R-Colored Vowel Sound / ɝ / as in “first” – American English Pronunciation

R-Colored Vowel Sound / ɝ / as in “first” – American English Pronunciation

Hello there! This is the “Sounds American” channel. In this video we’re going to talk about the American r-colored vowel /ɝ/, as in the word “first”. You can also hear this sound in words like “girl,” “her,” “learn,” or “word”. We’ll be using a special phonetic symbol – /ɝ/ – for this sound. American English is known for its r-colored vowels. You can’t speak like an American if you don’t know how to pronounce them correctly. So, what exactly are the r-colored vowels? Let’s take these two words: [fist] [first]. Their spellings differ by only one letter: the letter ‘r’. However, there’s a dramatic difference as to how they’re pronounced. Listen: /fɪst/ – /fɝst/. Did you notice that the vowel sounds are different? The vowel you hear in the word “fist” is the /ɪ/ sound and the vowel in the word “first” is the /ɝ/ sound. Let’s take a closer look at how the word “first” is spelled. See how the consonant ‘r’ comes after the letter ‘i’? In American English when the ‘r’ follows a vowel in the same syllable, it forms a new sound, called an r-colored vowel. In the word “first,” this r-colored vowel is pronounced as /ɝ/. Note, that the /ɝ/ is not a variation of the /ɪ/ vowel or the /r/ consonant. It’s a distinct sound of American English. Check out a few more pairs of words. Did you notice what these words have in common? Despite being spelled with different vowel letters, these words have the same r-colored vowel sound: /ɝ/. Also, note, that the /ɝ/ is used in stressed syllables ONLY. What happens in “weak” syllables, like in the word “teacher”? The /ɝ/ has a “weak” counterpart, the r-colored vowel /ɚ/, but we’ll talk about this sound in our next video. And now let’s focus on how to make the /ɝ/ sound. OK. Pronunciation of the r-colored vowel /ɝ/ is very similar to the /r/ consonant. To make the /ɝ/ sound, open your mouth a little and leave your lips neutral or round them slightly. The /ɝ/ is a tense vowel sound, so your tongue, mouth and throat should be tense, when you pronounce it. Raise the front of your tongue toward the alveolar ridge behind your upper front teeth, but don’t touch it. Curl back the tip of your tongue Now slightly lower the center of your tongue and raise its back. Note that your tongue should be very tense. Remember, the tip of your tongue should be curled back and it should never touch the alveolar ridge behind your upper front teeth. Now, let’s try saying it: /ɝ/ /ɝ/ /ɝ/ Now, let’s practice the /ɝ/ sound in some words. You’ll see a word on the screen and hear its pronunciation. Like this: You’ll have a few seconds to pronounce the word. ♪ Repeat each word after the speaker and try to copy the pronunciation as best as you can. Let’s begin! Let’s pause for a second and check on how you are making the /ɝ/ sound. The tip of your tongue should be curled back and raised toward the alveolar ridge behind your upper front teeth. Your tongue and your throat should be tense. Let’s continue practicing. You’re done! Congratulations! Let’s summarize what we’ve covered in this video: In American English, any time in any word, when you see a vowel followed by the letter ‘r’ in the same syllable, you have an r-colored vowel sound. The r-colored vowel sound /ɝ/, as in the word “first” or “circle” occurs only in stressed syllables. The /ɝ/ has a weak version, the r-colored vowel /ɚ/, as in the word “teacher” or “color” that is used in unstressed syllables. By the way, did you know that the tense /ɝ/ and the weak /ɚ/ are the only r-colored monophthongs? This means, that the /ɝ/ and the /ɚ/ are single distinct sounds. All the other r-colored vowels are diphthongs and there’s even a triphthong. Take a look: /ɪr/ as in “clear” /ɛr/ as in “care” /ɑr/ as in “card” /ɔr/ as in “corn” and /aɪr/ as in “fire.” Awesome, isn’t it? We’ll talk about these sounds in our next videos! Stay tuned on our Sounds American channel! Don’t forget to subscribe!


