As in the words:

wahr /va:ɐ̯/
vergeht /fɛɐ̯ˈɡeːt/
Universität /ʔunivɛɐ̯ziˈtɛːt/ /ʔunivɛʁziˈtɛːt/
erlangen /ˌɛɐ̯ˈlaŋən/

and so on.

According to this answer and this wiki debate, a very slight version of R is pronounced in these words, but it's a little hard for non-native people to hear.

My question is, do you use these two symbols ʁ and ɐ̯ interchangeably and I should prepare myself for a very slight (how much?) R in every word I see them, or there is a difference? I suspect ɐ̯ is not fricative but rather approximant, so the representation /ʔunivɛʁziˈtɛːt/ is incorrect maybe?

  • Please edit my question if you think it can be more clarified or asked in a better way. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 9:05
  • 1
    I would suggest you listen to German public radio Deutschlandfunk. They maintain very good standard pronunciation there (unlike some other, regional based, public radio stations). From 2:35 p.m. everyday they have a programme on education, there you will find inevitably the word Universität pronounced. Here is a link: deutschlandfunk.de/campus-karriere.679.de.html Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 10:39

3 Answers 3


[ʁ] and [ɐ] are allophones in complementary distribution, representing the phoneme usually broadly notated /r/.

Before any vowel sound, /r/ has the consonantal pronunciation [ʁ]. In all other contexts it’s pronounced as the vowel [ɐ].

The phoneme sequence /ər/ is also pronounced [ɐ] alone, while /ɛr/ in Universität becomes [ɛɐ̯].

You can see the effect of morphology with a comparative adjective like besser.

Das ist besser
/das ɪst ˈbɛsər/
[das ʔɪst ˈbɛsɐ]

Ein besseres Ding
/aɪ̯n ˈbɛsərəs dɪŋ/
[ʔaɪ̯n ˈbɛsəʁəs dɪŋ]

The /r/ becomes consonantal when besser is declined to besseres because a vowel follows it (likewise in bessere /ˈbɛsərə/ [ˈbɛsəʁə], besserer /ˈbɛsərər/ [ˈbɛsəʁɐ], etc). But otherwise, in its unmarked form used in the first example, it’s the vocalic form.

  • Seems this is the most proper answer. But please tell me if German speakers (Standard German, but please denote other variants if it's good to know) use trill R or fricative one when it's not before a vowel? I see both R and ʁ in wikitionary and this seems vague to me because wikitionary also uses ɐ̯, which you say is an allophone to ʁ. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 8:07
  • 2
    ʀ (the trill) is an alternative realization to ʁ (the fricative), fulfilling the same role as the consonantal variant of /r/. This blog post by J. C. Wells summarizes the status quo. In my experience the trilled form is seen as excessively old-fashioned and may even be associated with Nazism (for no other reason than that it was the predominant pronunciation in the 1930s and 1940s when recordings of Hitler's voice and other propaganda tapes were made). Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 15:20

It depends on the region.

But generally, /ʔunivɛʁziˈtɛːt/ is rare and ʁ and ɐ̯ are not simply interchangeable.

  • I can even hardly imagine someone say /ʔunivɛʁziˈtɛːt/ with an ʁ. Unless it is someone with a clearly regional form of pronunciation (dialect). Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 10:42

I try to find an answer by self-experimentation.

I use the following contrasting examples:

Fahrt /[faːɐ̯t]/, leer /[leːɐ̯]/, Bär /[bɛːɐ̯]/, wir /[viːɐ̯]/, Moor /[moːɐ̯]/, Gehör /[ɡəˈhøːɐ̯]/, Uhr /[uːɐ̯]/, Kür /[kyːɐ̯]/

dort /[dɔʁt]/, wird /[vɪʁt]/

rot /[ʀoːt]/, drei /[dʀaɪ̯]/, Fahrer /[ˈfaːʀɐ]/, Lehrer /[ˈleːʀɐ]/

In my own speech organs, I find when practising the following:


ɐ̯ is just a vowel, with a "fixed" position of all parts of the mouth (no movement, you can pronounce it perpetually)


ʁ has a movement towards tightening the throat, from ɐ̯ towards ʀ.


ʀ again is a "fixed" sound, you can pronounce it over a lenghty time, perpetually. It is pronounced with the throat (sorry, I don't know the exact names of those parts of the throat there behind) very tight, so that it has a 'grinding' sound. Well it is a frikkative anyway, however, it is also sonant: you do not produce only the friction sound, but you add sound coming from your vocal cords.

I do not guarantee that phoneticists would agree, but that's what I seem to be finding in my own pronunciation.

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