phonics reading instruction methodologies

All You Need to Know About R- Controlled Syllables (aka BOSSY R Syllables or R-Controlled Vowels)

R-controlled syllables is one of the six syllable types that we can find in the English language.

In this blog  we have already covered open and closed syllables and silent e syllables, also called “magic e” or “bossy e” syllables.

If interested, you can check our articles and videos about these other syllable types here and here.

What are R-controlled syllables?

When the letter R follows a vowel, we are in the presence of a r-controlled syllable.

These syllables are normally referred to as “bossy r” syllables for younger students, as the R takes control of the vowel sound.

"BOSSY R" syllables
“BOSSY R” syllables

Let’s see how this happens exactly:

There are basically 3 types of r-controlled syllables:

Type #1: /ar/

Some sample words are:


Type #2: /or/

Some sample words are:


Type #3: /er/

Some sample words are:


simple r-controlled syllables
Simple r-controlled syllables

As you may have noticed…

    • /ar/ controlled syllables are normally represented by the ‘ar’ spelling.
    • /or/ controlled syllables are normally represented by the ‘or’ spelling.
    • /er/ controlled syllables are normally represented by the ‘er’, ‘ir’ or ‘ur’ spelling.

However, there are a few exceptions. For instance: work, word, doctor, actor, word, dollar, sailor.

How to teach r-controlled syllables?

When teaching r-controlled syllables to children, we shouldn’t teach these 3 types at the same time. We should go one at a time.

For instance, we start with the /ar/ syllable type first.

car, far, jar

Then we move on to the /er/ syllable type

her, sir, surf

Finally, we introduce the /or/ syllable type

for, sort, snort

We also introduce words of increasing difficulty to our children. We start with simple one-syllable words, as the ones we’ve seen before.

Introducing words of increasing difficulty
Introducing words of increasing difficulty

Then we move on to words two-syllable words that contain one r-controlled syllable (sister, after) or even two r- controlled syllables, such us burger or farmer.

More complex r-controlled syllables

Apart from the basic r-controlled syllable types we’ve seen so far, we also have COMPLEX R-CONTROLLED SYLLABLES.

These are syllables containing the /air/ sound or the /ear/ sound

The /air/ sound can hide behind different spellings, such us:

AIR: air, fair, pair

ARE: care, bare, fare

EAR: bear, pear, wear

The /ear/ sound can hide behind the following spellings:

EAR: ear, dear, fear, year

EER: deer, beer, cheer, steer

ERE: here, mere, severe

IER: pier, pierce, fierce

Complex R-Controlled Syllables
Complex R-Controlled Syllables

Homophones in R-controlled syllables

You might have noticed as well that these more complex r-controlled syllables contain lots of homophones. That is when you 2 words are pronounced the same, but have different spelling. For instance: fare/fair, bear/bare, dear/ dear, etc.



These more complex r-controlled syllables can be really confusing, so they shouldn’t be taught to our beginner readers yet. We should wait still until they learn to recognize and fully master the simple r-controlled syllables first to avoid cognitive overload and confusion.

In fact, we don’t recommend to even them right after the simple r-controlled syllables.

We would wait and introduce some other simpler phonics concepts first, as more complex r-controlled syllables can be really tricky.

Recommended resources

Prefer to watch? Learn about r-controlled syllables on YouTube!

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