Unlocking the Secrets to Orton Gillingham Syllables: R is Very Controlling

We’ve covered Closed, (Magic )E, and Open syllables in the REVLOC system of classifying syllables to give them rules to help pronounce words. From here, things get slightly trickier.

The R-controlled syllable is the R in REVLOC. In a past post, I acknowledged the reason for the order of the letters in REVLOC is that this is the order in which each syllable “trumps” the next. R-controlled trumps all. If a word has a syllable that is R-controlled, but closed, you pronounce it r-controlled.

For example – fir

Technically, fir is closed, right? It’s a vowel closed in by two consonants. But, that ir means it is r-controlled.  Ir is pronounced “?r.”

R-controlled vowels and examples include:

Or – or, for, morn, storm, hornet, morsel, border

Ar – art, card, lard, bombard, farmer, tarnish

Or and Ar have a kind of long sound to them, meaning you hear the vowel difference. The word Or is easily distinguishable from the word Art.

These next three (er, ir, ur) are not distinguishable by just hearing the words. The most commonly used spelling is “er” for the “?r” sound.

Er – her, jerk, terse, upper, summer, bitter, finger, tender, master, monster, berry, merry

Ir – fir, birch, Sir, girl, stir, birch, whirl, birth, thirty, bird, squirm

Ur – fur, curl, burn, hurl, hurry, furry, flurry, disturb, Saturn, furnish

A phrase to help remember the sounds of er, ir, ur is: Her bird is hurt.

Now for the tricky part. These r-controlled syllables can also sound different from word to word.

Or can have a schwa sound in words like: doctor, visitor, mayor, error, worst, worth. We don’t say doc-tor, we say, “doct or.” And the pronunciation reflects it. This is in contrast with the word, Fork, where we clearly hear the or.

Ar also has a long sound, a schwa sound and can sound like the “or” pronunciation.

Ar as long: arrow, carrot, barren, parallel, marry, charity

Ar as schwa: dollar, lizard, standard, collar, popular

Ar as “or” sound: war, warn, swarm, wart, warm, reward, warden

Er can sound like “?r” : errand, error, very, peril, inherit, merit, prosperity

Ir can also have a different sound, like the word “ear,” notice these are irr in most: spirit, irrigate, irregular, irritate, mirror

Lastly, we look at “ear” (not as a word, but as an r-controlled portion of a word). It also has two ways of pronunciation.

Ear as a schwa: early, earn learn, heard, pearl, earth

Ear as “r” sound: wear, bear, tear, pear, swear

The r-controlled, or Bossy-R, syllables may seem confusing, but the point in making the distinction is to pull out the syllable and make it more manageable. If you get a word like: murder


Underline vowels, divide between the two consonants to get two syllables

Mur Der

Now we can use the ur and er rules to figure out the sounds. Spelling it if you have never seen the word might be difficult because both of the syllables sound just alike, right? Right. So OG is not always about spelling something you haven’t seen, but realizing how to pronounce it once you have seen it and remembering it easier because you were able to divide it, making it smaller, and more manageable.

(7) Comments

  1. Why do you include ‘berry’ and ‘merry’ with ‘the ‘er’ that is indistinguishable from ir and ur’ when those two words do not share the same /er/ sound? [rather it is an -air sound like chair or cherry]

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