Rhoticity in the English language is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant /r/ in certain contexts by English speakers. The presence or absence of rhoticity is one of the most prominent distinctions by which varieties of English can be classified. In rhotic accents, the historical English /r/ sound is preserved in all pronunciation contexts. In non-rhotic accents, speakers no longer pronounce /r/ in postvocalic environments: when it is immediately after a vowel and not followed by another vowel.[1][2] For example, in isolation, a rhotic English speaker pronounces the words hard and butter as /ˈhɑːrd/ and /ˈbʌtər/, but a non-rhotic speaker "drops" or "deletes" the /r/ sound and pronounces them as /ˈhɑːd/ and /ˈbʌtə/.[a]

When an r is at the end of a word but the next word begins with a vowel, as in the phrase "better apples," most non-rhotic speakers will pronounce the /r/ in that position (the linking R) since it is followed by a vowel in this case.[5]

The rhotic varieties of English include the dialects of South West England, Scotland, Ireland, and most of the United States and Canada. The non-rhotic varieties include most of the dialects of modern England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In some varieties, such as those of some parts of the Southern and Northeastern United States,[6][2] rhoticity is a sociolinguistic variable: postvocalic r is deleted depending on an array of social factors,[7] such as being more correlated today with lower socioeconomic status, greater age, certain ethnic identities, and less formal speaking contexts.

Evidence from written documents suggests that loss of postvocalic /r/ began sporadically in England during the mid-15th century, but those /r/-less spellings were uncommon and were restricted to private documents, especially those written by women.[2] In the mid-18th century, postvocalic /r/ was still pronounced in most environments, but by the 1740s to the 1770s, it was often deleted entirely, especially after low vowels. By the early 19th century, the southern British standard was fully transformed into a non-rhotic variety, but some variation persisted as late as the 1870s.[8]

In the 18th century and possibly the 17th century, the loss of postvocalic /r/ in British English influenced southern and eastern American port cities with close connections to Britain and caused their upper-class pronunciation to become non-rhotic, but the rest of the United States remained rhotic.[9] Non-rhotic pronunciation continued to influence American prestige speech until the 1860s, when the American Civil War began to shift America's centers of wealth and political power to rhotic areas, which had fewer cultural connections to the old colonial and British elites.[10] In the United States, non-rhotic speech continued to hold some level of prestige up until the mid-20th century, but rhotic speech in particular became prestigious nationwide rapidly after World War II,[11] as is reflected in the national standard, which has embraced the historical /r/ of radio and television since the mid-20th century.



Red areas indicate where rural English accents were rhotic in the 1950s.[12]
Red areas are where English dialects of the late 20th century were rhotic.[13]

The earliest traces of a loss of /r/ in English appear in the early 15th century and occur before coronal consonants, especially /s/, giving modern ass 'buttocks' (Old English ears, Middle English ers or ars), and bass (fish) (OE bærs, ME bars).[2] A second phase of the loss of /r/ began during the 15th century and was characterized by sporadic and lexically variable deletion, such as monyng 'morning' and cadenall 'cardinal'.[2] Those spellings without /r/ appeared throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, but they were uncommon and were restricted to private documents, especially those written by women.[2] No English authorities described loss of /r/ in the standard language before the mid-18th century, and many did not fully accept it until the 1790s.[2]

During the mid-17th century, several sources described /r/ as being weakened but still present.[14] The English playwright Ben Jonson's English Grammar, published posthumously in 1640, recorded that /r/ was "sounded firme in the beginning of words, and more liquid in the middle, and ends."[8] The next major documentation of the pronunciation of /r/ appeared a century later, in 1740, when the British author of a primer for French students of English said that "in many words r before a consonant is greatly softened, almost mute, and slightly lengthens the preceding vowel."[15]

By the 1770s, postvocalic /r/-less pronunciation was becoming common around London even in formal educated speech. The English actor and linguist John Walker used the spelling ar to indicate the long vowel of aunt in his 1775 rhyming dictionary.[4] In his influential Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (1791), Walker reported, with a strong tone of disapproval, that "the r in lard, bard,... is pronounced so much in the throat as to be little more than the middle or Italian a, lengthened into baa, baad...."[8] Americans returning to England after the American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783, reported surprise at the significant changes in the fashionable pronunciation that had taken place.[16]

By the early 19th century, the southern English standard had been fully transformed into a non-rhotic variety, but it continued to be variable in the 1870s.[8] The extent of rhoticity in England in the mid-19th century is summarized as widespread in the book New Zealand English: its Origins and Evolution:

[T]he only areas of England... for which we have no evidence of rhoticity in the mid-nineteenth century lie in two separate corridors. The first runs south from the North Riding of Yorkshire through the Vale of York into north and central Lincolnshire, nearly all of Nottinghamshire, and adjacent areas of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire. The second includes all of Norfolk, western Suffolk and Essex, eastern Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, Middlesex, and northern Surrey and Kent.[17]

In the late 19th century, Alexander John Ellis found evidence of accents being overwhelmingly rhotic in urban areas that are now firmly non-rhotic, such as Birmingham and the Black Country,[18] and Wakefield in West Yorkshire.[19]

The Survey of English Dialects in the 1950s and the 1960s recorded rhotic or partially-rhotic accents in almost every part of England, including in the counties of West Yorkshire,[20] East Yorkshire,[21] Lincolnshire,[22] Cumbria,[23] and Kent,[24] where rhoticity has since disappeared.

United States

The loss of postvocalic /r/ in the British prestige standard in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries influenced the American port cities with close connections to Britain, which caused upper-class pronunciation to become non-rhotic in many eastern and southern port cities such as New York City, Boston, Alexandria, Charleston, and Savannah.[9] Like regional dialects in England, however, the accents of other areas in America remained rhotic in a display of linguistic "lag," which preserved the original pronunciation of /r/.[9]

Non-rhotic pronunciation continued to influence American prestige speech until the 1860s, when the American Civil War shifted America's centers of wealth and political power to areas with fewer cultural connections to the old colonial and British elites. That largely removed the prestige associated with non-rhotic pronunciation in America.[10] Those colonial influences may be the reason that African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is largely non-rhotic today since former slaves migrated across the United States from southern regions, where non-rhotic speech would have been prestigious.[citation needed]

The standard broadcasting pronunciation of national radio and television in the early 20th century favored rhoticity, aligned more with Midwestern and non-coastal Americans, and thus preserved historical /r/.[10] The increased prestige of rhotic American accents further accelerated after World War II.[11]

Modern pronunciation

In most non-rhotic accents, if a word ending in written "r" is followed immediately by a word beginning with a vowel, the /r/ is pronounced, as in water ice. That phenomenon is referred to as "linking R." Many non-rhotic speakers also insert an epenthetic /r/ between vowels when the first vowel is one that can occur before syllable-final r (drawring for drawing). The so-called "intrusive R" has been stigmatized, but many speakers of Received Pronunciation (RP) now frequently "intrude" an epenthetic /r/ at word boundaries, especially if one or both vowels is schwa. For example, the idea of it becomes the idea-r-of it, Australia and New Zealand becomes Australia-r-and New Zealand, the formerly well-known India-r-Office and "Laura Norder" (Law and Order). The typical alternative used by RP speakers (and some rhotic speakers as well) is to insert a glottal stop wherever an intrusive r would otherwise have been placed.[25][26]

For non-rhotic speakers, what was once a vowel, followed by /r/, is now usually realized as a long vowel. That is called compensatory lengthening, which occurs after the elision of a sound. In RP and many other non-rhotic accents card, fern, born are thus pronounced [kɑːd], [fɜːn], [bɔːn] or similar (actual pronunciations vary from accent to accent). That length may be retained in phrases and so car pronounced in isolation is [kɑː], but car owner is [ˈkɑːrəʊnə]. A final schwa usually remains short and so water in isolation is [wɔːtə].[27]

In RP and similar accents, the vowels /iː/ and /uː/ (or /ʊ/), when they are followed by r, become diphthongs that end in schwa and so near is [nɪə] and poor is [pʊə]. They have other realizations as well, including monophthongal ones. Once again, the pronunciations vary from accent to accent. The same happens to diphthongs followed by r, but they may be considered to end in rhotic speech in /ər/, which reduces to schwa, as usual, in non-rhotic speech. In isolation, tire, is pronounced [taɪə] and sour is [saʊə].[28] For some speakers, some long vowels alternate with a diphthong ending in schwa and so wear may be [wɛə] but wearing [ˈwɛːrɪŋ].

