Cure-fir Merger
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Cure%E2%80%93fir Merger

In English, many vowel shifts affect only vowels followed by /r/ in rhotic dialects, or vowels that were historically followed by an /r/ that has since been elided in non-rhotic dialects. Most of them involve merging of vowel distinctions, so that fewer vowel phonemes occur before /r/ than in other positions in a word.


In rhotic dialects, /r/ is pronounced in most cases. In General American English (GA), /r/ is pronounced as an approximant or in most positions, but after some vowels is pronounced as r-coloring. In Scottish English, /r/ is traditionally pronounced as a flap or trill , and there are no r-colored vowels.

In non-rhotic dialects like Received Pronunciation (RP), historic /r/ is elided at the end of a syllable, and if the preceding vowel is stressed, it undergoes compensatory lengthening or breaking (diphthongization). Thus, words that historically had /r/ often have long vowels or centering diphthongs ending in a schwa /?/, or a diphthong followed by a schwa.

  • earth: GA [], RP [?:?]
  • here: GA ['h], RP ['h]
  • fire: GA ['fa], RP ['fa]

In most English dialects, there are vowel shifts that affect only vowels before /r/, or vowels that were historically followed by /r/. Vowel shifts before historical /r/ fall into two categories: mergers and splits. Mergers are more common, and therefore most English dialects have fewer vowel distinctions before historical /r/ than in other positions in a word.

In many North American dialects, there are ten or eleven stressed monophthongs; only five or six vowel (rarely, seven) contrasts are possible before a preconsonantal and word-final /r/ (beer, bear, burr, bar, bore, bor, boor). Often, more contrasts exist when /r/ appears between vowels is not in the same syllable; in some American dialects and in most native English dialects outside North America, for example, mirror and nearer do not rhyme, and some or all of marry, merry and Mary are pronounced distinctly. (In North America, these distinctions are most likely to occur in New York City, Philadelphia, some of Eastern New England (for some, including Boston), and in conservative Southern accents.) In many dialects, however, the number of contrasts in this position tends to be reduced, and the tendency seems to be towards further reduction. The difference in how these reductions have been manifested represents one of the greatest sources of cross-dialect variation.

Non-rhotic accents in many cases show mergers in the same positions as rhotic accents do, even though there is often no /r/ phoneme present. This results partly from mergers that occurred before the /r/ was lost, and partly from later mergers of the centering diphthongs and long vowels that resulted from the loss of /r/.

The phenomenon that occurs in many dialects of the United States is one of tense-lax neutralization,[1] where the normal English distinction between tense and lax vowels is eliminated.

In some cases, the quality of a vowel before /r/ is different from the quality of the vowel elsewhere. For example, in some dialects of American English the quality of the vowel in more typically does not occur except before /r/, and is somewhere in between the vowels of maw and mow. It is similar to the vowel of the latter word, but without the glide.

It is important to note however that different mergers occur in different dialects. Among United States accents, the Boston, Eastern New England and New York accents have the lowest degree of pre-rhotic merging. Some have observed that rhotic North American accents are more likely to have such merging than non-rhotic accents, but this cannot be said of rhotic British accents like Scottish English, which is firmly rhotic and yet many varieties have all the same vowel contrasts before /r/ as before any other consonant.

Mergers before intervocalic R

Most North American English dialects merge the lax vowels with the tense vowels before /r/ and so "marry" and "merry" then have the same vowel as "mare", "mirror" has the same vowel as "mere", "forest" has the same vowel as the stressed form of "for" and "hurry" has the same vowel as "stir". The mergers are typically resisted by non-rhotic North Americans and are largely absent in areas of the United States that are historically largely nonrhotic.

Hurry-furry merger

The hurry-furry merger occurs when the vowel /?/ before intervocalic /r/ is merged with /?/, particularly a feature in most dialects of North American English, but it is resisted in New York City English, Mid-Atlantic American English, older Southern American English, and some speakers of Eastern New England English.[2][clarification needed] Speakers with the merger pronounce hurry and so it rhymes with furry, and turret and so it rhymes with stir it.

British English and most other English outside North America maintain the distinction between both sounds and so in their dialects, hurry and furry do not rhyme.[2]

General American has a three-way merger between the first vowels in hurry and furry as well as the unstressed vowel in letters. In Received Pronunciation, all of them have different sounds (/?/, /?:/ and /?/, respectively), and there are some exist some minimal pairs between unstressed /?:/ and /?/, such as foreword /'f?:w?:d/ vs. forward /'f?:w?d/. In GA, they collapse to ['f?rw?d], but in phonemic transcription, they can still be differentiated as /'f?rw?rd/ and /'f?rw?rd/ to facilitate comparisons with other accents. Furthermore, GA often lacks a proper opposition between /?/ and /?/, which makes minimal pairs such as unorthodoxy and an orthodoxy variably homophonous as /?n'?rd?ksi/.[3] See strut-comma merger for more information.