  1. Hello, Sounds American. How do you doing? Well back! Now, from this point, talking about the last part of the video. You said that, there are monophthongs sounds with the R-Colored Vowel Sound. Also, there are Diphthongs and finally there is a Triphthong with the American R-Colored Vowel Sound. I'm not so clear about this topic. For me it's very confusing. Can you give me more explanation about it? Or can you recommend me a text that can help me, please! By the way, I would like to know what's your name? And finally, thank you for your passion about the English and Phonetics sounds.

  2. Hi I am from Costa Rica and I love your videos. Do you have a video that compares these three sonds [ɔ] [ a ] [ ˄ ]?

  3. I'm very grateful for this video. I learned a lot.
    Especially about the explanation "R-colored vowels".
    Go on.

  4. Hi, i don't understand the difference in mouth, tongue placement from the other two r, r (run) and r(after). What is it that differs from the others?

  5. when do we all have this app? i really give myself a lot of trouble with the "R" sound and besides i intend to speak like an American. Thanks for your useful videos.

  6. I wonder why transcription for the "word" is /wɝd/ while transcription for the "story" is /ˈstɔːr.i/. In the word "story" the letter O is followed by the letter R and the syllable is stressed. However we use ɔ instead of ɝ. Whyyy?

  7. l need your help l am really confuse with what sound has each vowel and others words maybes you can advice me how can l be able to identify the sound the differents words thanks you so much i am really appreciate everything you doing for us

  8. Gracias.
    Me has ayudado mucho.
    Me siento muy agradecido porque no puedo pagar profesor y quiero perfeccinarlo por mi mismo, como lo he hecho siempre.

  9. Hi.I feel confused that the word " universe". it's divided into three syllables. u-ni-verse. and the stree is on u.but why 'er' in universe still read as / ɝ/ not its weak version? Thanks.

  10. Thank you a lot for this great channel. I just have a question about the r-colored diphthongs and the r-colored triphthong: Are they stressed or unstressed ? Best wishes.

  11. Hi everyone, I wanted to give my feedback after months struggling with this sound with a Canadian friend helping me. I finally got there ! I'm french (from France) so my experience may help especially french people as they will encounter the same problems. Some other latin rooted speaker might benefit of it too though.
    So here is what I did :
    1 – I had a meeting every week with a native Canadian speaker (I was there for 6 months but you very probably can practice on the phone) who wanted to learn french and he told me whenever I was pronuncing correctly or not.
    2 – I wrote down every single word presented in this video and read them loudly in front of him, trying to put as much as I could of an american accent and they were all wrong.
    3 – MOST IMPORTANT POINT : The first very very wrong thing I was doing is I was making it a diphtong, that's to say instead of saying a single sound, I was actually making the sound "e" (first voyelle of "ago") and then "r" which is completely wrong as the right sound is a single sound that you should be able to hold for a bit.
    To tell you how important it is, at some point I deseperatly said "feu" (fire in french pronunced "fe") with pure french accent instead of "fur" and my friend got so exited telling me it was so much better, not there yet but way better. To be honnest it hurts lol.
    4 – I realized I was trying to make the sound but without hearing it anymore. That's to say I was so focused on the shape of my mouth and tongue that I realized I was just trying random tongue positions expecting to find the good one. The right way to do it was to play this video in my headphone again and again, try to repeat, record myself on my phone each time, listen to the recording at the end, cry, get back to it trying a different shape of mouth and tongue.
    5 – I tried every possible position of tongue before I finally found one that really gave me the good result. I curled my tongue way more back than I thought I should. That's to say, see how the hard palet is made : teeth, then alveolar ridge then let's say hard palet. Instead of pointing my tongue toward the alveolar ridge I pointed it way more back. When closing my mouth while making the sound, the tip of my tongue would touch behind the alveolar ridge not touching IT. The sides of the tongue are curled too and touch the upper teeth at the bottom. When doing this, on the recording, I felt that it sounded better : there was this kind of resonance and it's something you want.
    6 – When meeting my friend now, I used to just pronunce the 5 first words of the list and then he would tell me it wasn't good and I stopped and tried to change something and say these 5 words again. HUGE MISTAKE : The 5 first words of the list "bird" "burst" "clerk" and "curl" are the hardest ones. When I said the whole list, my friend finally spotted one word that I was pronuncing perfectly : "earth". Eventhough all the others were wrong, this one was pronunced good (confirmed later by my canadian housemates : earth was the only one good but it WAS good lol). I know it is weird because this one should be the hardest one as none of the sounds it contains exist in french (th doesn't exist in french) but maybe that's the reason : no native language influence.
    7 – Before saying any word from the list that I would hear from my speaker, I would say "earth" first to put my tongue and mouth in the right position. After a while, my friend told me that he couldn't hear my accent on most of the words of this list.
    8 – Still, "bird" , "clerk", "word", "world" don't sound totally correct, I have no idea why. The "d" and the "k" after the sound seem to mess all up.