The compensatory lengthening view is challenged by Wells, who stated that during the 17th century, stressed vowels followed by /r/ and another consonant or word boundary underwent a lengthening process, known as pre-r lengthening. The process was not a compensatory lengthening process but an independent development, which explains modern pronunciations featuring both [ɜː] (bird, fur) and [ɜːr] (stirring, stir it) according to their positions: [ɜːr] was the regular outcome of the lengthening, which shortened to [ɜː] after r-dropping occurred in the 18th century. The lengthening involved "mid and open short vowels" and so the lengthening of /ɑː/ in car was not a compensatory process caused by r-dropping.[29]

Even General American commonly drops the /r/ in non-final unstressed syllables if another syllable in the same word also contains /r/, which may be referred to as r-dissimilation. Examples include the dropping of the first /r/ in the words surprise, governor, and caterpillar. In more careful speech, all /r/ sounds are still retained.[30]


Final post-vocalic /r/ in farmer in English rural dialects of the 1950s[31]
  [ə] (non-rhotic)
  [əʴ] (alveolar)
  [əʵ] (retroflex)
  [əʵː] (retroflex & long)
  [əʶ] (uvular)
  [ɔʶ] (back & rounded)

Rhotic accents include most varieties of Scottish English, Irish or Hiberno-English, Canadian English, American English, Barbadian English and Philippine English.

Non-rhotic accents include most varieties of English English, Welsh English, New Zealand English, Australian English, South African English, Nigerian English, Trinidadian and Tobagonian English, Standard Malaysian English and Singaporean English.

Semi-rhotic accents have also been studied, such as Jamaican English, in which r is pronounced (as in even non-rhotic accents) before vowels, but also in stressed monosyllables or stressed syllables at the ends of words (e.g. in "car" or "dare"). It is not pronounced at the end of unstressed syllables (e.g. in "water") or before consonants (e.g. "market").[32]

Variably rhotic accents are widely documented, in which deletion of r (when not before vowels) is optional. In these dialects the probability of deleting r may vary depending on social, stylistic, and contextual factors. Variably rhotic accents comprise much of Indian English,[33] Pakistani English,[34] and Caribbean English, for example, as spoken in Tobago, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Bahamas.[35] They include current-day New York City English, most modern varieties of Southern American English,[36] New York Latino English, and some Eastern New England English, as well as some varieties of Scottish English.[37]

Non-rhotic accents in the Americas include those of the rest of the Caribbean and Belize. There are people with non-rhotic accents who are children of at least one rhotic-accented parent but grew up, or were educated, in non-rhotic countries like Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, or Wales. By contrast, people who have at least one non-rhotic-accented parent but were raised or started their education in Canada, any rhotic Caribbean country, Ireland, Scotland, or the United States speak with rhotic accents.


Most English varieties in England are non-rhotic today, which stems from a trend in southeastern England and accelerated in the very late 18th century onwards. Rhotic accents are still found in the West Country (south and west of a line from near Shrewsbury to around Portsmouth, including parts of the West Midlands), the Corby area because of migration from Scotland in the 1930s,[38] some of Lancashire (north and west of the centre of Manchester, increasingly among older and rural speakers only), some parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and in the areas that border Scotland.[39]

The prestige form, exerts a steady pressure toward non-rhoticity. Thus, the urban speech of Bristol, Southampton or Exeter is more accurately described as variably rhotic, the degree of rhoticity being reduced as one moves up the class and formality scales.[39]


Most Scottish accents are rhotic. Non-rhotic speech has been reported in Edinburgh since the 1970s and Glasgow since the 1980s.[37]


Welsh English is mostly non-rhotic, but variable rhoticity is present in accents influenced by Welsh, especially in North Wales. Additionally, while Port Talbot English is largely non-rhotic, some speakers may supplant the front vowel of bird with /ɚ/.[40]

United States

Red dots show major U.S. cities where the 2006 Atlas of North American English found 50% or higher of non-rhotic speech in at least one White speaker within their data sample.[11] Non-rhotic speech may be found in speakers of African-American English throughout the country.

American English is now predominantly rhotic. In the late 19th century, non-rhotic accents were common throughout much of the coastal Eastern and Southern United States, including along the Gulf Coast. Non-rhotic accents were established in all major U.S. cities along the Atlantic coast except for the Delaware Valley area, centered on Philadelphia and Baltimore, because of its early Scots-Irish rhotic influence.[11]

After the American Civil War and even more intensely during the early-to-mid-20th century, presumably correlated with the Second World War,[11] rhotic accents began to gain social prestige nationwide, even in the aforementioned areas that were traditionally non-rhotic. Thus, non-rhotic accents are increasingly perceived by Americans as sounding foreign or less educated because of an association with working-class or immigrant speakers in Eastern and Southern cities, and rhotic accents are increasingly perceived as sounding more "General American."[41]

Today, non-rhoticity in the American South among Whites is found primarily among older speakers and only in some areas such as central and southern Alabama, Savannah, Georgia, and Norfolk, Virginia,[6] as well as in the Yat accent of New Orleans. It is still very common all across the South and across all age groups among African American speakers.

The local dialects of eastern New England, especially that of Boston, Massachusetts and extending into the states of Maine and (less so) New Hampshire, show some non-rhoticity along with the traditional Rhode Island dialect, although this feature has been receding in recent generations. The New York City dialect has traditionally been non-rhotic, but William Labov more precisely classifies its current form as variably rhotic,[42] with many of its sub-varieties actually being fully rhotic, such as that of northeastern New Jersey.

African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is largely non-rhotic, and in some non-rhotic Southern and AAVE accents, there is no linking r; that is, /r/ at the end of a word is deleted even when the following word starts with a vowel; thus, "Mister Adams" is pronounced [mɪstə(ʔ)ˈædəmz].[43] In a few such accents, intervocalic /r/ is deleted before an unstressed syllable even within a word if the following syllable begins with a vowel. In such accents, pronunciations like [kæəˈlaːnə] for Carolina, or [bɛːˈʌp] for "bear up" are heard.[44][45]

This pronunciation occurs in AAVE[46] and occurred for many older non-rhotic Southern speakers.[47] AAVE spoken in areas in which non-AAVE speakers are rhotic is likelier to be rhotic. Rhoticity is generally more common among younger AAVE-speakers.[48]

Typically, even non-rhotic modern varieties of American English pronounce the /r/ in /ɜːr/ (as in "bird," "work," or "perky") and realize it, as in most rhotic varieties, as [ɚ] (an r-colored mid central vowel) or [əɹ] (a sequence of a mid central vowel and a postalveolar or retroflex approximant).[citation needed]


Canadian English is entirely rhotic except for small isolated areas in southwestern New Brunswick, parts of Newfoundland, and the Lunenburg English variety spoken in Lunenburg and Shelburne Counties, Nova Scotia, which may be non-rhotic or variably rhotic.[49]


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The prestige form of English spoken in Ireland is rhotic and most regional accents are rhotic, but some regional accents, particularly in the area around counties Louth and Cavan are notably non-rhotic and many non-prestige accents have touches of non-rhoticity. In Dublin, the traditional local dialect is largely non-rhotic, but the more modern varieties, referred to by Hickey as "mainstream Dublin English" and "fashionable Dublin English", are fully rhotic. Hickey used that as an example of how English in Ireland does not follow prestige trends in England.[50]


The English spoken in Asia is predominantly rhotic. In the case of the Philippines, that may be explained because Philippine English is heavily influenced by the American dialect and because of Spanish influence in the various Philippine languages. Many East Asians in Mainland China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan who have a good command of English generally have rhotic accents because of the influence of American English. That excludes Hong Kong, whose English dialect is a result of its almost 150-year history as a British Crown colony and later a British dependent territory.

