Bossy R Syllables - The Reading and Spelling Rules That Nobody Taught You

Bossy R

So we’ve been talking all about the reading and spelling rules that were brand new to us when we began to learn about Structured Literacy and the “science” behind the English language. Check out our blogs on Closed Syllable Rules and Magic E (VCE) Rules over here.

If you are anything like me, these rules actually start to become Earth shattering. Like why did I not know this? How come no one ever taught me when to use c versus k versus ck? That would have been so helpful…

And as I started learning more about syllable types reading books to my children became this awe-inspiring practice of recognizing syllable types, dividing syllables, recognizing exceptions or more complex morphological structure of words.

Anyway I digress…so moving forward we are going to talk a little about the “Bossy-R” or the R-controlled syllable type. This one is a challenge!!! If you are completely unfamiliar with this syllable type check out our post over here on Understanding R-Controlled Syllables!

Spelling the R-controlled syllables can be extremely difficult. We have a process for doing this:

Step 1

Teach students that A-R says /ar/ as in car. Many students struggle with this because they think R alone can say /ar/ because we call the letter /ar/. But R by itself says /er/..kind of…there’s a debate on this to some extent because you could also argue that R in the initial position (beginning of a word) says RUH. We don’t like adding on that addition UH sound on letter sounds but R becomes a bit tricky in this regard. Regardless A-R says /ar/ unless it’s being lazy in which it can say /er/ like in dollar.

Step 2

Teach students that O-R says /or/ as in corn. This is easy enough because they have seen the word “or” and can usually generalize this rule pretty easily. The only tricky piece here is that it can also be lazy and say /er/ like in doctor. This is especially true when OR is used as a suffix meaning “a person who” like in actor.

Step 3


Teach students that E-R, I-R, and U-R can all say /er/. This is very tricky because they all make the same sound we need to rely more heavily here on visual memory of the word. We also teach students that E-R is the most common, especially in multi-syllable words because E-R can be a suffix (e.g., faster, farmer). U-R is the next most common and I-R is the least common spelling option.

This gets us a long way, but…

This is just a complex and tricky syllable type that requires knowledge of a number of different rules, exceptions and schwa (lazy vowel) patterns, and morphology constructs. Teaching the R-pattern is no easy feat and we let students know that we want them to try their best but this is an area where spell check might come in handy ;)

Corey PollardComment