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When do you pronounce ‘R’?

Use of R
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A quiz for you: how do you pronounce the R in the following words?

Doctor. Nurse. Practitioner. Injure. Fracture. Emergency.

The pronunciation rule for R trips up even fluent speakers of English. It’s difficult because it depends where in the world a native speaker comes from. To put it more simply: it’s because of their accent.

As a rough guide, Americans and Irish people often pronounce the R, wherever it comes in a word. If you’re learning American or Irish English, this is what your teacher may tell you.

However, most British people have a different way of speaking. In England, Wales and Scotland, the R is never pronounced if it comes at the end of a word, or before a consonant. The R is only pronounced before a vowel sound.

If it comes at the end, it’s often replaced with the schwa sound /ə/. If it’s before a consonant, elongate the vowel before it.

Look at the examples above, and see if you can work out which Rs an English person would pronounce. If you get stuck, look at the table below.


UK pronunciation (except N. Ireland)














As you can see, R comes up a lot in Medical English. To pass the OET, you’ll need to speak fluently, and be understood. Many non-native speakers make the mistake of pronouncing every R in a word, and it marks you out as less than fluent. You can’t use the excuse of speaking in American English unless ALL your English is American. In addition, Americans and Irish people don’t roll their Rs. Neither do they pronounce them with a very strong emphasis, unlike many other-language speakers.

SLC can help you with all aspects of Medical English, including specific advice on passing the OET. Get in contact to find out more.

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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