The sound /ər/ high, central, lax vowel

  • Your lips should be relaxed and slightly open, not rounded or spread.
  • Raise your tongue so that the sides of your tongue touch your upper teeth. The center of your tongue should be lower than the sides.
  • Breathe out, and let your vocal cords vibrate. Pronounce the vowel quickly and softly.

It is a reduced vowel, which means it is shorter and quicker than other vowels and only appears in unstressed syllables, or some function words. (See /ə/).


  • "er" - mother, perform
  • "ar" - grammar, forward
  • "ir" - direction, confirmation
  • "or" - comfort, forget
  • "ur" - surprise, natural
  • "ure" - culture, temperature


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Grammar Tip:
The sound /ər/ is used in the suffixes "-er", "-ar," and "-or." These suffixes are used in words to mean "a person who does something." Often, the suffix is added to a verb to change it to a noun.
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  • bake --> baker
  • act --> actor
  • lie --> liar
  • calculate --> calculator

The suffix "-er" can also be added to adjectives. When "-er' is added to an adjective, it means "more...(than)."
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  • fast --> faster
  • thin --> thinner
  • pretty --> prettier
  • friendly --> friendlier


Compare /ər/ with ɜr/:
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These are both high, central, lax vowels. However, /ər/ is a reduced vowel and /ɜr/ is a full vowel. This means that /ər/ is shorter and softer than /ɜr/.

Compare Word Forms: 
A stressed syllable in a word may become unstressed (or vice versa) when a suffix is added to the word, which changes the word stress. Listen to these examples. Notice how the underlined full vowel becomes the reduced vowel /ər/ when the suffix is added.
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  • conserve --> conservation
  • urbanize --> urbanization
  • infer --> inference
Listen and repeat these words:
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1. teacher
2. faster
3. surprise
4. forget
5. percent
6. understand
7. wonderful
8. prettier
9. direction
10. interview
11. survival
12. performance
13. personality
14. conversation
15. natural
16. temperature
17. order
18. furthermore
19. inferior
20. error

Now, practice /ər/ in sentences. Say the words first, then the sentences. (Remember that in a sentence, some function words will also have /ər/).
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1. smarter - sister - harder 
I'm smarter than my sister, but she works harder.
2. understand - teacher's - directions
Did you understand the teacher's directions?
3. interrupt - her - conversation
Please don't interrupt her conversation.
4. interview - manager - yesterday
I had an interview with the manager yesterday.
5. pursued - order  - professor 
My friend pursued a graduate degree in order to to become a professor.
6. were - surprised - performance
My parents were surprised by my performance.

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