In New Zealand English, there is a consistent contrast between hurry and furry, but the unstressed /?/ is lengthened to /?:/ (phonetically ) in many positions (particularly in formal or slow speech), especially when it is spelled ⟨er⟩. Thus, boarded and bordered might be distinguished as /'b?:d?d/ and /'b?:d?:d/ (homophonous in Australia as /'b?:d?d/ and distinguished in RP as /'b?:d?d/ and /'b?:d?d/), based on length and rounding of /?:/. The shift was caused by a complete phonemic merger of /?/ and /?/, a weak vowel merger that was generalized to all environments.[4]

/?r/ /?r/ IPA
furrier (n.) furrier (adj.) /'f?ri?r/

Mary-marry-merry merger

One notable merger of vowels before /r/ is the Mary-marry-merry merger,[5] which consists of a merging of the vowels /æ/ (as in the name Carrie or the word marry) and /?/ (as in Kerry or merry) with historical /e?/ (as in Cary or Mary) whenever they are realised before intervocalic /r/ (the "r" sound when occurring between vowels). No contrast exist before a final or preconsonantal /r/.[6] The merger is fairly widespread, and it is complete or nearly complete in most varieties of North American English,[sample 1] but rare in other varieties of English. The following variants are common in North America:

  • The full Mary-marry-merry merger (also known, in context, as the three-way merger): This is found throughout much of the United States (particularly the American West) and in all of Canada except Montreal. This is found in about 57% of American English speakers, according to a 2003 dialect survey.[7]
  • No merger whatsoever (also known as the three-way contrast): A lack of this merger in North America exists primarily in the Northeastern United States and is most clearly documented in the accents of Philadelphia, New York City, and Rhode Island. 17% of Americans have no merger.[8][sample 2] In the Philadelphia accent, the three-way contrast is preserved, but merry tends to be merged with Murray, and ferry can likewise be a homophone of furry (see merry-Murray merger below). The three-way contrast is found in about 17% of U.S. English speakers overall.[7]
  • Mary-marry merger only: This is found in only about 16% of American English speakers overall, particularly in the Northeast.[7]
  • Mary-merry merger only: This is found among Anglophones in Montreal and in the American South, in about 9% of American English speakers overall, particularly in the East.[7][9]
  • merry-marry merger only: This merger is rare and is found in only about 1% of American English speakers.

The three are kept distinct outside of North America. In accents that do not have the merger, Mary has the a sound of mare, marry has the "short a" sound of mat, and merry has the "short e" sound of met. In modern RP, they are pronounced as ['m?:?i], ['ma?i], and ['mi]; in Australian English as ['me:?i], ['mæ?i], and ['me?i]; in New York City English as ['me?i?'mi], ['mæ?i], and ['mi]; in Philadelphia English, the same as New York, except merry is ['mi?'mi]. There is plenty of variance in the distribution of the merger, with expatriate communities of those speakers being formed all over the country.

The Mary-merry merger is possible in New Zealand English in which the quality of the merged vowel is (similar to KIT in General American). However, in New Zealand, the vowel in Mary often merges with the NEAR vowel /i?/ instead (see near-square merger), which before intervocalic /r/ may then merge with /i:/ and so Mary (phonemically /'mei/) can be ['mii] or ['mi:?i] instead. In all of those cases, there is a clear distinction between Mary and merry (regardless of how they are pronounced) and marry /'m?ri/ (with the TRAP vowel) on the other.[10]

/e?r/ /ær/ /?r/ IPA Notes
Aaron1 Aaron2 Erin '?r?n with weak-vowel merger
airable arable errable '?r?b?l
airer - error '?r?(r)
- barrel beryl 'b?r?l with weak-vowel merger before /l/
- Barry berry 'b?ri
- Barry bury 'b?ri
Cary1 Carrie Kerry 'k?ri
Cary1 carry Kerry 'k?ri
Cary1 Cary2 Kerry 'k?ri
dairy - Derry 'd?ri
fairy - ferry 'f?ri
- Farrell feral 'f?r?l with weak-vowel merger before /l/
Gary1 Gary2 - 'ri
hairy Harry - 'h?ri
Mary marry merry 'm?ri
- parish perish 'p?r
- parry Perry 'p?ri
scary - skerry 'sk?ri
Tara - Terra 't?r?
Tara - terror 't?r? non-rhotic
- tarry Terry 't?ri
vary - very 'v?ri

Merry-Murray merger

The merry-Murray merger (sometimes called the ferry-furry merger although the latter name is accurate only for speakers who also have the hurry-furry merger) is a merger of /?/ and /?/ before /r/ (both neutralized with syllabic r) that is common in the Philadelphia accent,[11] which does not usually have the marry-merry merger: "short a" /æ/ as in marry is a distinct unmerged class before /r/. Thus, merry and Murray are pronounced the same, but marry is pronounced differently.

/?r/ /?r/ IPA Notes
Kerry curry 'k?ri
merry Murray 'm?ri
skerry scurry 'sk?ri

Mirror-nearer merger

Another widespread merger is the mirror-nearer merger or Sirius-serious merger of /?/ with /i/ before intervocalic /r/ (in other words, the sound "r" when between vowels). The typical result of the merger in General American is [?r] or [r].[12] For speakers with this merger, common in general accents throughout North America, mirror and nearer rhyme, and Sirius is homophonous with serious. North Americans who do not merge the vowels often speak the more conservative northeastern or southern accents.