The lack of consonant /r/ in Cantonese contributes to the phenomenon, but has rhoticity started to exist because of the handover in 1997 and influence by the US and East Asian entertainment industries. Many older and younger speakers among South and East Asians have a non-rhotic accent. Speakers of Semitic (Arabic, Hebrew, etc.), Turkic (Turkish, Azeri, etc.), Iranian languages (Persian, Kurdish, etc.) in West Asia speak English with a rhotic pronunciation because of the inherent phonotactics of their native languages.

Indian English is variably rhotic and can vary between being non-rhotic by most education systems being based on British English or rhotic from the underlying phonotactics of the native Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages and the influence of American English.[33][51] Other Asian regions with non-rhotic English are Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.[52] A typical Malaysian's English would be almost totally non-rhotic because of the nonexistence of rhotic endings in both languages of influence. A more educated Malaysian's English may be non-rhotic because Standard Malaysian English is based on RP (Received Pronunciation).[53][54]

The classical English spoken in Brunei is non-rhotic. A change that seems to be taking place is that Brunei English is now becoming rhotic from the influence of American English, from the influence of Standard Malay, which is rhotic, and from influence of the languages of Indians in Brunei, Tamil and Punjabi. Rhoticity is used by Chinese Bruneians. The English in the neighboring Malaysia and Singapore remains non-rhotic. In Brunei English, rhoticity is equal to Philippine dialects of English and Scottish and Irish dialects. Non-rhoticity is mostly found in older generations. The phenomenon is almost similar to the status of American English, which has greatly reduced non-rhoticity.[55][56]

A typical teenager's Southeast Asian English would be rhotic,[57] mainly from the prominent influence by American English.[57] Spoken English in Myanmar is non-rhotic,[citation needed] but there are a number of English speakers with a rhotic or partially-rhotic pronunciation. Sri Lankan English may be rhotic.[citation needed]


The English spoken in most of Africa is based on RP and is generally non-rhotic. Pronunciation and variation in African English accents are largely affected by native African language influences, level of education, and exposure to Western influences. The English accents spoken in the coastal areas of West Africa are primarily non-rhotic because of the underlying varieties of Niger-Congo languages that are spoken in that part of West Africa.

Rhoticity may exist in the English that is spoken in the areas in which rhotic Afro-Asiatic or Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken across northern West Africa and in the Nilotic regions of East Africa. More modern trends show an increasing American influence on African English pronunciation particularly among younger urban affluent populations, which may overstress the American rhotic "r," which creates a pseudo-Americanised accent.

By and large, the official spoken English used in post-colonial African countries is non-rhotic. Standard Liberian English is also non-rhotic because its liquids are lost at the end of words or before consonants.[58] South African English is mostly non-rhotic, especially in the Cultivated dialect, which is based on RP, except for some Broad varieties spoken in the Cape Province (typically in -er suffixes, as in writer). It appears that postvocalic /r/ is entering the speech of younger people under the influence of American English and perhaps of the Scottish dialect that was brought by the Scottish settlers.[59][60]


Standard Australian English is non-rhotic. A degree of rhoticity has been observed in a particular sublect of the Australian Aboriginal English spoken on the coast of South Australia, especially in speakers from the Point Pearce and Raukkan settlements. These speakers realise /r/ as [ɹ] in the preconsonantal postvocalic position, after a vowel but before another a consonant, but only within stems: [boːɹd] "board", [tʃɜɹtʃ] "church", [pɜɹθ] "Perth"; but [flæː] "flour", [dɒktə] "doctor", [jɪəz] "years". It has been speculated that the feature may derive from the fact that many of the first settlers in coastal South Australia, including Cornish tin-miners, Scottish missionaries, and American whalers, spoke rhotic varieties.[61]

New Zealand

New Zealand English is predominantly non-rhotic. Southland and parts of Otago in the far south of New Zealand's South Island are rhotic from apparent Scottish influence. Many Māori and Pasifika people, who tend to speak a specific dialect of English, speak with a strong "r," but they are not the only ones to do so.[62] Older Southland speakers use /ɹ/ variably after vowels, but younger speakers now use /ɹ/ only with the NURSE vowel and occasionally with the LETTER vowel. Younger Southland speakers pronounce /ɹ/ in third term /ˌθɵːɹd ˈtɵːɹm/ (General NZE pronunciation: /ˌθɵːd ˈtɵːm/) but only sometimes in farm cart /ˈfɐːm ˌkɐːt/ (usually the same as in General NZE).[63]

Non-prevocalic /ɹ/ among non-rhotic speakers is sometimes pronounced in a few words, including Ireland /ˈɑɪəɹlənd/, merely /ˈmiəɹli/, err /ɵːɹ/, and the name of the letter R /ɐːɹ/ (General NZE pronunciations: /ˈɑɪələnd, ˈmiəli, ɵː, ɐː/).[64] The Māori accent varies from the European-origin New Zealand accent. Some Māori speakers are semi-rhotic. That feature is not clearly identified to any particular region or attributed to any defined language shift. The Māori language tends to pronounce "r" as usually an alveolar tap [ɾ], like in the Scottish dialect.[65]

Mergers characteristic of non-rhotic accents

Some phonemic mergers are characteristic of non-rhotic accents and usually include one item that historically contained an R, which has been lost in the non-rhotic accent, and another that never did so.

/ɛə/–/ɛər/ merger

A merger of words like bad and bared occurs, in some dialects of North American English, as an effect of two historical developments. First, when the TRAP vowel is sporadically raised, creating a new phoneme /ɛə/ distinct from /æ/. Second, when this occurs in non-rhotic dialects, there is potential for the /ɛə/ phoneme to merge with SQUARE, causing bad and bared to become homophones. Thus, the merger occurs almost exclusively in some New York City English. In extreme cases, these two can also merge with NEAR, causing bad and bared to become homophonous with beard.[66]

Homophonous pairs
/ɛə/ /ɛər/ IPA Notes
add aired ɛəd
bad bared bɛəd
cad cared kɛəd
dad dared dɛəd
fad fared fɛəd
lad lared lɛəd
rad rared rɛəd

/ʌ/–/ɜːr/ merger

A merger of words like bud and bird (/ɜːr/ and /ʌ/) occurs for some speakers of Jamaican English and makes bud and bird homophones as /bʌd/.[67] The conversion of /ɜːr/ to [ʌ] or [ə] is also found in places scattered around England and Scotland. Some speakers, mostly rural, in the area from London to Norfolk exhibit this conversion, mainly before voiceless fricatives. This gives pronunciation like first [fʌst] and worse [wʌs].

