Rhotic consonant
In phonetics
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs : their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory...

, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonant
Liquid consonant
In phonetics, liquids or liquid consonants are a class of consonants consisting of lateral consonants together with rhotics.-Description:...

s that are traditionally represented orthographically
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 by symbols derived from the Greek
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

 letter rho
Rho (letter)
Rho is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 100. It is derived from Semitic resh "head"...

, including "R, r
R is the eighteenth letter of the basic modern Latin alphabet.-History:The original Semitic letter may have been inspired by an Egyptian hieroglyph for tp, "head". It was used for by Semites because in their language, the word for "head" was rêš . It developed into Greek Ρ and Latin R...

" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p
Er (Cyrillic)
Er is a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.It commonly represents the alveolar trill , like the "rolled" sound in the Scottish pronunciation of ⟨r⟩ in "curd".-History:...

" from the Cyrillic alphabet
Cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic script or azbuka is an alphabetic writing system developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School...

. They are symbolized in the International Phonetic Alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

 by upper- or lower-case variants of Roman "R".

This class of sounds is difficult to characterise phonetically; from a phonetic standpoint, there is no single articulatory correlate common to rhotic consonants. Rhotics have instead been found to carry out similar phonological functions or to have certain similar phonological features across different languages. Although some have been found to share certain acoustic peculiarities, such as a lowered third formant
Formants are defined by Gunnar Fant as 'the spectral peaks of the sound spectrum |P|' of the voice. In speech science and phonetics, formant is also used to mean an acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract...

, further study has revealed that this does not hold true across different languages. For example, the acoustic quality of lowered third formants pertains almost exclusively to American varieties of English. Being "R-like" is an elusive and ambiguous concept phonetically and the same sounds that function as rhotics in some systems may pattern with fricatives, semivowels or even stops in others (for example, "tt" in English "better" is often pronounced as alveolar tap - a rhotic consonant in many other languages).


The most typical rhotic sounds found in the world's languages are the following:
  • Trill
    Trill consonant
    In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

    (popularly known as rolled r): The airstream is interrupted several times as one of the organs of speech (usually the tip of the tongue or the uvula
    The palatine uvula, usually referred to as simply the uvula , is the conic projection from the posterior edge of the middle of the soft palate, composed of connective tissue containing a number of racemose glands, and some muscular fibers .-Function in language:The uvula plays a role in the...

    ) vibrates, closing and opening the air passage. If a trill is made with the tip of the tongue against the upper gum, it is called an apical (tongue-tip) alveolar trill
    Alveolar trill
    The alveolar trill is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar trills is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is r. It is commonly called the rolled R, rolling R, or trilled R...

    ; the IPA
    International Phonetic Alphabet
    The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

     symbol for this sound is [r]. If it is made with the uvula against the back of the tongue, it is a uvular trill
    Uvular trill
    The uvular trill is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , a small capital R...

    ; the IPA symbol for this sound is [ʀ]. The bilabial trill
    Bilabial trill
    -External links:*...

    , however, is not considered a rhotic.
    • Many languages, such as Bulgarian
      Bulgarian language
      Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

      , Swedish
      Swedish language
      Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

      , Norwegian
      Norwegian language
      Norwegian is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants .These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language...

      , Italian
      Italian language
      Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

      , Spanish
      Spanish language
      Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

      , Russian
      Russian language
      Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

      , Polish
      Polish language
      Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

      , Ukrainian
      Ukrainian language
      Ukrainian is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. It is the official state language of Ukraine. Written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet....

       and Dutch
      Dutch language
      Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

      , use trilled rhotics. In the English
      English language
      English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

      -speaking world, the stereotyped Scottish
      Scottish English
      Scottish English refers to the varieties of English spoken in Scotland. It may or may not be considered distinct from the Scots language. It is always considered distinct from Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language....

       rolled [r] is well known. The "stage pronunciation" of German
      German language
      German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

       specifies the alveolar trill for clarity. Rare kinds of trills include Czech
      Czech language
      Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

       ř [r̝] (fricative trill) and Welsh
      Welsh phonology
      The phonology of Welsh is characterised by a number of sounds that do not occur in English and are typologically rare in European languages, such as the voiceless lateral fricative and voiceless nasal consonants...

       rh [r̥] (voiceless trill).

  • Tap or flap
    Flap consonant
    In phonetics, a flap or tap is a type of consonantal sound, which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that one articulator is thrown against another.-Contrast with stops and trills:...

    (these terms describe very similar articulations): Similar to a trill, but involving just one brief interruption of airflow. In many languages taps are used as reduced variants of trills, especially in fast speech. However, in Spanish, for example, taps and trills contrast, as in pero /ˈpeɾo/ ("but") versus perro /ˈpero/ ("dog"). In some English dialects, such as American
    American English
    American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

     and Australian
    Australian English
    Australian English is the name given to the group of dialects spoken in Australia that form a major variety of the English language....

