The Intrusive R and What It Sounds Like


In this video, Gabby talks about the intrusive R and what it sounds like in American English. Have you ever watched an American TV show called “Boardwalk Empire”? Have you seen a classic film like “Moonstruck” or “The Godfather”? Or even watched “Looney Tunes” cartoons? Odds are you’re more familiar with the intrusive R sound than you think. Keep reading to find out more about this particular sound.


As Gabby mentions in the video, this particular type of pronunciation is most common in states like New York and New Jersey. Of course, you may hear the intrusive R sound in other states! Each state or region can have its own accent and specific way of pronouncing certain words, so you might come across these interesting variations in speech in other parts of your journey to learn American English. One such example would be the schwa, or what is known as an unstressed vowel, which is found in the a in about or the o in mom (check out the link below for our post about schwa pronunciation).

The intrusive R is probably not as common today as it was decades ago, but the impression it has made on the English we speak in the United States will last forever. Research suggests that the sound evolved from the English that Scottish and Irish immigrants brought to this country. In those dialects of the English language, the intrusive R is more common, and it trickled down into what became American English. Immigrants from so many parts of the world are what shaped (and continue to shape!) our accents and the way we pronounce English words here in the United States.


The intrusive R pronunciation happens between two words, where the first word ends in a vowel sound and the second word begins in a vowel sound. Usually, there is what’s called a schwa sound that ends the first word (think of when you say “uh-oh!”). The r comes between the two words because, in some cases, it’s easier for people to say it that way. Many people, like Gabby and I, will instead carry the vowel sound over without putting an r sound between them.


Some good examples of what the intrusive R sounds like are:

  • Law and order → Law[r]and order
  • Media attention → Media[r]attention (kind of sounds like meteor, right?)
  • I saw a film → I saw[r]a film
  • Supernova in the sky → Supernova[r]in the sky


Because it is such an unfamiliar sound, the intrusive R is unusual for English speakers who don’t use it (like me). If you’re not a native English speaker, this particular sound might seem strange and challenging to pronounce! I think it’s safe to say that, unless you are auditioning for a mafia movie, or living in a state or city where the intrusive R is part of the local accent, you will probably not have to learn how to pronounce it. However, it is a great opportunity to learn about how other Americans speak, so that you can train your ear and identify the intrusive R the next time you hear someone use it.

Watch the video to hear more about the intrusive R. After that, you can check out our post about the schwa sound!

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