Mergers of /?r/ and /?r/

Words that would have a stressed /?/ before intervocalic /r/ in Received Pronunciation are treated differently in different varieties of North American English. As shown in the table below, in Canadian English, all of these are pronounced with [-?r-], as in cord. In the accents of Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and the Carolinas (and traditionally throughout the South), the words are pronounced among some with [-?r-], as in card (and thus merge with historic prevocalic /?r/ in words like starry). In New York City, Long Island, and the nearby parts New Jersey, the words are pronounced with [?r], like in RP. However, it is met with hypercorrection of /?r/, (thus still merging with historic prevocalic /?r/ in starry).[13] On the other hand, the traditional Eastern New England accents (famously the Rhode Island and Boston accents), the words are pronounced with [-?r-], but [?] is a free vowel (the outcome of the cot-caught merger) and in that regard, it is the same as Canadian /?/, rather than RP /?/. Most of the rest of the United States (marked "General American" in the table), however, has a distinctive mixed system. Most words are pronounced as in Canada, the four (sometimes five) words in the left-hand column are typically pronounced with [-?r-];[14], and the East Coast regions are apparently slowly moving toward that system.[]

In accents with the horse-hoarse merger, /?r/ also includes the historic /o?r/ in words such as glory and force. When an accent also features the cot-caught merger, /?r/ is typically analyzed as /o?r/ to avoid postulating a separate /?/ phoneme that occurs only before /r/ and so both cord and glory are considered to contain the /o?/ phoneme in California, Canada and elsewhere. Therefore, in accents with the horse-hoarse merger, /k?rd/ and /ko?rd/ are different analyses of the same word cord, and there may be little to no difference in the realization of the vowel.

Distribution of and prevocalic by dialect
Some New England, NYC,
Mid-Atlantic, Southern American
Only borrow, sorry, sorrow, (to)morrow or
Forest, Florida, historic, moral, orange, etc.
Forum, memorial, oral, storage, story, etc.

Even in the American East Coast without the split (Boston, New York City, Rhode Island, Philadelphia and some coastal Southern), some of the words in the original short-o class often show influence from other American dialects and end up with [-?r-] anyway. For instance, some speakers from the Northeast pronounce Florida, orange, and horrible with [-?r-] but foreign and origin with [-?r-]. The list of words affected differs from dialect to dialect and occasionally from speaker to speaker, which is an example of sound change by lexical diffusion.

Mergers before historic post-vocalic R

/a?r/-/ar/ merger

The Middle English merger of the vowels with the spellings ⟨our⟩ and ⟨ower⟩ affects all modern varieties of English and makes words like sour and hour, which originally had one syllable, have two syllables and thus rhyme with power. In accents that lack the merger, sour has one syllable, and power has two syllables. Similar mergers also occur in which 'hire' gains a syllable, making it homophonous with 'higher', and 'coir' gains a syllable, making it homophonous with 'coyer'.[15]

Card-cord merger

The card-cord merger or cord-card merger is a merger of Early Modern English [?r] with [?r], resulting in homophony of pairs like card/cord, barn/born and far/for. It is roughly similar to the father-bother merger but before r. The merger is found in some Caribbean English accents, in some versions of the West Country accent in England and in some accents of Southern American English.[16][17] Areas of the United States in which the merger is most common include Central Texas, Utah, and St. Louis, but it is not dominant even there and is rapidly disappearing.[18] In the United States, dialects with the card-cord merger are some of the only ones without the horse-hoarse merger, and there is a well-documented correlation. [18]

/?:r/ /?r/ IPA
arc orc '?:rk
are or '?:r
ark orc '?:rk
barn born 'b?:rn
card chord 'k?:rd
card cord 'k?:rd
dark dork 'd?:rk
far for 'f?:r
farm form 'f?:rm
lard lord 'l?:rd
mart Mort 'm?:rt
R; ar or '?:r
spark spork 'sp?:rk
stark stork 'st?:rk
tar tor 't?:r
tart tort 't?:rt

Cure-force merger

In Modern English dialects, the reflexes of Early Modern English /u:r/ and /iur/ are highly susceptible to phonemic merger with other vowels. Words belonging to that class are most commonly spelled with oor, our, ure, or eur. Examples include poor, tour, cure, Europe (words such as moor ultimately from Old English ? words). Wells refers to the class as the cure words, after the keyword of the lexical set to which he assigns them.

In traditional Received Pronunciation and General American, cure words are pronounced with RP // (/r/ before a vowel) and GA /?r/.[19] However, those pronunciations are being replaced by other pronunciations in many English accents.

In the English of southern England, cure words are often pronounced with /?:/ and so moor is often pronounced /m?:/, tour /t?:/, poor /p?:/.[20] The traditional form is much more common in northern England. A similar merger is encountered in many varieties of American English, whose prevailing pronunciations are [o?] or [or]?[?r], depending on whether or not the accent is rhotic.[21][22] For many speakers of American English, the historical /u:r/ merges with /?r/ after palatal consonants, as in "cure", "sure", "pure" and "mature", or /?r/ in other environments such as in "poor" and "moor".[23]

In Australian and New Zealand English, the centring diphthong // has practically disappeared and is replaced in some words by /?:?/ (a sequence of two separate monophthongs) and in others by /o:/ (a long monophthong).[24] The outcome that occurs in a particular word is not always predictable, but, for example, pure, cure and tour rhyme with fewer and have /?:?/, and poor, moor and sure rhyme with for and paw and have /o:/.