    , flaps do not function as rhotics but are realizations of intervocalic apical stops (/t/ and /d/, as in rider and butter). The IPA symbol for this sound is [ɾ].
  • Alveolar or retroflex approximant (as in most accents of English—with minute differences): The front part of the tongue approaches the upper gum, or the tongue-tip is curled back towards the roof of the mouth ("retroflexion"). No or little friction can be heard, and there is no momentary closure of the vocal tract. The IPA symbol for the alveolar approximant is [ɹ] and the symbol for the retroflex approximant is [ɻ]. There is a distinction between an unrounded retroflex approximant and a rounded variety found in Anglo-Saxon
    Old English language
    Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

     and even to this day in some dialects of English, where the orthographic key is r for the unrounded version and usually wr for the rounded version (these dialects will make a differentiation between right and write).
  • Uvular
    Uvular consonant
    Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be plosives, fricatives, nasal stops, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and...

    , velar
    Velar consonant
    Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

    or glottal
    Glottal consonant
    Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

     approximant or fricative
    (popularly called guttural r
    Guttural R
    In linguistics, guttural R refers to pronunciation of a rhotic consonant as a guttural consonant. These consonants are usually uvular, but can also be realized as a velar, pharyngeal, or glottal rhotic...

    ): The back of the tongue approaches the soft palate or the uvula. The standard Rs in Portuguese
    Portuguese language
    Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

    , French
    French language
    French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

    , German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

    , Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    , and Danish
    Danish language
    Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

     are variants of this rhotic. If fricative, the sound is often impressionistically described as harsh or grating. This includes the voiced uvular fricative, voiceless uvular fricative, voiced velar fricative
    Voiced velar fricative
    The voiced velar fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in various spoken languages. It is not found in English today, but did exist in Old English...

    , voiceless velar fricative
    Voiceless velar fricative
    The voiceless velar fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. The sound was part of the consonant inventory of Old English and can still be found in some dialects of English, most notably in Scottish English....

    , and velar approximant. In northern England, there used to be accents that employed the voiced velar fricative, which was called a "burr". In southern England, the velar approximant is considered a prestigious kind of lisp
    A lisp is a speech impediment, historically also known as sigmatism. Stereotypically, people with a lisp are unable to pronounce sibilants , and replace them with interdentals , though there are actually several kinds of lisp...

    , though it does not occur in many other national accents. In many Brazilian Portuguese
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Brazilian Portuguese is a group of Portuguese dialects written and spoken by most of the 190 million inhabitants of Brazil and by a few million Brazilian emigrants, mainly in the United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, Canada, Japan and Paraguay....

     dialects, the "r" is actually realized as a voiceless glottal fricative
    Voiceless glottal fricative
    The voiceless glottal transition, commonly called a "fricative", is a type of sound used in some spoken languages which patterns like a fricative or approximant consonant phonologically, but often lacks the usual phonetic characteristics of a consonant...

    , unless it occurs single between vowels, being so realized as a tap.


In broad transcription rhotics are usually symbolised as /r/ unless there are two or more types of rhotic in the same language. The IPA has a full set of different symbols which can be used whenever more phonetic precision is required: an r rotated 180° [ɹ] for the alveolar approximant, a small capital R [ʀ] for the uvular trill, and a flipped small capital R [ʁ] for the voiced uvular fricative or approximant.

The fact that the sounds conventionally classified as "rhotics" vary greatly in both place and manner in terms of articulation, and also in their acoustic characteristics, has led several linguists to investigate what, if anything, they have in common that justifies grouping them together. One suggestion that has been made is that each member of the class of rhotics shares certain properties with other members of the class, but not necessarily the same properties with all; in this case, rhotics have a "family resemblance
Family resemblance
Family resemblance is a philosophical idea made popular by Ludwig Wittgenstein, with the best known exposition being given in the posthumously published book Philosophical Investigations It has been suggested that Wittgenstein picked the idea and the term from Nietzsche, who had been using it,...

" with each other rather than a strict set of shared properties. Another suggestion is that rhotics are defined by their behaviour on the sonority hierarchy
Sonority hierarchy
A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a ranking of speech sounds by amplitude. For example, if you say the vowel [a], you will produce a much louder sound than if you say the plosive [t]...

, namely, that a rhotic is any sound that patterns as being more sonorous than a lateral consonant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

 but less sonorous than a vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

. The potential for variation within the class of rhotics makes them a popular area for research in sociolinguistics.

See also

  • Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
    Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
    English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not...

  • R-coloured vowel
    R-colored vowel
    In phonetics, an R-colored or rhotic vowel is a vowel that is modified in a way that results in a lowering in frequency of the third formant...

  • Guttural R
    Guttural R
    In linguistics, guttural R refers to pronunciation of a rhotic consonant as a guttural consonant. These consonants are usually uvular, but can also be realized as a velar, pharyngeal, or glottal rhotic...

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