I read a book about American English. It reports that, in standard informal conversations, American English doesn't use the /ɔ/ sound; it uses the /ɑ/ sound and /ʌ/ and /ə/ are not different. Are they really?
That book would not use the /ɔ/ and /ʌ/ sounds, but when I look in my American English Dictionary for some words, such as more, door, and love, they are reported to be pronounced /mɔr/, /dɔr/, and /lʌv/.
How should I pronounce these words, if there are no /ɔ/and /ʌ/ sounds? Should they be /mɑr/, /dɑr/, and /ləv/?
Can /ɑ/ sound replace /ɔ/, and /ə/ replace /ʌ/ in every word?
What about formal American English? Does it have /ɔ /and /ʌ/ sounds or not?

  • 8
    This book says one thing which is totally ridiculous ... it distinguishes between informal conversations and formal conversations. People who don't have the /ɔ/ sound except before r are not going to pronounce it at any time, whether or not it's informal speech. People who do have it will use it both in formal and informal speech. Jul 8, 2011 at 18:07
  • @Peter Shor: Thanks. This book is only about colloquial english.
    – Kas
    Jul 8, 2011 at 20:56
  • 1
    If you look at Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary for ESL students (although not their dictionary for native English speakers), it does away completely with the /ɔ/ sound, replacing it with /o/ before an /r/ and /ɑ:/ otherwise. Many Americans use these pronunciations, and if you use this pronunciation, everybody should understand you. I think they're trying to use as few vowels in their pronunciations as possible. They also combine /ɚ/ and /ɝ/ (something many Americans also do) but not /ɘ/ and /ʌ/. Jul 10, 2011 at 12:33
  • 1
    Many if not most colloquial American English speakers do not distinguish separate /ʌ/ and /ə/ phonemes; [ʌ] is simply the stressed allophone of the single mid central vowel phoneme /ə/, which is otherwise [ə] (or [ɨ], or other central vowels, depending on context, but unstressed). Oct 1, 2023 at 19:16

3 Answers 3


The /ɔ/ as described by Wikipedia is an unelisioned "aw" sound, as in the pure Latin vowel "o" for those singers out there. The /ʌ/ sound, as found in the word "plus", is an open-backed "uh". Close off the back of the throat by dropping the soft palate, bringing the jaw back and/or raising the back of the tongue and you have what most Americans would call a "schwa" (/ə/) as in the second syllable of "special".

In most American English dialects/accents, the mouth is held in a more open, relaxed position while speaking than for most British accents. This can tend to make "aw" sound more like more like "ah", and "ah" like an open short "a" as in "bat". Similarly, the opening of the lips leads to closing off the back of the throat to provide nuances between vowels, which can make "uh" sound like "ugh", "oo" sound like "eu", etc. Vocal coaches tear their hair out over this natural accent, especially in the deep South and Texas, where the "twang" pollutes the "pure" Latin vowels normally desired for singing in almost any language.

However, I doubt you will find an English dialect where a particular vowel shape is never heard. First of all, there will always be a word in the language that even a heavily-accented speaker will pronounce using the shape you're looking for. It may be misplaced, but it'll be there.

Second, there are degrees of vowel modification from what we would consider "neutral" American English to "accented", no matter the accent, so you will always find a person who speaks with just the right level of accent to use the vowel shape you're looking for at least some of the time. Urban residents tend to accent less than suburban and rural in my experience, and higher education, which normally involves a mingling of people from many locations nationwide, also tends to reduce accenting. Watching national broadcast TV also tends to reduce accenting, as most actors have their natural accents trained, coached, and/or beaten out of them while on camera.

  • Thanks a lot for giving more examples and explaination. They really help me.
    – Kas
    Jul 8, 2011 at 20:37
  • 5
    A nice answer, but not fully correct. There is quite a bit of research on the effect of TV on speaking, and the effect is actually quite low. Unless you actually talk back to someone, you are unlikely to pick up there way of speech, so the physical surroundings of a person have the highest effect on their speech development. This usually means their classmates at school and their family. Jul 8, 2011 at 22:54
  • 6
    "However, I doubt you will find an English dialect where a particular vowel shape is never heard." The important thing is which sounds have phonemic contrast — i.e. whether the sound is used to make any meaningful distinction in the language. So, if a dialect doesn't have /ɔ/, it means there are no minimal pairs where /ɔ/ can be used to distinguish one word from another. And syllable context matters; if you say "pin" and "pen" over and over to someone from the South, they will have a hard time hearing any difference whatsoever.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jul 9, 2011 at 14:01

Standard English has all of the sounds you mention, but, yes there are some quirks.

Some dialects of English don't distinguish between /ɔ/ and /ɑ/; this is known as the caught-cot merger. It is so called because caught and cot are both pronounced the same: (/kɒːt/ or /kɑt/ depending on the region). As you can see in the Wikipedia article and the accompanying map, some dialects have merged these vowels together, but many have not.