// /?:/ IPA Notes
boor boar 'b?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
boor Boer 'b?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
boor bore 'b?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
gourd gaud ':d Non-rhotic.
gourd gored ':(r)d With horse-hoarse merger.
lure law 'l?: Non-rhotic with yod-dropping.
lure lore 'l?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger and yod-dropping.
lured laud 'l?:d Non-rhotic with yod-dropping.
lured lawed 'l?:d Non-rhotic with yod-dropping.
lured lord 'l?:(r)d With yod-dropping.
moor maw 'm?: Non-rhotic.
moor more 'm?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
poor paw 'p?: Non-rhotic.
poor pore 'p?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
poor pour 'p?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
sure shaw ': Non-rhotic.
sure shore ':(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
tour taw 't?: Non-rhotic.
tour tor 't?:(r)
tour tore 't?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
toured toward 't?:d Non-rhotic with horse-hoarse merger.
your yaw 'j?: Non-rhotic.
your yore 'j?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
you're yaw 'j?: Non-rhotic.
you're yore 'j?:(r) With horse-hoarse merger.

Cure-nurse merger

In East Anglia, a cure-nurse merger in which words like fury merge to the sound of furry [?:] is common, especially after palatal and palatoalveolar consonants and so sure is often pronounced [:], which is also a common single-word merger in American English in which the word sure is often /r/. Also, yod-dropping may apply, which yields pronunciations such as [p?:] for pure. Other pronunciations in cure-fir merging dialects include /pj?:(r)/ pure, /'k(j)?:ri?s/ curious, /'b(j)?:ro?/ bureau, /'m(j)?:r?l/ mural.[25]

/j(r)/ /?:(r)/ IPA Notes
cure cur 'k?:(r)
cure curr 'k?:(r)
cured curd 'k?:(r)d
cured curred 'k?:(r)d
fury furry 'f?:ri
pure per 'p?:(r)
pure purr 'p?:(r)

/ar/-/?r/ merger

Varieties of Southern American English, Midland American English and High Tider English may merge words like fire and far or tired and tarred towards of the second words: /?r/. That results in a tire-tar merger, but tower is kept distinct.[26]

/a/-/a/-/?:/ merger

Some accents of southern British English (including many types of RP and in Norwich) have mergers of the vowels in words like tire, tar (already merged with /?:/ as in palm), and tower. Thus, the triphthong /a/ of tower merges with the /a/ of tire (both surfacing as diphthongal []) or with the /?:/ of tar. Some speakers merge all three sounds, so that tower, tire, and tar are all homophonous as [t?:].[27]

/a/ /a/ /?:/ IPA
Bauer buyer bar 'b?:
coward - card 'k?:d
cower - car 'k?:
cowered - card 'k?:d
- fire far 'f?:
flour flyer - 'fl?:
flower flyer - 'fl?:
hour ire are '?:
hour ire R; ar '?:
Howard hired hard 'h?:d
- mire mar 'm?:
our ire are '?:
our ire R; ar '?:
power pyre par 'p?:
sour sire - 's?:
scour - scar 'sk?:
shower shire - ':
showered - shard ':d
- spire spar 'sp?:
tower tire tar 't?:
tower tyre tar 't?:

Horse-hoarse merger

The horse-hoarse merger or north-force merger is the merger of the vowels /?:/ and /o?/ before historic /r/, making pairs of words like horse-hoarse, for-four, war-wore, or-oar, morning-mourning etc. homophones. Historically, the NORTH class belonged to the /?/ phoneme (as in contemporary RP lot), but the FORCE class was /o:/ (as in Scottish English go), akin to the contrast between the short lax /?/ and the long tense /o:/ in German.

The merger now occurs in most varieties of English, but the two phonemes were historically separate. In accents with the merger, horse and hoarse are both pronounced [h?:(r)s~ho:(r)s], but in accents without the merger, hoarse is pronounced with a higher vowel, usually [hors] in rhotic and [ho?s] or the like in non-rhotic accents. Accents that have resisted the merger include most Scottish, Caribbean, and older Southern American accents as well as some African American Vernacular, modern Southern American, Indian, Irish, and older Maine accents.[28][29] Some American speakers retain the original length distinction (with NORTH being pronounced with a vowel that is as short as LOT in RP) but merge the quality and so pronounce hoarse [hrs] longer than horse [h?rs].[30]

The distinction was made in traditional Received Pronunciation, as represented in the first and second editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. The IPA symbols used are /?:/ for horse and // for hoarse. In the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary and in the planned third edition (online entries), the pronunciations of both horse and hoarse are given as /h?:s/.[31]

In British English dialectology, prevocalic /?r/ in accents that distinguish cot and caught is analyzed as LOT + /r/, not NORTH, as those non-rhotic dialects that maintain the distinction feature two vowels that correspond to historic /?/ before intervocalic /r/: LOT and NORTH-THOUGHT, both of which contrast with FORCE. If /?r/ is considered to be the contemporary reflex of NORTH, the merger is incomplete in the intervocalic position (at least in RP) and so moral and oral do not rhyme: /'m?r?l, '?:r?l/ ('warring, however, was historically /'w?r/ and is /'w?:r/ because it is derived from war /'w?:/). Before the loss of rhoticity, moral and war had the same stressed vowel /'m?r?l, 'w?r/, and the latter was lengthened and raised, merging with THOUGHT: /'w?:/, giving rise to the three-way distinction between prevocalic /?r/, /?:r/ and /r/ as in moral, warring and oral /'m?r?l, 'w?:r, 'r?l/ (excluding the marginal /r/, restricted to compounds) because of the derived forms such as warring /'w?:r/ (compare the wholly-holy split, which results in creation of a separate // phoneme before intervocalic /l/), but the change did not affect all derived forms, such as warrior /'w?ri?/.

