For example, the sentence, "The Premier of China drank vodka and beer in his car with Obama." A BBC presenter would pronounce it like:

The Premieh of Chiner drank vodker and bee'h in his ca' with Obam-er.

In other words, they add 'r's where they don't belong and eliminate them where they do.

Is there any linguistic explanation for how this evolved? Are there any formal rules regarding this?

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    You should use IPA (phonetic alphabet) to illustrate correctly what you mean. Try using this tool upodn.com. And provide some sort of evidence, e.g. BBC website, to back up your claim. I could post an answer saying you're wrong, adding that it's not true British speakers add -r onto China. Personally, I think you are mixing the -r sound with the schwa one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 10, 2016 at 11:42
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    there are sooo many regional differences in pronunciation, in particular with "r", in all English-speaking countries (as well many as other languages, which I find interesting), that there really is no single, simple, meaningful response to this question, other than perhaps: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English
    – mick
    Jan 10, 2016 at 12:04
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    @Mari-LouA In case it helps with your teaching: if words end with an ɪ or i: sound then we can use a mini j to separate the word from a following vowel (the sound j is very similar to the vowels ɪ and i:). If the word ends in a ʊ or u: sound we can use a mini w (w is a similar to the vowels ʊ and u:). If the word ends in any other vowel, we can use an /r/. If there's a mini j or w, it won't have the full length of a real /j/ or /w/. However, if we use an /r/ it will behave exactly like a real /r/ including having the length of a full consonant. Jan 10, 2016 at 17:14
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    @PeterShor sinisterstuf's answer is mostly on the ball (and well-written), but it would give you the impression that we could use an intrusive /r/ in the sequence blue eyes, for example, which we can't. Jan 10, 2016 at 17:46
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    Yes ... in blue eyes you insert a /w/ and not an /r/. Jan 10, 2016 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Rhotic English is a term to describes varieties of English in which orthographic R is usually pronounced, even at the end of a syllable. In non-rhotic varieties of English - such as Southern Standard British English - orthographic R is only pronounced if followed by a vowel. It doesn't matter if there is a double R or not in the orthography:

  • car / ka:

  • car park / ka: pa:k

  • car alarm / ka:r əla:m

  • carrot / kærət

Modern SSBE also allows intrusive /r/. We sometimes use this when a word ending in a non-high vowel sound is followed by a word beginning with another vowel. The /r/ has the function of separating the two vowel sounds:

  • Pippa Andrews / pɪpər ændru:z

The Original Poster's example

The Premier of China drank vodka and beer in his car with Obama.

In terms of syllable-final orthographic Rs, there are two followed by vowel sounds, the ones at the ends of the words Premier and beer. These will be pronounced in SSBE. There is also one instance of a word ending in a (non-high) vowel being followed by another vowel sound. This is in the sequence vodka and. We may see speakers using an intrusive /r/ between vodka and and:

ðə premiər əv tʃaɪnə dræŋk vɒdkər ən bɪər ɪn ɪz kɑ: wɪð əbɑ:mə

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    +1 With this post, marathon viewing of old Monty Pythons, and some practice, I bet anyone could fake a British accent well enough to fool 95% of Americans. Jan 10, 2016 at 21:10
  • Is linking r always used, or is it sometimes not? I ask because in the similar French phenomenon of liaison, there are some contexts where (stigmatized) intrusive consonants can occur, but there are also many contexts where using a linking consonant is optional. I wondered if British "linking r" might only occur part of the time, depending on factors like speed, formality, speaker age and the like.
    – herisson
    Jan 11, 2016 at 8:22
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    @sumelic It is very variable. Some speakers may frequently include an intrusive r in normal conversation, then omit it when repeating a phrase slowly for emphasis.
    – mikeagg
    Jan 11, 2016 at 8:55
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    Very good, but "car alarm" is pronounced /ka: rəla:m/ or "ca ralarm" where the "r" ends up at the start of "alarm" instead of the end of "car".
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 11, 2016 at 10:46
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    @sumelic Within words linking /r/ is mandatory after vowels (e.g. score versus scoring). Across word boundaries, it is somewhat variable. In my experience of transcribing actual speech, it does occur the vast majority of the time for modern SSBE. Intrusive /r/ however, is very variable indeed both word internally (draw versus drawing) and across word boundaries. The term /r/-liaison is also used in English for both linking and intrusive /r/. Historically, prescriptivists have tried to paint intrusive-/r/ (as opposed to linking-/r/) as 'substandard'. This view is rare nowadays Jan 11, 2016 at 13:04

Whether or not 'r' sounds that don't precede a vowel are pronounced is called 'rhoticity'. Some dialects (Most of those from England, Australia, and New Zealand for instance) are non-rhotic and only pronounce 'r' before a vowel. Dialects from Scotland, Ireland, and North America are mostly rhotic and pronounce 'r' whether or not it precedes a vowel. Non-rhotic speakers do change the preceding vowel, usually by lengthening it or combining it with schwa (an 'eh' sound) to form a dipthong.

The 'followed by a vowel' rule can include the next word starting with a vowel: this is called a 'linking r'. Less frequently there is also an 'intrusive r' which is added between vowels that would otherwise blur together. When intrusive r is not used, a glottal stop is used (as in most North American dialects). Whether an intrusive r or glottal stop is used, it's generally not noticed by the speaker or by any speakers who are used to it.

In some British dialects 'a' can also be pronounced in a way that sounds to those unfamiliar with it somewhat like 'ar' when it's at the end of a syllable. There isn't really an 'r', just a vowel you're not used to.

In your example, "premier", "beer", and "car" all get affected by non-rhoticity, "China" and "Obama" are probably examples of unfamiliar vowels that you are mishearing as ending with 'r', and "vodka and" is an example of an intrusive r.


There are many regional differences in pronunciation, in particular with "r", for speakers of English (as well many as other languages), that there really is no simple answer, other than perhaps Rhoticity :

"Rhoticity in English refers to the situations in which English speakers pronounce the historical rhotic consonant /r/, and is one of the most prominent distinctions by which English varieties can be classified."

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