Minimal Pairs /l/ and /r/

as in alive and arrive

Below is a list of words that vary only by one having the sound /r/ and the other the sound /l/.

You can use this list to practise the sounds, or as a list of words to be careful in pronouncing.

/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

fly fry

light right

long wrong

Pre-Intermediate

collect correct

glamour grammar

glass grass

lace race

lane rain

law raw

lead read

leader reader

led red

lighter writer

load road

lock rock

locker rocker

lot rot

play pray

Intermediate

belly berry

blew brew

blue brew

blush brush

clash crash

clown crown

flee free

glow grow

lack rack

lamb ram

lamp ramp

lane rain

late rate

laze raise

lead read

lice rice

lied ride

lies rise

lip rip

list wrist

locket rocket

loom room

lows rose

luck ruck

lush rush

pilot pirate

Upper Intermediate

belly berry

blight bright

blues bruise

blush brush

fleas freeze

flee free

flees freeze

laid raid

lair rare

lake rake

lamp ramp

lap wrap

late rate

lather rather

lay ray

lead red

leech reach

leer rear

lentil rental

lid rid

lob rob

loot root

lot rot

loyal royal

play pray

Advanced

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