Received Pronunciation

Did you know that there are around 40 British accents? One of the most well-known British accents is Received Pronunciation. This is the type of British accent spoken by King Charles and other members of the Royal Family.

Received Pronunciation Received Pronunciation

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Table of contents

    Received Pronunciation Definition

    Take a look at a definition for Received Pronunciation below:

    Received Pronunciation, also known as "RP," is a British accent known as the "Standard British" accent. It is spoken mostly in London and South East England but is also the accent most often used in formal education and the media (such as news broadcasts). It is also used for phonetic pronunciations in all British dictionaries.

    Received Pronunciation is one of the only British accents that is not limited to the UK or a certain geographical location in the UK. Because it is used in education, students who attend international schools that use a British curriculum anywhere in the world could speak with an RP accent. Additionally, RP is one of the main accents used to teach English as a foreign language (standard American English is another).

    Received Pronunciation UK Flag StudySmarterFig. 1 - RP is one of around 40 British English accents.

    Although RP is considered the standard British accent and is used around the world and in the UK, not many native English speakers speak with a pure RP accent. It is estimated that only around 2% of people in the UK do! Instead, it is more common to have hints of other regional accents as opposed to pure RP features.

    Received Pronunciation Accent

    Each British accent has distinct characteristics. The most noticeable features of Received Pronunciation are as follows:

    Non-rhoticity

    Like most other British accents, RP is non-rhotic, meaning the /r/ sound in the middle or at the end of a word is dropped unless a vowel comes after it. For example:

    The /r/ is not pronounced in words such as "father," "car," "butter," and "farm."

    Father: /ˈfɑːðə/

    Car: /kɑː/

    Farm: /fɑːm/

    In comparison, here are the same words transcribed in a standard American accent:

    Father: /ˈfɑðər/

    Car: /kɑr/

    Farm: /fɑrm/

    Notice how there is no /r/ in the RP phonetic transcriptions, as it is not pronounced. However, standard American is rhotic, so the /r/ is always pronounced no matter where it is in a word.

    Long Vowel

    RP uses the long /ɑː/ vowel sound. For example:

    In words like "grass," "bath," "fast," and "can't," the long vowel /ɑː/ is used.

    Grass: /grɑːs/

    Bath: /bɑːθ/

    Fast: /fɑːst/

    Can't: /kɑːnt/

    In comparison, here are the same words transcribed in a standard American accent:

    Grass: /græs/

    Bath: /bæθ/

    Fast: /fæst/

    Can't: /kænt/

    RP uses /ɑː/, whereas standard American uses /æ/.

    Linking R

    The linking r sound is also a feature of RP - adding an /r/ sound if a word ending in "r" is followed by a vowel sound. For example:

    "four eyes" sounds like "four rise."

    "more apples" sounds like "more rapples."

    "our age" sound like "our rage."

    Doing this helps to connect the speech and makes the words flow better.

    Intrusive R

    Sometimes, the RP accent inserts an /r/ sound in words that do not include an "r" in the spelling. This is known as the intrustive r. It usually occurs when:

    • A syllable that ends in a vowel sound is followed by a syllable that starts with a vowel sound.

    • A word that ends in a vowel sound is followed by a word that starts with a vowel sound.

    In order to jump from vowel to vowel, it is easier to insert the "r" consonant. Think of it as a stepping stone between two vowel sounds! For example:

    "I saw a dog" is pronounced like "I sawra dog."

    "Law and order" is pronounced like "lawrand order."

    The word "drawing" is pronounced like "drawring."

    Hard T

    The RP accent tends to clearly pronounce the letter t in the middle of words (known as a hard t or true t). For example:

    In words like "butter" and "water," the t's are clearly pronounced.

    Butter: /ˈbʌtə/

    Water: /wɔːtə/

    This differs from a standard American accent, in which the t's are tapped if they are in the middle of a word. This means that when they are pronounced, the tongue quickly taps behind the teeth. This creates a softer sound that is more like a /d/. So, "butter" and "water" would instead sound more like "budder" and "wadder."

    Types of Received Pronunciation

    Like other accents, there are different varieties of RP. These are:

    • Conservative

    • Mainstream

    • Contemporary

    All three varieties of RP are regionally non-specific, meaning the accent doesn't necessarily give us any information about the geographical location of the speaker. However, the different RP accents could tell us something about the age and social class of the speaker. For example, older generations are more likely to speak with a conservation RP accent, whereas younger people may speak with a contemporary RP accent.