The distinction between intervocalic /?r/ and /?:r/ (both distinct from /?:r/ as in starry) is stable and also occurs in Australian English, New Zealand English, and South African English, and in most regional British English varieties. In Scottish English, which merges cot with caught, moral, war, and warring belong to the NORTH class (LOT-THOUGHT + /r/): /'m?r?l, 'w?r, 'w?r/ (as does warrior /'w?ri?r/), whereas oral, bore and boring feature FORCE (which is GOAT + /r/): /'or?l, 'bor, 'bor/. The same applies to the conservative General American varieties that preserve the NORTH-FORCE distinction.

Some regional non-rhotic British English retains the NORTH-FORCE distinction (with NORTH being distinct from LOT + prevocalic /r/, as in RP). That is the case in, for example, South Wales (excluding Cardiff) and some West Midlands English. NORTH is typically the same as THOUGHT, and FORCE varies. The areas of Wales that make the distinction merge it with the monophthongal variety of GOAT: /'fo:s/ (see toe-tow merger, which those accents lack), but in the West Midlands, it corresponds to GOAT + COMMA: /'fs/ or to a separate /o?/ phoneme: /'fo?s/. The words beloning to each set vary to an extent region to region, and speakers from Port Talbot tend to use FORCE, instead of the etymologically correct NORTH, in forceps, fortress, important and importance.[32][33]

The Cockney English distinction between /o:/ and // is not related to the NORTH-FORCE distinction, which does not exist in that dialect. Instead, it is the THOUGHT split, which gives rise to the phonemic distinction between /o:/ and // in the preconsonantal position, as in board /'bo:d/ and bored /'bd/ as well as pause /'po:z/ and paws /'pz/.

In the United States, the merger is widespread everywhere but is quite recent in some parts of the country. For example, fieldwork performed in the 1930s by Kurath and McDavid shows the contrast robustly present in the speech of Vermont, northern and western New York State, Virginia, central and southern West Virginia, and North Carolina,[34] as well as the whole Atlantic coast (North and South),[18] but by the 1990s, telephone surveys conducted by Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006) show those areas as having completely or almost completely undergone the merger;[35] and even in areas in which the distinction is still made, the acoustic difference between the [] of horse and the [o?] of hoarse is rather small for many speakers.[18] In Labov et al.'s 2006 study, most white participants in only the following American cities continue to resist the merger: Wilmington, North Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Portland, Maine.[36] A 2013 study of Portland, however, found the merger already now established in Portland "at all age levels".[37] In Labov et al.'s study, even St. Louis, Missouri, which traditionally maintained the horse-hoarse distinction so strongly that it instead merged card and cord, showed that only 50% of the participants now continuing to maintain the distinction. The same pattern (a horse-hoarse distinction coupled with a card-cord merger) also exists in a minority of speakers in Texas and Utah. New Orleans prominently shows much variability regarding the merger, including some speakers with no merger at all. Though black Americans are rapidly undergoing the merger, they are also less likely to do so than white Americans, with a little over half of Labov et al.'s black participants maintaining the merger nationwide.[38]

The two groups of words merged by the rule are called the lexical sets north (including horse) and force (including hoarse) by Wells (1982).

Words with the FORCE vowel that are not written with an obviously long vowel are relatively more likely to occur in the following circumstances:

  • When the vowel immediately follows a labial consonant, /p b f v w/, as in the word force itself.
  • In past participle words in -orn whose corresponding past tense forms are in -ore, as in torn.
  • If a vowel spelling ends with a silent e, as in horde.
Horse class Hoarse class
border, born, California, corpse, cyborg, fork, form, fortress, forty, important, morgue, morning, morse, morsel, porn, spork, warn afford, borne, Borneo, corps, deport, divorce, export, fjord, force, ford, forge, fort, forth, horde, import, porcelain, porch, pork, port, portal, portend, portent, porter, portion, portrait, proportion, report, shorn, sport, support, sword, sworn, torn, worn
/o?/ /?:/ IPA Notes
boar boor 'b?:(r) with cure-force merger
board baud 'b?:d non-rhotic
board bawd 'b?:d non-rhotic
boarder border 'b?:(r)d?(r)
Boer boor 'b?:(r) with cure-force merger
bore boor 'b?:(r) with cure-force merger
bored baud 'b?:d non-rhotic
bored bawd 'b?:d non-rhotic
borne bawn 'b?:n non-rhotic
borne born 'b?:(r)n
Bourne bawn 'b?:n non-rhotic
Bourne born 'b?:(r)n
bourse boss 'b?:s non-rhotic
core caw 'k?: non-rhotic
cored cawed 'k?:d non-rhotic
cored chord 'k?:(r)d
cored cord 'k?:(r)d
cores cause 'k?:z non-rhotic
corps caw 'k?: non-rhotic
court caught 'k?:t non-rhotic
door daw 'd?: non-rhotic
floor flaw 'fl?: non-rhotic
fore for 'f?:(r)
fort fought 'f?:t non-rhotic
four for 'f?:(r)
gored gaud ':d non-rhotic
hoarse horse 'h?:(r)s
hoarse hoss[39] 'h?:s non-rhotic
lore law 'l?: non-rhotic
more maw 'm?: non-rhotic
mourning morning 'm?:(r)n
oar awe '?: non-rhotic
oar or '?:(r)
ore awe '?: non-rhotic
ore or '?:(r)
pore paw 'p?: non-rhotic
pores pause 'p?:z non-rhotic
pour paw 'p?: non-rhotic
roar raw 'r?: non-rhotic
shore shaw ': non-rhotic
shorn Sean ':n non-rhotic
shorn Shawn ':n non-rhotic
soar saw 's?: non-rhotic
soared sawed 's?:d non-rhotic
sore saw 's?: non-rhotic
source sauce 's?:s non-rhotic
sword sawed 's?:d non-rhotic
tore taw 't?: non-rhotic
tore tor 't?:(r)
wore war 'w?:(r)
worn warn 'w?:(r)n
yore yaw 'j?: non-rhotic

