Schwa+r spelling and pronunciation video
The schwa+r /ɚ/ is an r-controlled vowel sound. While most ESL/ELL students and teachers are aware that this sound is commonly spelled 'e-r', 'i-r', and 'u-r' (as in the words 'her,' 'girl,' and 'burn'), few realize the significance syllable stress has on this sound. Also, non-phonetic words can cause definite difficulty with this common sound.
schwa+r Spelling and Pronunciation
Schwa+r is an r-controlled vowel. American English pronunciation has four r-controlled vowels. An r-controlled vowel is a vowel sound that changes quality because it is followed by an r sound. The four r-controlled vowels are:
- schwa+r /ɚ/ as in the word stir
- ar sound /ɑr/ as in the word star
- air sound /ɛr/ as in the word stair
- or sound /ɔr/ as in the word store
The schwa+r sounds like (schwa+r). Notice the schwa+r sound (schwa+r) in the following words:
If you listen closely to all six of those words, you will notice that their vowel sound is taken over by the /r/. In words with schwa+r, only the /r/, and not the vowel, is heard. Listen to the words again:
The schwa+r sound transfers directly from the initial consonant into the /r/. That is the nature of schwa+r. Students that aren't aware that the schwa+r sound has no noticeable vowel will often try to add a vowel sound into the word. Once again, spelling interferes with pronunciation. We see a vowel, but it should not be pronounced.
The schwa+r sounds like (schwa+r). It is an /r/ that also creates a syllable.
To create the /r/, as well as schwa+r sound, the tongue arches upward toward the back of the hard palate. The back sides of the tongue curve upward and touch the back teeth, while the center of the tongue remains lower. The tip of the tongue may turn upward, but it must not touch the tooth ridge. The jaw is mid-open.
Listen to the schwa+r again: (schwa+r, schwa+r)
There are three common spellings for the schwa+r sound: 'e-r,' 'i-r,' and 'u-r.'
Here are some examples of each common spelling.
Syllable stress is another factor in the pronunciation of schwa+r.
On an unstressed syllable, any vowel can come before the letter r and be pronounced as schwa+r. For example, the ar spelling and or spelling have two different common pronunciations, depending on syllable stress.
The ar spelling is usually pronounced (ar sound), as in the words car and far. In the following words, the ar spelling occurs on a stressed syllable, and is pronounced as (ar sound):
The next words are also spelled ar, but are pronounced as schwa+r because the ar spelling is on an unstressed syllable.
The or spelling is usually pronounced (or sound) as in the words corn and form. In the following words, the or spelling occurs on a stressed syllable, and is pronounced as (or sound):
However, when the or spelling occurs on an unstressed syllable, the schwa+r pronunciation is more common. Listen to the following examples:
Remember, any spelling of vowel+r can be pronounced as schwa+r if it falls on an unstressed syllable.
When a word is not pronounced according to common spelling patterns, it is called non-phonetic. There are a number of important non-phonetic words that are pronounced as schwa+r. These words do not follow the common spelling or unstressed syllable patterns for schwa+r, but they are still pronounced as schwa+r.
Remember, do not add a vowel sound into any of the following words:
Let's practice some high-frequency words that contain the schwa+r sound. Repeat these words after me.
The schwa+r sound is a difficult sound for many non-native speakers to understand. In words pronounced with schwa+r, the r sound overtakes the vowel sound, and the pronunciation transitions directly into the r sound. Additionally, the role of syllable stress is often overlooked when it comes to schwa+r. Any vowel+r spelling is likely to be pronounced as schwa+r in an unstressed syllable.