Intrusive /r/

[ssba] What links Karma and Nirvana? Well philosophy is one thing but we’re talking about phonetics. When speaking quite quickly, you’d probably say something like “Karma -r- and Nirvana”. Although there’s no < r > in the spelling, many native speakers will naturally join certain vowel sounds together with a /r/. This is called intrusive /r/. In some ways it’s a strange phenomenon because native speakers often don’t realise that they’re doing it!

Fear not. If the very idea of this makes you shudder (spot the intrusive /r/ in that sentence!), you’re not alone. Some RP speakers will do all they can to avoid intrusive /r/, but it’s worth noting that in connected speech, it’s very common. In fact, intrusive r has become a feature of General British pronunciation and indeed a feature of many varieties of English and its frequency has increased quite dramatically in recent years. Non-native speakers can make use of intrusive /r/ to make their English sound much more natural and fluid.

Intrusive r is pretty awe-r-inspiring! Tell me more!

Well to avoid uming and ahing* any more, there are some handy rules to help you figure out when to use intrusive /r/:

Between a word-final schwa /ə/ spelt with an < a > (e.g. China, Lisa, America) and a new word beginning with a vowel sound, /r/ will act as a connector e.g. LisarEdwards.

Words written with an < aw > /ɔ:/ at the end (e.g. paw, law, draw) will bring about r insertion when the next word begins with a vowel sound e.g. drawrAmy.

Words containing in a long “ah” /ɑ:/ sound (e.g. “cut out the blah blahrand make them laugh” – Reid) will also be followed by a sneaky /r/ when there’s no in the written word.

Does that make “saw over”, “sore over” and “soar over” sound identical?

“that man I saw over there”
“that man with the cold sore over there”
“that hurdler likes to soar over there”.

Yes! When “saw” is followed by a vowel sound, /əʊ/ in this case, it sounds the same as “sore” and “soar”.

Having read the blog article on silent r, you’ll know that in General British English, you should only pronounce a written < r > when it appears before a vowel sound.  Above, we have one example of intrusive /r/ ( + vowel sound) and two examples of r linking.

Intrusive /r/
When there is no < r > written .
/r/ is pronounced between /ɔ:/, /ə/ and /ɑ:/ even though no < r > is written.

/r/ linking
When a word contains a < r > in its spelling.
The /r/ is only pronounced before a vowel sound.

Does Intrusive /r/ only occur between words?

Well, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Intrusive r most commonly happens between words:

I saw -r- a film about law -r- and order at a media -r- event with Sylvia -r- and John

and rarely within words:

Did you spot uming and ah-r-ing as an example of intrusive /r/? Well done if you did! This is quite a rare example though. Most people would not insert intrusive r into a word like drawing (draw -r- ing).

Problems for non-native speakers.

Many non-native speakers will want to pronounce /r/ only when it is written. This might make it challenging to know when to use intrusive /r/. It helps to know that /ɔ:/, /ə/ and /ɑ:/ are often followed by a silent < r > e.g. core, brother, car.

< ore > < er  > < ar >  spellings containing a silent r in isolation
< aw>   < a >   < ah > spellings containing no r
/ɔ:/       /ə/       /ɑ:/   transcription of associated sounds

Intrusive /r/ is covered on all level 2 courses at Pronunciation Studio. 


By | 2017-01-23T11:20:03+00:00 January 20th, 2015|Pronunciation, Sounds, Teaching|2 Comments


  1. Toolz Torella October 5, 2016 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Quite clear and explanatory. Thanks

  2. anne November 10, 2016 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Absolutely fascinating, I’m an English teacher for adults in France, I love working on the pronunciation and I can’t find that many good articles on the subjet. Thank you very much.

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