Homophonous pairs
/ʌ/ /ɜːr/ IPA Notes
blood blurred ˈblʌd
bub burb ˈbʌb
buck Burke ˈbʌk
Buckley Berkeley ˈbʌkli
bud bird ˈbʌd
bud burred ˈbʌd
budging burgeon ˈbʌdʒən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
bug berg ˈbʌɡ
bug burg ˈbʌɡ
bugger burger ˈbʌɡə
bugging bergen; Bergen ˈbʌɡən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
bummer Burma ˈbʌmə
bun Bern ˈbʌn
bun burn ˈbʌn
bunt burnt ˈbʌnt
bused; bussed burst ˈbʌst
bust burst ˈbʌst
but Bert ˈbʌt
but Burt ˈbʌt
butt Bert ˈbʌt
butt Burt ˈbʌt
button Burton ˈbʌtən
buzz burrs ˈbʌz
chuck chirk ˈtʃʌk
cluck clerk ˈklʌk
colo(u)r curler ˈkʌlə
coven curving ˈkʌvən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
cub curb ˈkʌb
cub kerb ˈkʌb
cud curd ˈkʌd
cud curred ˈkʌd
cud Kurd ˈkʌd
cuddle curdle ˈkʌdəl
cuff you curfew ˈkʌfju
cull curl ˈkʌl
culler curler ˈkʌlə
cunning kerning ˈkʌnɪŋ
cuss curse ˈkʌs
cut curt; Curt ˈkʌt
cutting curtain ˈkʌtɪn With G-dropping.
dost durst ˈdʌst
doth dearth ˈdʌθ
duck dirk ˈdʌk
ducked dirked ˈdʌkt
ducks dirks ˈdʌks
duct dirked ˈdʌkt
dust durst ˈdʌst
dux dirks ˈdʌks
fud furred ˈfʌd
fun fern ˈfʌn
fussed first ˈfʌst
fuzz furs ˈfʌz
gull girl ˈɡʌl
gully girly ˈɡʌli
gutter girder ˈɡʌɾə With the t–d merger.
hub herb ˈ(h)ʌb With or without H-dropping.
huck Herc ˈhʌk
huck irk ˈʌk With H-dropping.
huddle hurdle ˈhʌdəl
hull hurl ˈhʌl
hum herm ˈhʌm
Hun earn ˈʌn With H-dropping.
Hun urn ˈʌn With H-dropping.
hush Hirsch ˈhʌʃ
hut hurt ˈhʌt
love lurve ˈlʌv
luck lurk ˈlʌk
lucks lurks ˈlʌks
lunt learnt ˈlʌnt
luxe lurks ˈlʌks
much merch ˈmʌtʃ
muck merc ˈmʌk
muck mirk ˈmʌk
muck murk ˈmʌk
muddle myrtle ˈmʌɾəl With the t–d merger.
mudder murder ˈmʌdə
mull merl ˈmʌl
mutter murder ˈmʌɾə With the t–d merger.
mutton Merton ˈmʌtən
oven Irving ˈʌvən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
puck perk ˈpʌk
pudge purge ˈpʌdʒ
pup perp ˈpʌp
pus purse ˈpʌs
pussy (pus) Percy ˈpʌsi
putt pert ˈpʌt
scut skirt ˈskʌt
shuck shirk ˈʃʌk
shut shirt ˈʃʌt
spun spurn ˈspʌn
stud stirred ˈstʌd
such search ˈsʌtʃ
suck cirque ˈsʌk
suckle circle ˈsʌkəl
suffer surfer ˈsʌfə
sully surly ˈsʌli
Sutton certain ˈsʌtən With weak vowel merger.
thud third ˈθʌd
ton(ne) tern ˈtʌn
ton(ne) turn ˈtʌn
tough turf ˈtʌf
tuck Turk ˈtʌk
tucks Turks ˈtʌks
Tuttle turtle ˈtʌtəl
tux Turks ˈtʌks
us Erse ˈʌs
wont weren't ˈwʌnt

Commaletter merger

In the terminology of John C. Wells, this consists of the merger of the lexical sets comma and letter. It is found in all or nearly all non-rhotic accents and is present even in some accents that are in other respects rhotic, such as those of some speakers in Jamaica and the Bahamas.[68]

In some accents, syllabification may interact with rhoticity and result in homophones for which non-rhotic accents have centering diphthongs. Possibilities include Korea–career,[69] Shi'a–sheer, and Maia–mire,[70] and skua may be identical with the second syllable of obscure.[71]

Homophonous pairs
/ə/ /ər/ IPA Notes
Ana honor ˈɑːnə With father-bother merger.
Anna honor ˈɑːnə In American English, with father-bother merger. In the UK, Anna can be pronounced /ˈænə/.
area airier ˈɛəriə
Basia basher ˈbæʃə In British English. In North America, Basia can be pronounced /ˈbɑːʃə/.
beta beater ˈbiːtə In British English. In North America, beta is pronounced /ˈbeɪtə/.
CAPTCHA capture ˈkæptʃə
Carla collar ˈkɑːlə With god-guard merger.
Carta Carter ˈkɑːtə
cheetah cheater ˈtʃiːtə
chia cheer ˈtʃɪə
coca coker ˈkoʊkə
coda coder ˈkoʊdə
cola coaler ˈkoʊlə
coma comber ˈkoʊmə
custody custardy ˈkʌstədi
Darla dollar ˈdɑlə With god-guard merger.
data darter ˈdɑːtə With trap-bath split and bisyllabic laxing.
data dater ˈdeɪtə
data daughter ˈdɑːtə With cot-caught merger and bisyllabic laxing.
Dhaka darker ˈdɑːkə In American English. In the UK, Dhaka is /ˈdækə/.
Dinah diner ˈdaɪnə
Duma doomer ˈduːmə
Easton eastern ˈiːstən
FEMA femur ˈfiːmə
Ghana Garner ˈɡɑːnə
Helena Eleanor ˈɛlənə With h-dropping. Outside North America.
eta eater ˈiːtə In British English. In North America, eta is pronounced /ˈeɪtə/.
eyen iron ˈaɪən
fauna fawner ˈfɔːnə
feta fetter ˈfɛtə
flora; Flora floorer ˈflɔ(ː)rə
formally formerly ˈfɔːməli
geta getter ˈɡɛtə
ion iron ˈaɪən
junta hunter ˈhʌntə With foot–strut split. In the UK, junta is or can be pronounced /ˈdʒʌntə/.
kappa capper ˈkæpə
karma calmer ˈkɑːmə
kava carver ˈkɑːvə
Lena leaner ˈliːnə
Lima lemur ˈliːmə
Lisa leaser ˈliːsə
Luna lunar ˈl(j)uːnə
Maia Meier ˈmaɪə
Maia mire ˈmaɪə
Maya Meier ˈmaɪə
Maya mire ˈmaɪə
manna manner ˈmænə
manna manor ˈmænə
Marta martyr ˈmɑːtə
mesa macer ˈmeɪsə
Mia mere ˈmɪə
myna(h); mina(h) miner ˈmaɪnə
myna(h); mina(h) minor ˈmaɪnə
mola molar ˈmoʊlə
Mona moaner ˈmoʊnə
napa napper ˈnæpə
Nia near ˈnɪə
Palma palmer; Palmer ˈpɑːmə
panda pander ˈpændə
papa popper ˈpɑpə "Papa" may also be pronounced /ˈpəˈpɑː/ and therefore not merged.
parka Parker ˈpɑːkə
Parma palmer; Palmer ˈpɑːmə
Patton pattern ˈpætən
PETA peter; Peter ˈpiːtə
pharma farmer ˈfɑːmə
Pia peer ˈpɪə
Pia pier ˈpɪə
pita peter; Peter ˈpiːtə "Pita" may also be pronounced /ˈpɪtə/ and therefore not merged.
quota quoter ˈkwoʊtə
rhea rear ˈrɪə
Rhoda rotor ˈroʊɾə With the t–d merger.
Rita reader ˈriːɾə With the t–d merger.
Roma roamer ˈroʊmə
rota rotor ˈroʊtə
Saba sabre; saber ˈseɪbə
schema schemer ˈskiːmə
Sia sear ˈsɪə
Sia seer ˈsɪə
seven Severn ˈsɛvən
soda solder ˈsoʊdə "Solder" may also be pronounced /ˈsɒdə(r)/ and therefore not merged.
sola solar ˈsoʊlə
soya sawyer ˈsɔɪə
Stata starter ˈstɑːtə Stata is also pronounced /ˈstætə/ and /ˈsteɪtə/.
summa summer ˈsʌmə
taiga tiger ˈtaɪɡə
terra; Terra terror ˈtɛrə
Tia tear (weep) ˈtɪə
tuba tuber ˈt(j)uːbə
tuna tuner ˈt(j)uːnə
Vela velar ˈviːlə
Vespa vesper ˈvɛspə
via veer ˈvɪə
Wanda wander ˈwɒndə
Weston western ˈwɛstən
Wicca wicker ˈwɪkə

Polysyllabic morpheme-final /ɪd/–/əd/–/ərd/ merger

A merger of words like batted and battered is present in non-rhotic accents which have undergone the weak vowel merger. Such accents include Australian, New Zealand, most South African and some non-rhotic English (e.g. Norfolk, Sheffield) speech. The third edition of Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists /əd/ (and /əz/ mentioned below) as possible (though less common than /ɪd/ and /ɪz/) British pronunciations, which means that the merger is an option even in RP.

