Co-articulation and Vocalic “Er”

By Pam Marshalla

Q: My client can say “Er” in words like “flower” when we split the syllables apart: “Flow—er.” But he cannot say it in words like “Bird” or “Shirt.” What can we do?

You will notice that you have split “flower” in to syllables like this: “Flow—-Er.”

This means that although your client can say “Er,” he cannot sequence from the C to “Er.”  We don’t say, “Flow—er.”  We say, “Flah—wer.” The /r/ occurs in a CVC, and this requires better sequencing and overlapping movement.


This is the essence of co-articulation (McDonald, 1964). You are teaching him to make what McDonald called “overlapping ballistic movements”–– “Articulation is a process consisting of a series of overlapping, ballistic movements” (McDonald, 1964, p. 87).

Your client can’t say “Bird” or “Shirt” because he cannot overlap the movements of the consonants and “Er.”  His problem is not on “Er.”  His problem is in the overlapping nature of the position required for “Er” and the positions required of the consonants adjacent to it.   Are you following this?  That means that you are no longer working on “Er.”  He has “Er.”  You need to work on the overlapping elements of the phoneme sequences.


The easiest way to work on this is do the following.  Let’s use “fer” and “per” as examples––

Have your client prolong “Errrrrrrr.”

As he prolongs “Errrrrr,” have him insert /f/ or /p/ in-between. He will say: “Errrrr-f-errrrrrr-f-errrrrr-f-errrrrr……” or “Errrrrr-p-errrrrr-p-errrrrr-p.”

Move on to other consonants.

In other words, have him put his tongue in position for “Er” and say “Er.”  While he continues to hold the tongue in position for “Er” (prolong “Er”), he will say /f/. You are teaching him to say /f/ and “er” at the same time.


McDonald, E. T. (1964) Articulation Testing and Treatment: A Sensory-Motor Approach. Pittsburgh: Stanwix House.

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