Now, as for /ə/ and /ʌ/ — AmE does have both of these sounds, but in most cases the pattern is totally predictable. In stressed syllables, /ʌ/ can occur, while in unstressed syllables, only /ə/ is used.

In Standard British English, there is more use of /ə/, in part because Standard BrE doesn't pronounce /ɹ/ (henceforth /r/) syllable-finally. So a word like nurse, which in American English would be pronounced /nɝs/ (with an r-colored vowel), can be pronounced /nə:s/ in British English (though it isn't always).

So, with this information in mind, on to your examples:

"More" and "door"

Examples with syllable-final /r/ are generally going to be special, as indeed these are. In Standard AmE, these are pronounced /mɔr/ and /dɔr/, as you read. In dialects that don't pronounce /ɔ/, the words are pronounced /mor/ and /dor/. In situations that aren't r-colored, it is indeed /ɑ/ (again, in certain US dialects).


Following the rules I laid out above, you may have figured out that love is pronounced /lʌv/ in AmE, as it is a stressed syllable. But, if it were unstressed, it would theoretically be pronounced with a schwa.

So, let's take a different example: the word "just" /dʒʌst/ is sometimes stressed and sometimes unstressed. When unstressed (often when saying something like "just do it already"), the word becomes /dʒəst/.

  • 2
    +1: Note that the New England cot-caught merger is different from the other cot-caught mergers, in that the vowels in these two words are still distinguished from father and not pronounced /ɑ/. Jul 8, 2011 at 18:39
  • Another comment ... I don't know whether this is a general phenomenon or whether it has confused people, but in words such as Africa and America that end in /ə/ with a syllable that has secondary stress, I use the vowel /ʌ/ rather than /ə/ (but not in, say, Georgia, where the second syllable is unstressed). Jul 8, 2011 at 18:47
  • @Peter Shor: Thanks, I added in the clarification about /ɒ/.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jul 8, 2011 at 20:10
  • 1
    @Kosmonaut:Thanks a lot, but I've never seen this sound /o/ before in my dictionaries or in my pronunciation books. I don't know how to pronounce this sound. Can you please give me some more explainations?
    – Kas
    Jul 8, 2011 at 20:51
  • 2
    @Kas: "Go" is /goʊ/ for every AmE dialect. In Standard BrE, it can also be /gəʊ/. Your Oxford talking dictionary is almost certainly using a simplified, nonstandard transcription technique.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jul 9, 2011 at 19:24

There are no pure or standard /ɔ/ and /ʌ/ anywhere in the English speaking world, especially in USA. (/ɔ/ and /ʌ/ are graphical and conventionl signs for a lot of allophones. I hope it makes sense for you) I won't go into other accents, but I will speak a bit about the US accents (the 'standard ones). First, the 'standard' accent in USA is a group of accents where each of them is a mix between what the speaker perceives as being the standard-formal accent and his regional accent. /ɔ/ is taught as being /a/ and /ʌ/ as being something between /a/ and /ə/. But in real life, /ɔ/ can vary between /o/ and /a/ from word to word (Paul - dog -loss - cot) and from one regional formal speech to another regional formal speech. The same goes for /ʌ/. It can vary wildly from word to word and from speaker to speaker.

My extremly strong advice for you is to use the standard British /ɔ/ and /ʌ/ or even the Latin /o/ and /a/. It will save you a lot of trouble.

  • 2
    Cot doesn’t even make sense in your list (it’s called the “caught cot merger” when people don’t distinguish precisely for this reason) and I’m not sure who you are talking to who uses different vowels for Paul, dog, and loss. The advice to use completely different vowels is only good if you are satisfied sounding obviously foreign and being misunderstood.
    – Casey
    Sep 12, 2023 at 7:03
  • The question wasn't about the cot-caught merger. And I am not talking to but I am talking about... It is obvious you did not get me. Now about the cot-caught merger, you conflate it with Don-Dawn merger and with Pol-Paul merger. Only because you requested it: reddit.com/r/asklinguistics/comments/vh8mhj/… and english.stackexchange.com/questions/404515/… Sep 28, 2023 at 7:09
  • @Casey. Look at the American pronunciation of /ɒ/ or /ɔ/ given by the Cambridge dictionary /ˈbɑː.ðɚ/, etc. is exactly as in /ˈfɑː.ðɚ/. So just dont you think you know better then them. It is their recommendation. My recommending of using the Latin /o/ and /a/ is a blessing for ESL students.. Oct 7, 2023 at 10:55
  • If there were an expression *huff-past which could be used in contexts where it interchanged with half-past the short vowels of *huff and half would often be practically indistinguishable for most GB speakers. Oct 7, 2023 at 11:41
  • You obviously conflate the /ɒ/ sign with a very specific sound. /ɒ/ is in fact an umbrella-sign for many sounds (you can name them allophones, but nonetheless they are distinct sounds). The ESL people do not need this allophonic fiction, they need one sound for every IPA sign. Nothing more. The allophony of the English dialects can be explained separately. Oct 9, 2023 at 10:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.