A large number of homophonous pairs involve the syllabic -es and agentive -ers suffixes, such as merges-mergers and bleaches-bleachers. Because they are so numerous, they are excluded from the list of homophonous pairs below.

Homophonous pairs
/ɪ̈/ /ər/ IPA Notes
batted battered ˈbætəd
betted bettered ˈbɛtəd
busted bustard ˈbʌstəd
butches butchers ˈbʊtʃəz
butted buttered ˈbʌtəd
charted chartered ˈtʃɑːtəd
chatted chattered ˈtʃætəd
founded foundered ˈfaʊndəd
humid humo(u)red ˈhjuːməd
masted mastered ˈmæstəd, ˈmɑːstəd
matted mattered ˈmætəd
modding modern ˈmɒdən With G-dropping.
patted pattered ˈpætəd
patting pattern ˈpætən With G-dropping.
pitches pitchers ˈpɪtʃəz
satin Saturn ˈsætən
scatted scattered ˈskætəd
splendid splendo(u)red ˈsplɛndəd
tatted tattered ˈtætəd
tended tendered ˈtɛndəd
territory terror tree ˈtɛrətriː With happy-tensing and in British and Southern Hemisphere English. In the US, territory is /ˈtɛrətɔriː/.

Polysyllabic morpheme-final /oʊ/–/ə/–/ər/ merger

A conditioned merger of EME /oː/ and /ou/ with /ə/ and /ər/ is similar to the weak vowel merger, and like it occurs only in unstressed positions and only in certain words. In Cockney, the merged vowel is usually [ɐ], so that fellow is homophonous with feller and fella as [ˈfelɐ] (phonemically /ˈfɛlə/); thus, words like yellow, marrow, potato, follow, etc. take a similar path. The mid [ə] occurs in other non-rhotic accents, such as some older Southern American English. An r-colored /ər/ occurs instead in rhotic accents, for instance in parts of the west of England and in some deep Southern American English, like Appalachian English, preserving the Middle English phonotactic constraint against final /ə/: [ˈjɛlɚ]. In other words, in traditional Appalachian dialect, the final /ə/ (as in data and sofa) is distinctly r-colored, thus yielding the same merger as in Cockney but with a distinct phonetic output. Both phenomena are restricted to the broadest varieties of English.[72]

In Cockney, the resulting /ə/ is subject to /r/-insertion, as in tomato and cucumber production [təˈmɑːʔ(ə)ɹ ən ˈkjʉːkʌmbə pɹəˈdʌkʃn̩].[73]

In RP, there are certain prefixes such as crypto-, electro- and socio- that have a free variation between /əʊ/ and /ə/ before consonants, although in some words the unreduced /əʊ/ is preferred. Before vowels, only /əʊ/ occurs.[74]

Homophonous pairs
/oʊ/ /ə/ /ər/ IPA Notes
borrow borer ˈbɔrə(r) With the /ɒr/-/ɔr/ merger
fellow fella feller ˈfɛlə(r)
hollow holler ˈhɒlə(r)
pillow pillar ˈpɪlə(r)
wallow waller ˈwɔlə(r)
willow willer ˈwɪlə(r)
winnow winner ˈwɪnə(r)
yellow yeller ˈjɛlə(r)

/eɪ/–/ɛər/–/ɪər/ merger

The merger of the lexical sets FACE, SQUARE and NEAR is possible in some Jamaican English and partially also in Northern East Anglian English.

In Jamaica, the merger occurs after deletion of the postvocalic /r/ in a preconsonantal position, so that fade can be homophonous with feared as [feːd], but day [deː] is normally distinct from dear [deːɹ], though vowels in both words can be analyzed as belonging to the same phoneme (followed by /r/ in the latter case, so that the merger of FACE and SQUARE/NEAR does not occur). In Jamaican Patois, the merged vowel is an opening diphthong [iɛ] and that realization can also be heard in Jamaican English, mostly before a sounded /r/ (so that fare and fear can be both [feːɹ] and [fiɛɹ]), but sometimes also in other positions. Alternatively, /eː/ can be laxed to [ɛ] before a sounded /r/, which produces a variable Mary-merry merger: [fɛɹ].[75]

It is possible in northern East Anglian varieties (to [e̞ː]), but only in the case of items descended from ME /aː/, such as daze. Those descended from ME /ai/ (such as days), /ɛi/ and /ɛih/ have a distinctive /æi/ vowel. The merger appears to be receding, as items descended from ME /aː/ are being transferred to the /æi/ class; in other words, a pane-pain merger is taking place. In the southern dialect area, the pane-pain merger is complete and all three vowels are distinct: FACE is [æi], SQUARE is [ɛː] and NEAR is [ɪə].[76]

A near-merger of FACE and SQUARE is possible in General South African English, but the vowels typically remain distinct as [eɪ] (for FACE) and [] (for SQUARE). The difference between the two phonemes is so sometimes subtle that they're [ðeː] can be misheard as they [ðe̞e ~ ðee̝] (see zero copula). In other varieties the difference is more noticeable, e.g. [ðeː] vs. [ðʌɪ] in Broad SAE and [ðɛə] vs. [ðeɪ] in the Cultivated variety. Even in General SAE, SQUARE can be [ɛə] or [ɛː], strongly distinguished from FACE [eɪ]. NEAR remains distinct in all varieties, typically as [ɪə].[77][78] Kevin Watson reports basically the same, subtle distinction between [eɪ] in FACE and [] in SQUARE in Scouse. The latter is used not only for SQUARE but also in the NURSE set, so that fur is homophonous with fair as [feː] - see square-nurse merger. The vowel is not necessarily as front/close as this and pronunciations such as [fɛː] and [fəː] also occur, with [fəː] being the more traditional variant.[79]

In the Cardiff dialect SQUARE can also be similar to cardinal [e] (though long [], as in South Africa), but FACE typically has a fully close ending point [ei] and thus the vowels are more distinct than in the General South African accent. An alternative realization of the former is an open-mid monophthong [ɛː]. Formerly, FACE was sometimes realized as a narrow diphthong [eɪ], but this has virtually disappeared by the 1990s. NEAR is phonemically distinct, normally as [] before any /r/ (a fleece–near merger) and a disyllabic [iːə] elsewhere.[80]

In Geordie, the merger of FACE and NEAR is recessive and has never been categorical (SQUARE [ɛː] has always been a distinct vowel), as FACE can instead be pronounced as the closing diphthong [eɪ] or, more commonly, the close-mid front monophthong []. The latter is the most common choice for younger speakers, who tend to reject the centering diphthongs for FACE, which categorically undoes the merger for those speakers. Even when FACE is realized as an opening-centering diphthong, it may be distinguished from NEAR by the openness of the first element: [ɪə] or [eə] for FACE vs. [iə] for NEAR.[81][82][83]

Some of the words listed below may have different forms in traditional Geordie. For the sake of simplicity, the merged vowel is transcribed with . For a related merger not involving FACE, see near-square merger.

