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Minimal Pairs /l/ and /r/

alive and arrive

Below are lists of words that vary only by one having the sound /r/ and the other the sound /l/. You can use this to practise the sounds or as a list of words to be careful to pronounce properly.

This page uses the symbols of the Phonemic Chart. You can listen to the symbols here.

/l/ is pronounced with a large flap of the tongue. The best way to make it clear that you aren’t pronouncing /r/ is to bend your tongue as far back as you can in your mouth, and flick it forward as you say /l/. (You can help control your tongue by holding one hand next to your mouth with your fingers in the same position as your tongue, and flick your fingers at the same time as your tongue.)

/r/ is pronounced many different ways in various English-speaking countries and regions, so it is not particularly useful to ask students to base their pronunciation on what native speakers do with their mouths. As making a distinction is the most important thing, it is often better to exaggerate the differences between the two sounds. These descriptions are therefore meant to be useful for students rather than explanations of usual pronunciations.

/r/ is totally unlike /l/ for English speakers. In fact, some people pronounce it much more like /w/. The best way of making the distinction is try to move your tongue as little as possible when making the sound. (You can use your hand to help in the same way as suggested with /l/, but this time keeping your hand still. It can also help to start with your top teeth just touching the back of your bottom lip.)

Elementary
alive arrive
belly* berry
blight* bright
blue brew*
blush* brush
flee* free
fly fry
lane* rain
led* red
lead* read
lice* rice
light right
load* road
long wrong
loom* room
lot rot*
play pray*

Pre-Intermediate
blew brew*
clash* crash
collect correct
glamour grammar
glass grass
lace* race
lamp ramp*
late rate*
law raw
led red
leader reader
lied* ride
lighter writer
lock rock
locker rocker
luck ruck*
lush* rush

Intermediate
clown crown
fleas* freeze
glow* grow
lack rack*
lair* rare
lake rake*
lamb ram*
lane rain
lather* rather
laze raise
lead read
leech* reach
lies rise
lip rip
list wrist
lob* rob
locket rocket
loot* root
lows rose
pilot pirate

Upper Intermediate
belly berry
blues bruise
blush brush
flee free
flees freeze
laid raid
lamp ramp
lank* rank
lap wrap
late rate
lay ray
lead red
leer* rear
lentil rental
lid rid
lot rot
loyal royal
play pray

Advanced/Proficiency
blacken bracken
blight bright
blew brew
clash crash
flea free
fleas freeze
gland grand
glow grow
jelly jerry
lace race
lack rack
lag rag
lagging ragging
lair rare
lake rake
lamb ram
lank rank
lash rash
lather rather
law raw
laze raze
lead reed
leek reek
leap reap
leech reach
leer rear
lib rib
lice rice
lick rick
light rite
limb rim
lime rhyme
link rink
lit writ
loam roam
loaves roves
lob rob
lobe robe
look rook
loom room
lute route
lope rope
lout rout
lubber rubber
luck ruck
lug rug
lump rump
lung rung
lush rush
lust rust
splat sprat
splint sprint

n = noun, v = verb

* the meaning of the word is not important at this level, but it can still be used to contrast the pronunciation with the other word. For this reason, some of the words are given at two different levels, the second time being when the meaning is also useful.

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