Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Sound Does The Letter R Really Make?

This topic must be at the top of my list as personal pet peeves!  Over the years as a Reading Specialist, I have heard the letter R mispronounced multiple times within my classroom, as well as on tv shows (reading specific for kids), videos, and even online videos on teaching reading.

I think that one of the main reasons for this is that it is VERY difficult to pronounce correctly!
Think right now of the word rabbit. Say it out loud- "rabbit."  Now tell me does the sound the letter R says? Does it say /er/  (remember when you see // to say the SOUND of the letters inside)? No it does not.

Yet this is one of the most common errors people make when teaching this letter sound.

The letter R makes a sound more similar to /ruh/ or /rih/; however, it's sound is often associated with the vowel which comes afterwards.  For example, the R in run would say /ruh/, and the R in riff would say /rih/.; however, if you were really going to be accurate about which sound R correctly makes you would have to remove all the vowel sounds....can you do that?  Let's see.  Say the sound /ruh/, now take away the /uh/. Difficult isn't it, yet that is the correct sound for the letter R.

Now, I do not have a masters in Linguistics, so it is important for you to understand where my background for this information came from.  It originally started within my linguistics courses at SDSU where we focused extensively on letter-sound correspondence (ie-phonics), then in my coursework for my teaching credential at SDSU, also within coursework for my Masters (with an emphasis in Reading), and most recently within courses taught by Houghton Mifflin to support our Language Arts adoption.


  1. THANK YOU!! It drives me CRAZY that all of the kids' toys teach r as /er/!!!! I was starting to think I was crazy!! I taught 3rd grade and on a reading test all kids has to take most of my kids got the r wrong because they said /er/. It took me awhile to realize that's how it was being taught!!!

  2. Another THANK YOU!!! I'm a speech-langauge pathologist in a public school. When I hear teachers (general ed and special ed) teaching /r/ in isolation as "er," I stop and correct them. Then I get the "Are you crazy?" look from them. I correct them on other sounds too. For example, when they teach /t/ in isolation as "tuh." That's another one that drives me crazy!

  3. That's because it should be pronounced /ur/ or rrr. If it's ruh, then it would also be muh and duh. You can't just add uh to the letters. If you use some logic to understand the basics it helps.

  4. Another THANK YOU!!! I am a Speech-Language Pathologist and I've lost count of the number of students I've worked with on /r/. I also provide services in a preschool classroom. When I hear preschool teachers teaching the little ones that "r" says /er/, I have to correct them. And then they argue with me! Working on the sounds of letters is a big part of my workday and after undergraduate and graduate classes in phonetics and speech pathology, I do know the letter sounds. THANK YOU!!!!!