What Are R-Controlled Vowels?

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  • 0:04 Sounding Out Vowels
  • 1:36 R-Controlled Vowels
  • 2:36 Importance
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

When a word contains a vowel immediately followed by an 'r,' it is said to be r-controlled and is pronounced unlike long or short vowels. Teaching children about r-controlled vowels may help them learn reading and spelling.

Sounding out Vowels

Phonics is a way of teaching reading and spelling by focusing on phonemes, or parts of words distinguished by sound. For example, /sh/ and /ch/ are made up of multiple letters, but are each a single phoneme. Studying phonemes has led to the discovery of patterns in the English language, and teaching these rules is a good way to teach young readers to sound out and decode words.

Vowels are one subset of phonemes. In English, as in many other languages, vowels are described by their duration; they are either long or short. Long vowels may sound more drawn out and are pronounced the same as the letter representing them. Words that end with a silent 'e' are often long vowels. Here are some long vowel examples:

Vowel Long vowel examples
a ape, age, ache
e beet, cede, mete
i side, blind, lime
o wrote, ode, home
u rule, nude, lute

Short vowels seem to need less time to pronounce. When a word is spelled consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC), the vowel is usually short. Some short vowel examples are:

Vowel Short vowel examples
a cat, ham, mad
e beg, net, red
i sit, nip, him
o log, dot, hop
u cub, mud, bug

R-Controlled Vowels

R-controlled vowels are the exception to these rules as they are pronounced neither as long or short. When a vowel is followed by an 'r,' it's usually pronounced like the sound you might make when you've forgotten what you were about to say or when you're stalling for time: 'err.' This applies almost all the time to 'e,' 'i,' and 'u.' Let's look at some r-controlled examples:

Vowel R-controlled examples
e germ, jerk, tern
i girl, dirt, firm
u burn, fur, hurt

When an 'o' is r-controlled, sometimes it's pronounced like 'err,' particularly after a 'w,' like in 'word,' 'work,' or 'worse,' but sometimes it's a long vowel sound, like in 'cork,' 'fort,' 'horn.'

An r-controlled 'a' is a little different and makes a bit of a longer sound, more like the sound a pirate makes: 'Arr.' Think of 'yarn,' 'arm,' 'cart.'

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