Near-square merger

The near-square merger or cheer-chair merger is the merger of the Early Modern English sequences /i:r/ and /?:r/ (and the /e:r/ between them), which is found in some accents of modern English. Many speakers in New Zealand[40][41][42] merge them in favor of the NEAR vowel, but some speakers in East Anglia and South Carolina merge them towards the SQUARE vowel.[43] The merger is widespread in the Caribbean, including Jamaican English.

/(r)/ /e?(r)/ IPA (V=? or e)
beard Baird 'bV?(r)d
beer bare 'bV?(r)
beer bear 'bV?(r)
cheer chair 't?V?(r)
clear Claire 'klV?(r)
dear dare 'dV?(r)
deer dare 'dV?(r)
ear air 'V?(r)
ear ere 'V?(r)
ear heir 'V?(r)
fear fair 'fV?(r)
fear fare 'fV?(r)
fleer flair 'flV?(r)
fleer flare 'flV?(r)
hear hair 'hV?(r)
hear hare 'hV?(r)
here hair 'hV?(r)
here hare 'hV?(r)
leer lair 'lV?(r)
leered laird 'lV?(r)d
mere mare 'mV?(r)
near nare 'nV?(r)
peer pair 'pV?(r)
peer pare 'pV?(r)
peer pear 'pV?(r)
pier pair 'pV?(r)
pier pare 'pV?(r)
pier pear 'pV?(r)
rear rare 'rV?(r)
shear share '?V?(r)
sheer share '?V?(r)
sneer snare 'snV?(r)
spear spare 'spV?(r)
tear (weep) tare 'tV?(r)
tear (weep) tear (rip) 'tV?(r)
tier tare 'tV?(r)
tier tear (rip) 'tV?(r)
weary wary 'wV?ri
weir ware 'wV?(r)
weir wear 'wV?(r)
we're ware 'wV?(r)
we're wear 'wV?(r)

Nurse mergers

This is the merger of as many as five Middle English vowels /?, ?, ?, ?, ?/ into one vowel when it was historically followed by /r/ in the coda of a syllable. The merged vowel is /?:/ in Received Pronunciation and /?r/ in American, Canadian, and Irish English. As a result of the merger, the vowels in words like fir, fur, and fern are the same in almost all modern accents of English. The exceptions are Scottish English and some varieties of Irish English. John C. Wells calls it briefly the NURSE merger.[44] The three separate vowels are retained by some speakers of Scottish English. What has been called the term-nurse merger is resisted by some speakers of Irish English, but the full merger is found in almost all other dialects of English.

In local working-class Dublin, the West and South-West Region and other very conservative and traditional varieties of Irish English, ranging from the south to the north of the island, the typical English phoneme /?:r/ actually retains an opposition as two separate phonemes: /?:r/ and /?:r/. For example, the words earn and urn are not pronounced the same in those traditional varieties. It is pronounced as /?/ NURSE vowel after a labial consonant as in fern; when it is spelled as "ur" or "or", as in word; or when it is spelled as "ir" after an alveolar stop, as in dirt. In all other cases, the NURSE vowel is pronounced as /?/.[45] Examples with /?/ include certain ['s?:rtn?], chirp [t:rp], circle ['s?:rk?l], earn [?:rn], earth [?:rt], girl [:rl], germ [d:rm], heard or herd [h?:rd], irk [?:rk], and tern [t?:rn]. Examples for /?/ include bird [b?:rd], dirt [d?:rt], first [f?:rst], murder ['m?:rd?], nurse ['n?:rs], turn [t?:rn], third or turd [t?:rd], urn [?:rn], work [w?:rk], and world [w?:rld]. In non-local middle- and upper-class Dublin and in younger and supraregional Irish accents, the difference is seldom preserved, with both the /?:r/ phonemes typically merged as [?:], the same as or similar to most American accents.

In Scottish English, a distinct nurse or fur vowel is also used in these cases:

In Scottish English, a distinct term or fern vowel is used in these cases:

/?r/ */er/ /?r/ /?r/ IPA Notes
Bern - - burn 'b?:(r)n
Bert - - Burt 'b?:(r)t
berth - birth - 'b?:(r)?
- earn - urn '?:(r)n
Ernest earnest - - '?:(r)n?st
herd heard - - 'h?:(r)d
herl - - hurl 'h?:(r)l
- Hearst - hurst 'h?:(r)st
- - fir fur 'f?:(r)
kerb - - curb 'k?:(r)b
mer- - myrrh murr 'm?:(r)
- - mirk murk 'm?:(r)k
per - - purr 'p?:(r)
Perl pearl - - 'p?:(r)l
tern - - turn 't?:(r)n
were - whirr - 'w?:(r) With wine-whine merger.
- - whirl whorl 'w?:(r)l
- - whirled world 'w?:(r)ld With wine-whine merger.