    Hope it helps and let you save time with your learning. 🙂

    Here are a few tips :
    – App : Voice recorder for checking your pronunciation (it's all red with a white circle inside, I can't find it anymore on the google store though) : two button, one to record, the other to listen. Each recording erase the previous one which is trust me a really good thing as you will end up with so many recordings in the end.
    – https://www.conversationexchange.com/ which is the best site I found to meet people who want to practice language with native. That's where I found my friend.
    – Crying is ok

  12. I definitely like your videos. But I was wondering if you could make another one which explain how to pronounce the word little and important. I have many difficulties to pronounce them correctly. Thanks a lot.

  13. Finally!!! Where have you guys been? Now we're talking about pronounciation. Very good. Not only am I going to share these videos with my students, I am going to use them in class as well. Thank you.

  14. I am looking for this type of channel for learning American English Pronunciation many years, now, I found it, it is great, thanks so much.

  15. Great Video! I have a question. I think there are 2 patterns of /r/ pronunciation in English. Retroflex and Bunched. So this video is teaching the way of retroflex right?

  16. Hi there, First of all, I want to thanks for this wonderful YouTube Channel, this is exactly what I want. The second thing is the following: My name is Heriberto; I’m an EFL teacher in the primary school for the public sector. At the moment I’m at the university and I’m doing an Action Research in my 6th grade English Class. I have 30 students in the classroom and I’m having a problem with my students since this sound (ɝ sound) is difficult for them to pronounce. So the point is that I want to make my students more aware of it so they can internalize it. Besides this wonderful explanation you gave, is there any other information regarding this sound that I can have it in my Action Research as literature or reference?, Any advice on how to proceed in teaching this sound to an EFL Students (which literacy is very low)? Any additional information about this would be really appreciated. My Email is [email protected] Thanks in advance.

  17. didn't pronounce the th sound at 0:01 . "in this video". U said something like "l" sound. Is it right to pronounce it in that way? Is it a common use?

  18. Buenísimo. Increíble, no había visto que inclusive tenía transcripción, vaya, se sobraron. Gracias, gracias y muchas gracias.

  19. Can I produce this sound correctly by just making my tongue very tense and not touching the alveolar ridge? I can do that quite easily, but I really cant't curl it back, is it okay if I just make it tense and not touch the gum ridge?

  20. I have been practicing to pronounce this uneasy sound with the video every day since it was uploaded, and now my pronunciation of this sound has been getting much better and doing shadowing together with the voice trainer. This is the best video that I have ever practiced! Thank you 'Sounds American' for making various useful videos!😍

  21. I love your videos!! They're really useful. And, for example, I've never heard about R-colored vowels and now I'm really happy because I've been able to understand better each sound, improve my pronunciation and now I feel more comfortable and confident about English speaking.

  22. Would you explain difference between ɝː. and ɚ? Some dictionary replace ɝː to ɚ (for example 'or' of worker). And I can not distinguish both sounds. This is confusing. Are they the same?

  23. Sir, I have a question here with the word "perfect". You used the word as an example in both videos, viz for "ɝ" and for "ɚ" but you mentioned two different symbols. In "ɝ" you mentioned 'pɝ.fɪkt and in "ɚ" you mentioned *pɚ.fɛkt*. Please help me understand.

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