Homophonous pairs
/eɪ/ (from ME /aː/) /eɪ/ (from ME /ai, ɛi(h)/) /eə/ /ɪə/ IPA Notes
A hay hair here ˈeː With h-dropping, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
A hay hare here ˈeː With h-dropping, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
A hey hair here ˈeː With h-dropping, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
A hey hare here ˈeː With h-dropping, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
aid aired eared ˈeːd
aid hared eared ˈeːd With h-dropping.
bade bared beard ˈbeːd
bade bared beered ˈbeːd
bade beared beard ˈbeːd
bade beared beered ˈbeːd
base Bierce ˈbeːs
bass Bierce ˈbeːs
bay bare beer ˈbeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
bay bear beer ˈbeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
bays bares beers ˈbeːz
bays bears beers ˈbeːz
day dare dear ˈdeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
day there dear ˈdeː With th-stopping, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
daze days dares dears ˈdeːz
daze days theirs dears ˈdeːz With th-stopping.
daze days there's dears ˈdeːz With th-stopping.
face fierce ˈfeːs
fade fared feared ˈfeːd
fade faired feared ˈfeːd
fay fare fear ˈfeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
fay fair fear ˈfeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
gay gear ˈɡeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
gaze gays gears ˈɡeːz
hay hair here ˈheː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
hay hare here ˈheː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
haze hays airs ears ˈeːz With h-dropping.
haze hays airs here's ˈeːz With h-dropping.
haze hays hairs ears ˈeːz With h-dropping.
haze hays hairs here's ˈheːz
haze hays hares ears ˈeːz With h-dropping.
haze hays hares here's ˈheːz
haze hays heirs ears ˈeːz With h-dropping.
haze hays heirs here's ˈeːz With h-dropping.
hey hair here ˈheː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
hey hare here ˈheː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
jade jeered ˈdʒeːd
K Kay care Keir ˈkeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
K Kay care Kerr ˈkeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
K Kay care kir ˈkeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
may mare mere ˈmeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
maze maize mares Mears ˈmeːz
nay near ˈneː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
nays nears ˈneːz
phase fays fares fears ˈfeːz
phase fays fairs fears ˈfeːz
paid paired peered ˈpeːd
pay pair peer ˈpeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
pay pear peer ˈpeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
pays pairs peers ˈpeːz
pays pears peers ˈpeːz
praise prayers ˈpreːz In fully non-rhotic varieties. Prayers can also be disyllabic, /ˈpreɪəz/.
pray prayer ˈpreː In fully non-rhotic varieties. Prayer can also be disyllabic, /ˈpreɪə/.
prays prayers ˈpreːz In fully non-rhotic varieties. Prayers can also be disyllabic, /ˈpreɪəz/.
raid reared ˈreːd
ray rare rear ˈreː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
raze raise rears ˈreːz
raze rays rears ˈreːz
shade shared sheered ˈʃeːd
shay share sheer ˈʃeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
shays shares sheers ˈʃeːz
spade spared speared ˈspeːd
stade staid stared steered ˈsteːd
stade stayed stared steered ˈsteːd
stay stare steer ˈsteː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
stays stares steers ˈsteːz
they their ˈðeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
they there ˈðeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
they they're ˈðeː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
way wear Wear ˈweː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
way wear we're ˈweː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
way where Wear ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
way where we're ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
ways wears ˈweːz
ways where's ˈweːz With the wine-whine merger.
weigh wear Wear ˈweː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
weigh wear we're ˈweː In fully non-rhotic varieties.
weigh where Wear ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
weigh where we're ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
wade weighed where'd ˈweːd With the wine-whine merger.
weighs wears ˈweːz
weighs where's ˈweːz With the wine-whine merger.
whey wear Wear ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
whey wear we're ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
whey where Wear ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
whey where we're ˈweː With the wine-whine merger, in fully non-rhotic varieties.
vase vairs veers ˈveːz

/ɑː/–/ɑːr/ merger

In Wells' terminology, the /ɑː/–/ɑːr/ merger consists of the merger of the lexical sets PALM and START. It is found in the speech of the great majority of non-rhotic speakers, including those of England, Wales, the United States, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It may be absent in some non-rhotic speakers in the Bahamas.[68]

Homophonous pairs resulting from this merger are rare in accents without the father-bother merger (see below). Two such pairs are father-farther and spa-spar[84]

Homophonous pairs
/ɑː/ /ɑːr/ IPA Notes
ah are ˈɑː
ah our ˈɑː When our is not pronounced /aʊə/
ah R; ar ˈɑː
alms arms ˈɑːmz
aunt aren't ˈɑːnt With the trap-bath split.
balmy barmy ˈbɑːmi
Bata barter ˈbɑːtə
calmer karma ˈkɑːmə Calmer can also be pronounced with /l/: /ˈkɑːlmə/.
calve carve ˈkɑːv In British and Southern Hemisphere English; calve is /ˈkæv/ in American English.
cast karst ˈkɑːst With the trap-bath split.
caste karst ˈkɑːst With the trap-bath split.
Chalmers charmers ˈtʃɑːməz
data darter ˈdɑːtə In Southern hemisphere English only; data is/ˈdeɪtə/ in British English and /ˈdætə/ in American English.
Dhaka darker ˈdɑːkə In American English. In the UK, Dhaka is /ˈdækə/.
fa far ˈfɑː
father farther ˈfɑːðə
Ghana Garner ˈɡɑːnə
Ka car ˈkɑː
kava carver ˈkɑːvə
lava larva ˈlɑːvə
ma mar ˈmɑː
pa par ˈpɑː
Pali parley; Parley ˈpɑːli
palmer; Palmer Parma ˈpɑːmə
passed parsed ˈpɑːst With the trap-bath split.
past parsed ˈpɑːst With the trap-bath split.
ska scar ˈskɑː
spa spar ˈspɑː

/ɒ/–/ɑːr/ merger

In Wells' terminology, the /ɒ/–/ɑːr/ merger is a merger of LOT and START. This merger occurs in accents with the /ɑː/–/ɑːr/ merger described above that have also undergone the father-bother merger. This includes most non-rhotic American English (in Rhode Island, New York City, some Southern U.S., and some African-American accents, but not the Boston accent).[85] This results in a greatly expanded number of homophonous pairs, such as god-guard.