Nurse-near merger

Some older varieties of Southern American English and some of England's West Country dialects exhibit a partial merger of nurse-near. They generally realise near as /j?r/, rhyming with nurse (compare general English realisations of cue and coo) and so words such as beard are pronounced as /bj?rd/.[49] Usual word pairs like beer and burr are still distinguished as /bj?r/ vand /b?r/. However, /j/ is dropped after a consonant cluster (as in queer) or a palato-alveolar consonant (as in cheer), likely because of phonotactic constraints. That results in a merger with nurse in those cases: /kw?r/, /tr/. It is thus possible that pairs like steer-stir are merged in some accents as /st?r/, but that is not explicitly reported in the literature.

There is evidence that the African American Vernacular English in Memphis, Tennessee, merges both /?r/ and /r/ with /?r/ and so here and hair are both homophonous with the strong pronunciation of her.[50]

Nurse-north merger

The nurse-north merger (of words like perk towards the sound of pork) involves the merger of /?:/ with /?:/ that occurs in broadest Geordie.[51] The merger is more accurately called the nurse-north-force-thought merger.

Some THOUGHT words (roughly, those spelled with a) have a distinct vowel in broad Geordie.[52]

/?:/ /?:/ IPA Notes
bird board 'b?:d
bird bored 'b?:d
burn born 'b?:n
burn borne 'b?:n
curse coarse 'k?:s
curse course 'k?:s
err oar '?:
err or '?:
err ore '?:
fir for 'f?: The weak form of for is distinct: /f?/
fir fore 'f?:
fir four 'f?:
fur for 'f?: The weak form of for is distinct: /f?/
fur fore 'f?:
fur four 'f?:
heard hoard 'h?:d
heard horde 'h?:d
her hoar 'h?:
her whore 'h?:
herd hoard 'h?:d
herd horde 'h?:d
occur a core ?'k?:
occur a corps ?'k?:
occurred a chord ?'k?:d
occurred a cord ?'k?:d
occurred accord ?'k?:d
perk pork 'p?:k
purr pore 'p?:
purr pour 'p?:
sir soar 's?:
sir sore 's?:
stir store 'st?:
stirred stored 'st?:d
Turk torque 't?:k
turn torn 't?:n
were war 'w?:
were wore 'w?:
word ward 'w?:d
worm warm 'w?:m

Square-nurse merger

The square-nurse merger or fair-fur merger is a merger of // with /?:/ (/e?r/ and /?:r/ in rhotic accents) that occurs in some accents (for example Liverpool, new Dublin, and Belfast).[53] The phonemes are merged to [?:] in Kingston upon Hull and Middlesbrough.[54][55][56]

Shorrocks reports that in the dialect of Bolton, Greater Manchester, the two sets are generally merged to /?:/, but some NURSE words such as first have a short /?/.[57]

The merger is found in some varieties of African American Vernacular English to the sound IPA: [?r]: "A recent development reported for some AAE (in Memphis, but likely found elsewhere)".[58] This is exemplified in Chingy's song "Right Thurr"; the merger is heard at the beginning of the song, but he goes on to use standard pronunciation for the rest of the song.

Labov (1994) also reports such a merger in some western parts of the United States "with a high degree of r constriction".

/e?(r)/ /?:(r)/ IPA Notes
air err '?:(r)
Baird bird 'b?:(r)d
Baird burd 'b?:(r)d
Baird burred 'b?:(r)d
bare burr 'b?:(r)
bared bird 'b?:(r)d
bared burd 'b?:(r)d
bared burred 'b?:(r)d
bear burr 'b?:(r)
Blair blur 'bl?:(r)
blare blur 'bl?:(r)
cairn kern 'k?:(r)n
care cur 'k?:(r)
care curr 'k?:(r)
cared curd 'k?:(r)d
cared curred 'k?:(r)d
cared Kurd 'k?:(r)d
chair chirr 't:(r)
ere err '?:(r)
fair fir 'f?:(r)
fair fur 'f?:(r)
fare fir 'f?:(r)
fare fur 'f?:(r)
hair her 'h?:(r)
haired heard 'h?:(r)d
haired herd 'h?:(r)d
hare her 'h?:(r)
heir err '?:(r)
pair per 'p?:(r)
pair purr 'p?:(r)
pare per 'p?:(r)
pare purr 'p?:(r)
pear per 'p?:(r)
pear purr 'p?:(r)
share sure ':(r) with cure-fir merger
spare spur 'sp?:(r)
stair stir 'st?:(r)
stare stir 'st?:(r)
ware whir 'w?:(r) with wine-whine merger
ware were 'w?:(r)
wear whir 'w?:(r) with wine-whine merger
wear were 'w?:(r)
where were 'w?:(r) with wine-whine merger
where whir 'hw?:(r)

See also

Sound samples

  1. ^ "Sample of a speaker with the Mary-marry-merry merger Text: "Mary, dear, make me merry; say you'll marry me". Archived from the original on 2005-09-30. Retrieved .
  2. ^ "Sample of a speaker with the three-way distinction". Archived from the original on 2005-09-30. Retrieved .


