/ can have any vowel+r spelling if it’s on a reduced syllable:

error
juror
mirror
horror

That was a lot of words to hear. I’m going to say them all again and leave time for you to repeat after me. Ready?

explorer
murderer
poorer
enterer
laborer
preparer
error
juror
mirror
horror

Thanks again for the question, Alex!

If you have a podcast topic you’d like me to cover, please send an email to podcast@pronuncian.com. Or you can reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter. Our username is Pronuncian (spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n) for both of those accounts, and we’d love to hear from you!

If you want more practice for sounds like the /r/ and /ɚ/, check out our additional American English pronunciation learning material on the “Books and Products” link on Pronuncian.com. I’ll also link to the free online practice from this episode’s transcript page.

This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. You can find more information about Seattle Learning Academy and our pronunciation and other classes classes by visiting www.seattlelearning.com.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Bye-bye.