Homophonous pairs
/ɒ/ /ɑːr/ IPA Notes
bob; Bob barb; Barb ˈbɑːb
bock bark ˈbɑːk
bocks barks ˈbɑːks
bocks Berks ˈbɑːks
bod bard ˈbɑːd
bod barred ˈbɑːd
boff barf ˈbɑːf
bot Bart ˈbɑːt
box barks ˈbɑːks
box Berks ˈbɑːks
comma karma ˈkɑːmə Calmer can also be pronounced with /l/: /ˈkɑːlmə/.
cost karst ˈkɑːst
clock Clark; Clarke ˈklɑːk
clock clerk ˈklɑːk
cob carb ˈkɑːb
cod card ˈkɑːd
collar Carla ˈkɑːlə
collie Carlie ˈkɑːli
cop carp ˈkɑːp
cot cart ˈkɑːt
docker darker ˈdɑːkə In American English. In the UK, Dhaka is /ˈdækə/.
dock dark ˈdɑːk
dollar Darla ˈdɑːlə
dolling darling ˈdɑːlɪŋ
don; Don darn ˈdɑːn
dot dart ˈdɑːt
gob garb ˈɡɑːb
gobble garble ˈɡɑːbəl
god garred ˈɡɑːd
god guard ˈɡɑːd
hock hark ˈhɑːk
holly; Holly Harley ˈhɑːli
hominy harmony ˈhɑːməni With the weak vowel merger.
hop harp ˈhɑːp
hot hart ˈhɑːt
hot heart ˈhɑːt
hottie hearty ˈhɑːti Normally with intervocalic alveolar flapping.
hough hark ˈhɑːk
hovered Harvard ˈhɑːvəd
Ka car ˈkɑː
knock narc ˈnɑːk
knock nark ˈnɑːk
knocks narcs ˈnɑːks
knocks narks ˈnɑːks
Knox narcs ˈnɑːks
Knox narks ˈnɑːks
lava larva ˈlɑːvə
lock lark ˈlɑːk
Locke lark ˈlɑːk
lodge large ˈlɑːdʒ
lop larp ˈlɑːp
mock mark; Mark ˈmɑːk
mocks marks; Mark's ˈmɑːks
mocks Marx ˈmɑːks
mod marred ˈmɑːd
modge Marge ˈmɑːdʒ
moll; Moll marl ˈmɑːl
molly; Molly Marley ˈmɑːli
mosh marsh ˈmɑːʃ
nock narc ˈnɑːk
nock nark ˈnɑːk
nocks narcs ˈnɑːks
nocks narks ˈnɑːks
Nox narcs ˈnɑːks
Nox narks ˈnɑːks
ox arcs ˈɑːks
ox arks ˈɑːks
polly; Polly parley ˈpɑːli
pock park ˈpɑːk
potch parch ˈpɑːtʃ
potty party ˈpɑːti
pox parks ˈpɑːks
shod shard ˈʃɑːd
shock shark ˈʃɑːk
shop sharp ˈʃɑːp
sock Sark ˈsɑːk
sod Sard ˈsɑːd
Spock spark ˈspɑːk
spotter Sparta ˈspɑːtə
stock stark ˈstɑːk
tod tard ˈtɑːd
Todd tarred ˈtɑːd
top tarp ˈtɑːp
tot tart ˈtɑːt
yon yarn ˈjɑːn

/ʌ/–/ɑːr/ merger

In Wells' terminology, this consists of the merger of the lexical sets STRUT and START. It occurs in Black South African English as a result of its STRUT-PALM merger, co-occurring with the /ɑ/–/ɑːr/ merger described above. The outcome of the merger is an open central vowel [ä] or, less frequently, an open-mid back vowel [ʌ].

In Australia and New Zealand, the two vowels contrast only by length: [ä for strut, and äː] for both palm and start. This (as well as SQUARE-monophthongization in Australian English) introduces phonemic vowel length to those dialects.[86][87] In Colchester English, the vowels undergo a qualitative near-merger (with the length contrast preserved) as [ɐ] and [äː], at least for middle-class speakers. A more local pronunciation of /ɑː/ is front [].[88] A qualitative near-merger is also possible in contemporary General British English, where the vowels come close as [ʌ̞̈] vs. [ɑ̟ː], with only a slight difference in height in addition to the difference in length.[89]

A three-way merger of /ʌ/, /ɑː/ and /æ/ is a common pronunciation error among L2 speakers of English whose native language is Italian, Spanish or Catalan. Notably, EFL speakers who aim at the British pronunciation of can't /kɑːnt/ but fail to lengthen the vowel sufficiently are perceived as uttering a highly-taboo word, cunt /kʌnt/.[90][91][92]

Homophonous pairs
buck bark ˈbak
bud bard ˈbad
bud barred ˈbad
bun barn ˈban
but Bart ˈbat With the strong form of but.
butt Bart ˈbat
cull Carl ˈkal
cunt can't ˈkant With the trap-bath split.
cussed cast ˈkast With the trap-bath split.
cussed caste ˈkast With the trap-bath split.
cut cart ˈkat
duck dark ˈdak
duckling darkling ˈdaklɪŋ
done darn ˈdan
fuss farse ˈfas
fussed fast ˈfast With the trap-bath split.
grunt grant ˈgrant With the trap-bath split.
hud hard ˈhad
hut heart ˈhat
lust last ˈlast With the trap-bath split.
mud marred ˈmad
pus pass ˈpas With the trap-bath split.
putt part ˈpat
sum psalm ˈsam
stuff staff ˈstaf With the trap-bath split.
us arse ˈas

/ɔː/–/ɔr/ merger

In Wells' terminology, the caught–court merger consists of the merger of the lexical sets THOUGHT and NORTH. It is found in most of the same accents as the father–farther merger described above, including most British English, but is absent from the Bahamas and Guyana.[68]

Labov et al. suggest that, in New York City English, this merger is present in perception not production. As in, although even locals perceive themselves using the same vowel in both cases, they tend to produce the NORTH/FORCE vowel higher and more retracted than the vowel of THOUGHT.[93]

Most speakers with the pawn-porn merger also have the same vowels in caught and court (a merger of THOUGHT and FORCE), yielding a three-way merger of awe-or-ore/oar (see horse-hoarse merger). These include the accents of Southern England (but see THOUGHT split), non-rhotic New York City speakers, Trinidad and the Southern hemisphere.

The lot-cloth split, coupled with those mergers, produces a few more homophones, such as boss–bourse. Specifically, the phonemic merger of the words often and orphan was a running gag in the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, The Pirates of Penzance.

Homophonous pairs
/ɔː/ /ɔr/ /oʊr/ IPA Notes
alk orc ˈɔːk
auk orc ˈɔːk
aw or oar ˈɔː
aw or ore ˈɔː
awe or oar ˈɔː
awe or ore ˈɔː
awk orc ˈɔːk
balk bork ˈbɔːk
baud board ˈbɔːd
baud bored ˈbɔːd
bawd board ˈbɔːd
bawd bored ˈbɔːd
bawn born borne ˈbɔːn
bawn born bourn(e) ˈbɔːn
boss bourse ˈbɔːs With the lot-cloth split.
caught court ˈkɔːt
caulk cork ˈkɔːk
caw core ˈkɔː
caw corps ˈkɔː
cawed chord cored ˈkɔːd
cawed cord cored ˈkɔːd
daw door ˈdɔː
draw drawer ˈdrɔː
flaw floor ˈflɔː
fought fort ˈfɔːt
gaud gored ˈɡɔːd
gnaw nor ˈnɔː
haw whore ˈhɔː
hawk orc ˈɔːk With H-dropping.
hoss[94] horse ˈhɔːs With the lot-cloth split.
laud lord ˈlɔːd
law lore ˈlɔː
lawed lord ˈlɔːd
lawn lorn ˈlɔːn
maw more ˈmɔː
maw Moore ˈmɔː
moss Morse ˈmɔːs With the lot-cloth split.
off Orff; orfe; orf ˈɔːf With the lot-cloth split.
often orphan ˈɔːfən With the lot-cloth split. "Often" is pronounced with a sounded T by some speakers.
paw pore ˈpɔː
paw pour ˈpɔː
pawn porn ˈpɔːn
raw roar ˈrɔː
sauce source ˈsɔːs
saw soar ˈsɔː
saw sore ˈsɔː
sawed soared ˈsɔːd
sawed sword ˈsɔːd
Sean shorn ˈʃɔːn
shaw shore ˈʃɔː
Shawn shorn ˈʃɔːn
sought sort ˈsɔːt
stalk stork ˈstɔːk
talk torque ˈtɔːk
taught tort ˈtɔːt
taut tort ˈtɔːt
taw tor tore ˈtɔː
thaw Thor ˈθɔː
yaw yore ˈjɔː
yaw your ˈjɔː Your can be /ˈjʊə/ instead.

