How to Pronounce the ER Vowel /ɝ, ɚ/
Learn how to pronounce the American English R-colored vowel ER /ɝ,ɚ/, like in the words "bird" and "mother". American English loves the R sound in all forms, so if you want to sound like a native speaker, you need to master the R-colored vowels! There are two different IPA symbols for this vowel, depending on if it is stressed or unstressed. Learn how to pronounce both the stressed and unstressed vowels in this video!
The ER vowel is in the words bird, world, and mother. ER. I just described the ER sound as a vowel. You may be thinking - isn’t the R sound a consonant? Well...the R sound is both a consonant and vowel, depending on where it occurs in the word. I discussed this concept in a previous video called the Introduction to R-colored Vowels, and if you want more background information about the R-colored vowels, I recommend that you watch that video first.
The IPA symbols for the ER vowels
The ER vowel can be stressed or unstressed, and the IPA has separate symbols for the stressed ER and the unstressed ER. When the ER vowel is stressed, like in the word bird, you’ll see this symbol /ɝ/. You might also see these symbols /ɜr/ or these symbols /ɜɹ/. They all represent the same stressed ER sound. I use this symbol in my IPA transcription /ɝ/.
When the ER vowel is unstressed, like in the word mother, you’ll see this IPA symbol /ɚ/. But you might also see these symbols /ər/ or these symbols /əɹ/. They all represent the same unstressed ER sound. I use this symbol in my IPA transcription /ɚ/.
The ER vowel is made up of two sounds: the UH /ə/ sound and the R sound /ɹ/. But there isn’t any movement in your articulators as you say the ER sound - it’s just ER. One mouth position. ER.
How to make the ER vowel
Let’s take a closer look at the ER sound by itself and in the word bird.
To make the ER sound, the corners of the lips come in and push away from the teeth. It’s difficult to see the tongue as it pulls back into the mouth because of the lip position, but watch as the tongue pulls up and back into the mouth. The tongue is in a wide shape because you want the tongue to push against the inside of the upper back teeth or along the upper gum line, so the tongue must be flat and wide. The tongue tip is neutral - it doesn’t touch anything else inside the mouth.
Now you’ll see the ER vowel in the word bird. Notice at the beginning of the vowel, the lips push away from the teeth. Then the tongue pulls back into the mouth for the R sound.
When ER is in a stressed syllable, it is said louder and for a longer duration, and the pitch of the voice glides up and then down. ER. Bird. But when ER is in an unstressed syllable, the vowel is said faster and at a lower pitch and volume. ER. Mother.
Stressed ER vs. Unstressed ER
Let’s take a closer look at the ER vowel in a stressed word, like bird, and an unstressed word, like mother.
On the left is the stressed ER vowel in the word bird, and on the right is the unstressed ER vowel in the word mother. Both vowels have similar jaw opening and tongue placement, but notice the difference in the lip position. The lips flare out more in the stressed ER vowel, meaning they push away from the teeth more - than they do in the unstressed ER vowel.
Stressed ER. Bird. ER.
Unstressed ER. Mother. ER.
Practice ER words and sentences
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Thirty. ER. Thirty.
I’ll be there in thirty minutes.
Turn. ER. Turn.
I love this song - turn it up!
Sister. ER. Sister.
I have five sisters.
Survey. ER. Survey.
The survey said everyone agreed.
Work. ER. Work.
I have a lot of work to do.
Never. ER. Never.
I’ll never do that again!
Thanks so much for watching! And let me know how I can help you with the ER vowel!