  1. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 479-485.
  2. ^ a b Wells (1982), pp. 201-2, 244.
  3. ^ Wells (1982:132, 480-481)
  4. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), pp. 582, 585, 587-588, 591.
  5. ^ "Dialect Survey Question 15: How do you pronounce Mary/merry/marry?". Archived from the original on November 25, 2006.
  6. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 480-82.
  7. ^ a b c d Dialect Survey.
  8. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 56
  9. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 54, 56.
  10. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), pp. 582-583, 588, 592.
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 54, 238.
  12. ^ Wells (1982), p. 481.
  13. ^ Labov, William (2006). The Social Stratification of English in New York City (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 29.
  14. ^ Shitara (1993).
  15. ^ "Guide to Pronunciation" (PDF). Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 21, 2015.
  16. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 51-53.
  17. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 158, 160, 347, 483, 548, 576-77, 582, 587.
  18. ^ a b c d Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 51.
  19. ^ "Cure (AmE)". Merriam-Webster."Cure (AmE)".
  20. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 56, 65-66, 164, 237, 287-88.
  21. ^ Kenyon (1951), pp. 233-34.
  22. ^ Wells (1982), p. 549.
  23. ^ "Guide to Pronunciation" (PDF).
  24. ^ "Distinctive Features: Australian English". Macquarie University. Archived from the original on March 29, 2008. See also Macquarie University Dictionary and other dictionaries of Australian English.
  25. ^ Hammond (1999), p. 52.
  26. ^ Kurath & McDavid (1961), p. 122.
  27. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 238-42, 286, 292-93, 339.
  28. ^ "Chapter 8: Nearly completed mergers". Macquarie University. Archived from the original on July 19, 2006.
  29. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 159-61, 234-36, 287, 408, 421, 483, 549-50, 557, 579, 626.
  30. ^ Wells (1982), p. 483.
  31. ^ OED entries for horse and hoarse
  32. ^ Coupland & Thomas (1990), pp. 95, 122-123, 133-134, 137-138, 156-157.
  33. ^ Clark (2004), pp. 138, 153.
  34. ^ Kurath & McDavid (1961), map 44
  35. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), map 8.2
  36. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 52.
  37. ^ Ryland, Alison (2013). "A Phonetic Exploration of the English of Portland, Maine". Swarthmore College. p. 26.
  38. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 299, 301.
  39. ^ hoss,
  40. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), p. 98.
  41. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 592.
  42. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008), pp. 39-41.
  43. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 338, 512, 547, 557, 608.
  44. ^ Wells (1982), p. 200.
  45. ^ Hickey (1984:330)
  46. ^ Oxford English Dictionary entry at worry
  47. ^ Oxford English Dictionary entries
  48. ^ AHD 2nd edition, 1392
  49. ^ Kurath & McDavid (1961), pp. 117-18 and maps 33-36.
  50. ^ "Child Phonology Laboratory". Archived from the original on April 15, 2005.
  51. ^ Wells (1982:374)
  52. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 360, 375.
  53. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 372, 421, 444.
  54. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, page 125, Walter de Gruyter, 2004
  55. ^ Williams and Kerswill in Urban Voices, Arnold, London, 1999, page 146
  56. ^ Williams and Kerswill in Urban Voices, Arnold, London, 1999, page 143
  57. ^ Shorrocks, Graham (1998). A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area. Pt. 1: Phonology. Bamberger Beiträge zur englischen Sprachwissenschaft; Bd. 41. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-33066-9.
  58. ^ Thomas, Erik (2007). "Phonological and Phonetic Characteristics of African American Vernacular English". Language and Linguistics Compass 1/5. North Carolina State University. p. 466.


  • Bauer, Laurie; Warren, Paul (2004). "New Zealand English: phonology". In Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.). A handbook of varieties of English. 1: Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 580-602. ISBN 3-11-017532-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bauer, Laurie; Warren, Paul; Bardsley, Dianne; Kennedy, Marianna; Major, George (2007). "New Zealand English". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 37 (1): 97-102. doi:10.1017/S0025100306002830.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Clark, Urszula (2004). "The English West Midlands: phonology". In Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.). A handbook of varieties of English. 1: Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 134-162. ISBN 3-11-017532-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Coupland, Nikolas; Thomas, Alan R., eds. (1990). English in Wales: Diversity, Conflict, and Change. Multilingual Matters Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85359-032-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hammond, Michael (1999). The Phonology of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823797-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008). "2. Phonetics and Phonology". New Zealand English. Dialects of English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2529-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kenyon, John S. (1951). American Pronunciation (10th ed.). Ann Arbor, Michigan: George Wahr Publishing Company. ISBN 1-884739-08-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kurath, Hans; McDavid, Raven I. (1961). The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-8173-0129-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. pp. 187-208. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Shitara, Yuko (1993). "A survey of American pronunciation preferences". Speech Hearing and Language. 7: 201-232.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Volume 1: An Introduction (pp. i-xx, 1-278), Volume 2: The British Isles (pp. i-xx, 279-466), Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles (pp. i-xx, 467-674). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-52129719-2 , 0-52128540-2 , 0-52128541-0 .

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