How and When to Pronounce 'R' in British English

Many students of English find it hard to pronounce British 'R'. When they have mastered the pronunciation, they discover that British 'R' is often a silent letter. The pronunciation of British English 'R' differs from American English in which all letters 'R' shown in the spelling are actually pronounced.
When studying pronunciation, you pay attention to what you hear not what you see. In other words, you must ignore the spelling. Only the sound is important.
Look at these three words: live – two – listen
  • live has 4 letters when you see the spelling, and 3 sounds when you listen to the pronunciation; l – i –v
  • two: 3 letters, 2 sounds
  • listen: 6 letters, 5 sounds (some people pronounce only 4 sounds, they skip the sound in between t and n)
Another word for sound in this context is phoneme. I will use the word sound, but you are not studying phonetics. You just want to know how and when to pronounce 'R' in British English.

How to Pronounce R in English

The letter 'R' is a difficult letter to pronounce for many students of English. The Dutch and Germans pronounce the 'R' at the back of the throat. Spanish speakers roll their 'R'. There are as many different ways to pronounce 'R' as there are languages.
My Special Tip:
Treat the letter 'R' as a completely new sound, unconnected with the letter 'R' in your own language.
Pronunciation of English 'R'
  1. Round your lips
  2. Say zzzzz, lengthen the sound
  3. Raise the tip of your tongue
  4. Retract the tip a little
  5. The result is the correct pronunciation of English R

When to Pronounce 'R' in British English

For most students of British English, it is difficult to remember not to pronounce every 'R' shown in the spelling. In American English and many country dialects in Britain, the letter 'R' is pronounced whenever indicated in the spelling.
In British English, 'R' is pronounced
  1. before a vowel sound
  2. never before a consonant
No 'R' in farm and far, but 'R' is pronounced in far away, because of the vowel sound in the next word

Rule for the pronunciation of British R

  • Pronounce 'R' before a vowel sound in the same word
  • red, rose, train, green, merit, theory
  • Pronounce 'R' when it is the last sound (not letter) in a word followed by another word beginning with a vowel.
  • here and there, a present for Anne
  • In all other cases 'R' is a silent letter and not pronounced
  • arm, learn, girl
You have now mastered the pronunciation of British 'R'. Take the test British Pronunciation of the letter R and see how many right answers you can give.

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