‘are’ – the hardest monosyllabic word to pronounce
What’s the problem?
‘Are’ is the trickiest word in English. It can be weak (ə) or strong (ɑ:) and it can even disappear completely when it contracts. On top of this, it will join with /r/ if the following sound starts with a vowel, AND it behaves like a function word even when it is a content word.
How do I get it right?
‘are’ is normally pronounced /ə/ (without /r/)
/ə/What are you doing?The police are coming.
It is pronounced /ɑ:/ (without /r/) when it is stressed:
/ɑ:/What ARE you doing?I don’t think they are.
It joins with a /r/ when followed by a vowel:
/ər/Why are Emily’s family here?There are a few of them.
It is weak even when it is the main verb (no other verb can do this in English):
How old are you?They’re with me.
What happens if I get it wrong?
The main problem is that it ruins the stress in a sentence. As it is nearly always weak, when students over stress the vowel and add the /r/ it gives the word too much prominence. Since the verb ‘be’ is the second most common word in English, this potentially causes a large number of errors.