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Non Rhotic

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Non Rhotic

You will probably be familiar with non-rhotic accents, even if you don't know what the word non-rhotic means! Today, we'll explore what a non-rhotic accent is and take a look at some examples. We will particularly focus on non-rhotic accents in English and how they compare to rhotic accents.

Non-rhotic: meaning

Non-rhotic refers to when the /r/ consonant sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. Non-rhotic is also known as r-dropping.

Non-rhotic accent

A non-rhotic accent drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. For example, if the words 'start', 'park' and 'butter', are spoken with a non-rhotic accent, the /r/ sounds will not be pronounced. Instead, they are pronounced like this:

  • start = /stɑːt/ - the /r/ is not pronounced as it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant.
  • park = /pɑːk/ - like the previous word, the /r/ comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, so it is dropped.
  • butter = /ˈbʌtə/ - here, the /r/ is dropped as it comes at the end of the word.

Non-rhotic English

Although there are some exceptions (such as most West Country accents and Scottish accents), most British English accents are considered non-rhotic. One of the most well-known non-rhotic accents is the standard British English accent, also known as Received Pronunciation. This is the accent that is used most by those in London and South East England.

Like British English, Australian, New Zealand English, and South African English are also mostly non-rhotic.

On the other hand, Canadian English accents are almost entirely rhotic, meaning the /r/ sound is always pronounced. Further, most American English accents are rhotic. There are some exceptions though, such as:

  • The traditional New York City dialect (currently less so)

  • The traditional Rhode Island dialect (currently less so)
  • The African American Vernacular English (AAVE) dialect
  • Parts of Alabama
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • The Yat accent (New Orleans)
  • Areas of New England, particularly Boston and Maine

Non-rhotic accent: examples

Below are some examples of words pronounced using a non-rhotic accent. These words will be phonetically transcribed using the standard British English pronunciation, as it is a non-rhotic accent:

Word
Non-rhotic pronunciation (standard British English)
Marker
/mɑːkə/
Card
/kɑːd/
Heart
/hɑːt/
Fear
/fɪə/
Learn
/lɜːn/
Father
/fɑːðə/

One sound that is commonly used in non-rhotic accents is the schwa (/ə/) vowel sound. For example, the 'o' in the word 'corrupt', or the 'e' in 'soldier.' This is used instead of an /r/ sound, although the word will still be spelt with an 'r' at the end.

Rhotic vs non-rhotic

The opposite of a non-rhotic accent is a rhotic accent. This refers to when the /r/ sound is always pronounced, no matter where it is in a word. An example of a rhotic accent is the standard American English accent.

Non Rhotic Image of US and UK flag StudySmarter

Standard American English is rhotic, whereas standard British English is non-rhotic. (Pixabay)

Let's compare this to standard British English pronunciation:

Word
Rhotic American English
Non-rhotic British English
Marker
/mɑrkər/
/mɑːkə/
Card
/kɑrd/
/kɑːd/
Heart
/hɑrt/
/hɑːt/
Fear
/fɪr/
/fɪə/
Learn
/lɜrn/
/lɜːn/
Father
/ˈfɑðər/
ˈ/fɑːðə/

Notice how the /r/ sound is present in the rhotic pronunciations but not in the non-rhotic pronunciations.

Non-Rhotic - Key takeaways

  • A non-rhotic accent drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word.
  • The opposite of a non-rhotic accent is a rhotic accent. the /r/ sound is always pronounced, no matter where it is in a word.
  • The majority of British English accents are considered to be non-rhotic (although there are some exceptions).
  • The majority of Australian and New Zealand English accents are non-rhotic.
  • Most American English accents are rhotic, but a few are non-rhotic.

Frequently Asked Questions about Non Rhotic

Non-rhotic refers to when the /r/ consonant sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it comes at the end of a word.

With a rhotic accent, the /r/ sound is always pronounced. With a non-rhotic accent, the /r/ sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it comes at the end of a word.

Rhoticity in English refers to the use (or dropping) of the rhotic /r/ consonant sound in words.

A non-rhotic accent is an accent that drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. An example of a non-rhotic accent is the standard British English accent.

Most British English accents are indeed non-rhotic (although there are some exceptions). 

Final Non Rhotic Quiz

Question

Non-rhotic is also known as what?

Show answer

Answer

r-dropping

Show question

Question

What is the opposite of non-rhotic?

Show answer

Answer

Rhotic

Show question

Question

True or false?


The Australian English accent is mostly non-rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false?


The New Zealand English accent is mostly non-rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false?


The standard British English accent is rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false?


The standard American English accent is non-rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

A non-rhotic accent does what?

Show answer

Answer

Drops the 'r' in some cases

Show question

Question

True or false?


A non-rhotic accent always pronounces the 'r', no matter where it is in a word.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or false?


A non-rhotic accent never pronounces any /r/ sounds.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks:


Non-rhotic refers to when the /r/ consonant sound is not pronounced if it comes ______ a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the ______ of a word. 

Show answer

Answer

after, end 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the non-rhotic pronunciation of butter?

Show answer

Answer

/bʌtə/

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the non-rhotic pronunciation of farmer?

Show answer

Answer

/fɑːmə/

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the non-rhotic pronunciation of car?

Show answer

Answer

/kɑː/

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the non-rhotic pronunciation of hard?

Show answer

Answer

/hɑːd/

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the non-rhotic pronunciation of near?

Show answer

Answer

/nɪə/

Show question

Question

Name one of the most common British English accents that is non-rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

Received Pronunciation

Show question

Question

Is the Canadian accent mostly rhotic or non-rhotic?

Show answer

Answer

Rhotic

Show question

Question

List three American accents that are non-rhotic.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list:


  • The traditional New York City dialect 

  • The traditional Rhode Island dialect 
  • The African American Vernacular English (AAVE) dialect
  • Parts of Alabama
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • The Yat accent (New Orleans)
  • Areas of New England, particularly Boston and Maine


Show question

Question

Which country has more non-rhotic accents?

Show answer

Answer

UK

Show question

Question

What sound is commonly found in non-rhotic pronunciations of words ending in /r/?

Show answer

Answer

The vowel sound, schwa (/ə/)

Show question

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