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What is the pronunciation difference between collar and color? Can a native speaker tell them apart?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, native speakers can easily differentiate these words.

If you have trouble with IPA, you can try pronouncing them this way (for American English):

color ≈ culler (the vowel is a short "uh" sound)

collar ≈ caller (the syllable following c is just like the word all)

You might try practicing with a sentence like "What color is your collar?" and overemphasize the differences until you get used to the sound.

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This is Californian or Canadian pronunciation; in the East, some of us distinguish between color = culler, collar and caller. –  Peter Shor Nov 3 '11 at 9:46
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Well, I'm neither from nor have lived in California or Canada; I have lived in New York, DC, and Florida. I think caller and collar can be distinguishable, but often aren't; I also think the above explanation is an effective way to think about it for someone who can't currently identify any difference between the two words. –  onomatomaniak Nov 3 '11 at 9:55
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Now that you've brought it up, I agree; this indeed should be an effective way to think about it for somebody who can't currently identify any difference. –  Peter Shor Nov 3 '11 at 10:13
    
+1 for What color is your collar?. –  Michael Kjörling Nov 3 '11 at 10:53
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Color is pronounced much shorter than collar. Pronouncing collar you spend a bit more time on the first coll- part.

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The vowel sound is slightly more open in collar [ɑ] than in color [ʌ].

English pronunciation is not always easy for non native speakers. A good thing is to be able to read the IPA. Most bilingual paper dictionaries will give the pronunciation of words in the IPA.
And on monolingual dictionaries on the web you can listen to the word as well:

An on the Wiktionary, the Freedictionary and lots of others.

On the University of Iowa website there is a very good flash animation that shows all the movements involved when pronouncing each vowel.

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You seem to have listed the British pronunciation of color and American of collar, regarding the ending /r/. –  Tim N Nov 3 '11 at 9:01
    
@ Tim: Thanks. I got confused when copy pasting link. I have corrected now. +1 –  Laure Nov 3 '11 at 9:48
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For "collar" you say "caw", opening your mouth to about half-open as you say the vowel.

For "color" you say "cuh", keeping your mouth just barely ajar.

In both cases, the second syllable is just lrrr.

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Approximate to Kollar (gentle r) and Culla in British English.

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The difference is quite clear in British pronunciation. Colour is /ˈkʌlə/, rhyming with duller. Collar is /ˈkɒlə(r)/, rhyming with dollar. (I realize those rhymes may not be much help if duller and dollar sound the same in American pronunciation.)

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Color rhymes with duller and collar with dollar in American pronunciation as well. This may not help if the OP also has trouble telling duller and dollar apart, though. –  Peter Shor Nov 3 '11 at 12:05
    
@Peter Shor In which American dialect does "duller" have a /ʌ/ sound? (It's not the same as "dollar", but it's not the same as "color" either. (It's confusing because both the "l-colored" and the standard version of /ʌ/ are written the same way in some schemes, but color definitely has the latter and dull definitely has the former) –  Random832 Nov 3 '11 at 14:12
    
@Random832: I agree with you, they're not quite the same sound. But is it a good idea to confuse someone learning English with l-colored /ʌ/? I don't think color and duller are that far apart, but maybe I think that because I distinguish cot and caught. –  Peter Shor Nov 3 '11 at 15:12
    
@Peter Shor I suppose our opinions simply differ - most importantly, I think the vowel sounds are further apart than color and collar in the first place. And the issue in pronouncing color correctly is to not make the l-colored sound - so focus on making a "kuh" sound and then add the rest afterward without changing the sound (as in Malvolio's answer) is better than relying on an analogy to "duller" [which the questioner may not know how to pronounce, and which doesn't actually rhyme] –  Random832 Nov 3 '11 at 15:18
    
I don't think cot/caught is really relevant - except in as much as it affects "collar" (and its distinction from "caller", and Malvolio's answer's "aw"), and I distinguish them too in any case. –  Random832 Nov 3 '11 at 15:20
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