    Conservative RP

    Conservative RP is the most traditional and well-established variety of Received Pronunciation. It is typically spoken by older generations and is traditionally associated with those in the upper classes and those in the government. If you've ever seen old British TV shows, this is probably the type of RP that was used. It is rarely used nowadays.

    Mainstream RP

    Mainstream RP (also known as general RP) is quite neutral, meaning that it does not give much away about a speaker's age, job, or social class. This is the variety of RP most people are familiar with. You will probably hear this in the media, such as on the news.

    Contemporary RP

    Contemporary RP (also known as modern RP) is mainly spoken by younger people (such as teenagers and young adults). Because of this, more colloquial terms may be used. It shares some similarities with Estuary English, which is an accent that sits somewhere between RP and Cockney (spoken in London).

    Differences between Conservative and Contemporary RP

    Below are some examples of the differences between Conservative and Contemporary RP:

    Conservative RP:

    Inserting a "y" sound between a consonant and vowel, i.e., "tune" and "tissue" are pronounced like "tyoon" and "tissyoo"

    Contemporary RP:

    Using a "ch" and "sh" sound instead, i.e., "tune" and "tissue" are pronounced like "choon" and "tishoo."

    Conservative RP:

    The slight tapping of the /r/ sound, i.e., "terrible" and "very" are pronounced more like "teddible" and "veddy."

    Contemporary RP:

    The /r/ is not tapped, i.e., the "r" sound in "terrible" and "very" is pronounced fully.

    Conservative RP:

    The /ɔː/ sound is used more, i.e., "gone" is pronounced more like "gawn."

    Contemporary RP:

    The /ɒ/ sound is used more instead, i.e., "gone" is pronounced like "gon."

    Received Pronunciation Examples

    Below are some examples of sentences transcribed using the RP pronunciation:

    SentenceRP Phonetic Transcription
    "Have you ever been to London?"/hæv ju evə biːn tə lʌndən?/
    "I'd like a bottle of water, please."/aɪd laɪk ə bɒtl ɒv wɔːtə pliːz/
    "I drive a fast car."/aɪ draɪv ə fɑːst kɑː/
    "You should meet my father."/juː ʃʊd miːt maɪ ˈfɑːðə/
    "The standard British accent is different from the standard American accent."/ðə stændəd brɪtɪʃ æksənt ɪz dɪfrənt frɒm ðə stændəd əmɛrɪkən æksənt/
    "Not every British person likes tea!"/nɒt ɛvri ˈbrɪtɪʃ pɜːsn laɪks tiː!/

    Received Pronunciation vs. Posh

    Received Pronunciation is often regarded as a "posh" accent. But is there a difference between having an RP accent and being posh?

    Received Pronunciation refers to an accent, but posh is more than an accent. It can be used to describe a person's lifestyle and is often associated with the higher classes in society. Stereotypically, if you are described as "posh," this implies that you are wealthy and have a taste for more luxurious things. If you think of a "posh" person, you may be picturing top hats, monocles, and fancy dresses...

    Received Pronunciation Posh people StudySmarterFig. 2 - Stereotypically "posh" people!

    Traditionally, a "posh" person in the United Kingdom, and even English speakers worldwide, would have had an RP accent, as this was the accent used to educate the upper classes in society. However, nowadays, being "posh" does not mean you must have an RP accent, and having an RP accent does not automatically make you "posh"! The two terms are no longer used synonymously with one another.

    Received Pronunciation - Key takeaways

    • Received Pronunciation, also known as "RP," is a British accent regarded as the "Standard British" accent.
    • RP is mostly spoken in London and South East England but is also the accent most commonly used in formal education/teaching and the media.
    • Received Pronunciation is one of the only British accents that is not limited to the UK; it is spoken around the World.
    • Only around 2% of people in the UK speak with a pure RP accent.
    • The three different types of RP are traditional, mainstream, and contemporary.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Received Pronunciation

    Is Received Pronunciation posh?

    Received Pronunciation is often regarded as posh. But this does not mean that everyone who speaks with an RP accent is posh, or that every posh person speaks with an RP accent.

    Why is it called Received Pronunciation?

    It is called Received Pronunciation as it refers to the standard pronunciation.

    Does received pronunciation still exist?

    Yes, Received Pronunciation is still spoken both in the UK and around the world.

    Who speaks Received Pronunciation?

    In the UK, Received Pronunciation is spoken mostly in London and South East England.

    What are the three forms of Received Pronunciation?

    The three forms of Received Pronunciation are:


    1. Conservative RP

    2. Mainstream RP

    3. Contemporary RP

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which type of RP is the most neutral?

    Which type of RP is the most traditional?

    Which type of RP is spoken by the younger generations?

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