/ɔː/–/ʊər/ merger

In Wells' terminology, the law–lure merger of the lexical sets THOUGHT and CURE. It is found in those non-rhotic accents containing the caughtcourt merger that have also undergone the pour–poor merger. Wells lists it unequivocally only for the accent of Trinidad, but it is an option for non-rhotic speakers in England, Australia and New Zealand. Such speakers have a potential four-way merger tawtortoretour.[95]

Homophonous pairs
/ɔː/ /ʊər/ IPA Notes
gaud gourd ˈɡɔːd
haw whore ˈhɔː
law lure ˈlɔː With yod-dropping.
maw moor ˈmɔː
maw Moore ˈmɔː
paw poor ˈpɔː
shaw sure ˈʃɔː
taw tour ˈtɔː
tawny tourney ˈtɔːni
yaw your ˈjɔː
yaw you're ˈjɔː

Tautosyllabic pre-consonantal /ɔɪ/–/ɜːr/ merger

A conditioned merger of CHOICE and NURSE is famously associated with early 20th-century New York City English; see coil-curl merger below.

/oʊ/–/ʊər/ merger

In Wells' terminology, a merger of toad and toured consists of the merger of the lexical sets GOAT and CURE. It may be present in those speakers who have both the dough–door merger described above, and also the pour–poor merger. These include some southern U.S. non-rhotic speakers, some speakers of African-American English (in both cases towards /oʊ/) and some speakers in Guyana.[68]

In Geordie, the merger (towards /ʊə/, phonetically [uə]) is variable and recessive. It is also not categorical, as GOAT can instead be pronounced as the close-mid monophthongs [] and [ɵː]. The central [ɵː] is as stereotypically Geordie as the merger itself, though it is still used alongside [] by young, middle-class males who, as younger speakers in general, reject the centering diphthongs for /oː/ (females often merge /oː/ with /ɔː/ instead, see thought-goat merger). This categorically undoes the merger for those speakers. Even when GOAT is realized as an opening-centering diphthong, it may be distinguished from CURE by the openness of the first element: [ʊə] or [oə] vs. [uə].[81][82][96]

Some of the words listed below may have different forms in traditional Geordie.

Homophonous pairs
/oʊ/ /ʊər/ IPA Notes
beau Boer ˈboʊ
beau boor ˈboʊ
bow Boer ˈboʊ
bow boor ˈboʊ
goad gourd ˈɡoʊd
hoe whore ˈhoʊ
lo lure ˈloʊ With yod-dropping.
low lure ˈloʊ With yod-dropping.
Moe moor ˈmoʊ
Moe Moore ˈmoʊ
mode moored ˈmoʊd
mow moor ˈmoʊ
mow Moore ˈmoʊ
mowed moored ˈmoʊd
Po poor ˈpoʊ
Poe poor ˈpoʊ
roe Ruhr ˈroʊ
row Ruhr ˈroʊ
shew sure ˈʃoʊ
show sure ˈʃoʊ
toad toured ˈtoʊd
toe tour ˈtoʊ
toed toured ˈtoʊd
tow tour ˈtoʊ
towed toured ˈtoʊd
yo your ˈjoʊ
yo you're ˈjoʊ

Up-gliding NURSE

Up-gliding NURSE is a diphthongized vowel sound, [əɪ], used as the pronunciation of the NURSE phoneme /ɜːr/. This up-gliding variant historically occurred in some completely non-rhotic dialects of American English and is particularly associated with the early twentieth-century (but now extinct or moribund) dialects of New York City, New Orleans, and Charleston,[97] likely developing in the prior century. In fact, in speakers born before World War I, this sound apparently predominated throughout older speech of the Southern United States, ranging from "South Carolina to Texas and north to eastern Arkansas and the southern edge of Kentucky."[98] This variant happened only when /ɜːr/ was followed by a consonant in the same morpheme; thus, for example, stir was never [stəɪ];[99] rather, stir would have been pronounced [stɜ(ɹ)].

Coil–curl merger

In some cases, particularly in New York City, the NURSE sound gliding from a schwa upwards even led to a phonemic merger of the vowel classes associated with the General American phonemes /ɔɪ/ as in CHOICE and /ɜːr/ as in NURSE; thus, words like coil and curl, as well as voice and verse, were homophones. The merged vowel was typically a diphthong [əɪ], with a mid central starting point, rather than the back rounded starting point of /ɔɪ/ of CHOICE in most other accents of English. The merger is responsible for the "Brooklynese" stereotypes of bird sounding like boid and thirty-third sounding like toity-toid. This merger is also known for the word soitenly, used often by the Three Stooges comedian Curly Howard as a variant of certainly in comedy shorts of the 1930s and 1940s. The songwriter Sam M. Lewis, a native New Yorker, rhymed returning with joining in the lyrics of the English-language version of "Gloomy Sunday". Except for New Orleans English,[100][101][102] this merger did not occur in the South, despite up-gliding NURSE existing in some older Southern accents; instead, a distinction between the two phonemes was maintained due to a down-gliding CHOICE sound: something like [ɔɛ].

In 1966, according to a survey that was done by William Labov in New York City, 100% of the people 60 and over used [əɪ] for bird. With each younger age group, however, the percentage got progressively lower: 59% of 50- to 59-year-olds, 33% of 40- to 49-year-olds, 24% of 20- to 39-year-olds, and finally, only 4% of 8- to 19-year-olds used [əɪ] for bird. Nearly all native New Yorkers born since 1950, even those whose speech is otherwise non-rhotic, now pronounce bird as [bɝd].[103] However, Labov reports this vowel to be slightly raised compared to other dialects.[104] In addition, a study from 2014 found [əɪ] variably in two participating native New Yorkers, one of whom was born in the early 1990s.[105]

Homophonous pairs
/ɔɪ/ /ɜːr/ IPA Notes
adjoin adjourn əˈdʒəɪn
boil burl ˈbəɪl
Boyd bird ˈbəɪd
Boyle burl ˈbəɪl
coil curl ˈkəɪl
coin kern ˈkəɪn
coitus Curtis ˈkəɪɾəs With weak vowel merger, normally with intervocalic alveolar flapping.
foil furl ˈfəɪl
goitre; goiter girder ˈɡəɪɾə With the t–d merger.
hoist Hearst ˈhəɪst
hoist hurst; Hurst ˈhəɪst
Hoyle hurl ˈhəɪl
loin learn ˈləɪn
oil earl ˈəɪl
poil pearl ˈpəɪl
poise purrs ˈpəɪz
toyed turd ˈtəɪd
voice verse ˈvəɪs
Voight vert ˈvəɪt

Effect of non-rhotic dialects on orthography

Certain words have spellings derived from non-rhotic dialects or renderings of foreign words through non-rhotic pronunciation. In rhotic dialects, spelling pronunciation has caused these words to be pronounced rhotically anyway. Examples include:

See also


  1. ^ Other terms synonymous with "non-rhotic" include "/r/-deleting",[2] "r-dropping",[3] "r-vocalizing", and "r-less";[4] synonyms for "rhotic" include "/r/-pronouncing", "r-constricting", and "r-ful".[2][4]


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  3. ^ Wells (1982), p. 216.
  4. ^ a b c Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006), p. 47.
  5. ^ Gick (1999:31), citing Kurath (1964)
  6. ^ a b Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006), pp. 47–48.
  7. ^ Costa, Davide; Serra, Raffaele (6 May 2022). "Rhoticity in English, a Journey Over Time Through Social Class: A Narrative Review". Frontiers in Sociology. 7: 902213. doi:10.3389/fsoc.2022.902213. PMC 9120598. PMID 35602002.
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  9. ^ a b c Fisher (2001), p. 76.
  10. ^ a b c Fisher (2001), p. 77.
  11. ^ a b c d e Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 5, 47.
  12. ^ Based on H. Orton, et al., Survey of English Dialects (1962–71). Some areas with partial rhoticity, such as parts of the East Riding of Yorkshire, are not shaded on this map.
  13. ^ Based on P. Trudgill, The Dialects of England.
  14. ^ Lass (1999), pp. 114–15.
  15. ^ Original French: ...dans plusieurs mots, l'r devant une consonne est fort adouci, presque muet, & rend un peu longue la voyale qui le precede. Lass (1999), p. 115.
  16. ^ Fisher (2001), p. 73.
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