I'm very confused!

A youtube video explained /tr/ should be pronounced like /tʃr/. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNHI1biK0-4.

Another youtube video explained /tr/ should be pronounced like /t/ & /r/ and try to make a quick link between 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMAv3B5xMZc.

So which one is correct?

/TR/ is the most difficult sound I have ever known. In other words, how can I distinguish between "cheese" & "trees"; "choose" & "true"?

  • I would say the second video is better for British English, the tʃr sound being quite hard to pronounce, for me at least.
    – Martin
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 9:11
  • The difference is simple: one has a rhotic and the other does not. If you are having trouble, you are probably not pronouncing the r correctly, but you might also have the wrong placement of the initial t, and the combination of the two won't work for you because one or both are wrong. As the linked duplicate explains, pronounce trees as [t͡ʂɻʷiz] and cheese as [t͡ʃiz]. That's all there is to it. You may need more of a rounded, retroflex rhotic than you are attempting. It should not normally sound like [t̪ɾiz] as an Italian or Spaniard might say it, although a few speakers may do so.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:56
  • If you can say 'rue' without any problems, try saying 'chrue'. Don't make it too long - not 'chuh-rue'. Start as if saying 'cheese' then quickly jump in with 'rue'. That's near enough the sound. You could sharpen it with a 't' sound with practice.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 14:05
  • 2
    They're both correct. Some dialects use /tr/ and some use /tʃr/. Americans won't notice the difference (unless for some reason they're listening for it). Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 15:35
  • @PeterShor But if you listen to the "Australian" one, when she does it slowly, you get /t/ and then /r/. But as soon as she runs them together you get the apico affricate as usual! They aren't different! You can listen from around 6.25 in... :) Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 15:46

3 Answers 3


There appear to be two separate questions:

  1. Which one is correct?
  2. How can I distinguish between them?

Both pronunciations are correct, but they each represent a different accent. The American pronunciation is /tʃɹ/, as in the first video. The second video features an Australian speaker, thus the pure /tr/ sound.

Assuming you are not a native speaker of English, it seems silly to provide a phonetic analysis of the two pronunciations. My recommendation is to practice the words exactly as taught in the videos. I think they both do a good job, but you need to choose the specific accent you wish to acquire and practice with that video ONLY.

The American accent video does a very good job of teaching awareness of the feel of your lips and tongue so that you include the /ɹ/ sound after the /tʃ/ sound. Here is a bookmark of that portion of the video.

Good luck!

  • Just a note: not all Americans use /tʃɹ/ (although a lot of them do). But if you say /tɹ/, it won't make you sound like a foreigner to Americans. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 23:38
  • Sure, but I think it is still fair to label it as the American pronunciation in order to distinguish it from those accents of the various commonwealths.
    – Clumsy
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 23:42
  • 1
    There are American adults who don't produce a retroflex affricate (i.e, "Snow Chooper" from Star Wars), but they and their children often go through a stage where initial TR and CH are confused. Since they're indistinguishable for most American English speakers (no matter what they always say, or think they always say), lots of people stick there and never associate the pronunciation with the spelling, if they learn to read. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 0:15
  • @JohnLawler Does this same person pronounces tree as 'chee'? Do you speak of an identifiable regional accent or are you speaking of ESL speakers (e.g. mainland Mandarin Chinese speakers)? I've not encountered an American-born speaker who drops the /r/ from this affricate, whether retroflex or not. I'm not doubting you, I simply lack the personal experience.
    – Clumsy
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 0:33
  • @Clumsy I have never heard any native speaker lose the /r/ phoneme there, however it should happen to manifest.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 1:13

When I pronounce "TR", my lips are "out" and formed as if I'm about to kiss someone. But when I pronounce "CH" slowly, my lips are in a "smiling" position. This is why sometimes the photographer asks the people being photographed to say "cheese".

There are exceptions to the rule. One exception is the "choo choo" onomatopoeia for the train horn. I pronounce it with my lips "out", with the same sound as the word "true".

  • 1
    I think the mouth shape depends on the vowel. That's why it's different for chee and choo. But it's also different for tree and true.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 12:41
  • @Barmar Absolutely right. The lips will start rounding for the /u/. For some speakers,the lips will starts rounding (we get 'labialisation') for the /r/ as well, so we might get rounding during the initial consonant during "tree", but we nearly always get it for the first segment in "true" because of the /u/ vowel (unless that speaker doesn't normally round their/u/!) Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:29
  • The reason that we say "cheese" during photos is because the /i:/ vowel there is pronounced with spread lips. However if we said "chew" the /u:/ vowel will cause our lips to round during the /tr/ segment in anticipation of the following sound :-) Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:40
  • I've never understood this saying 'cheese' for photos - I don't look like I'm smiling when I say cheese.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:55
  • The lip movements are very similar but with tr woods the action is more with a outward thrust of the top lip whereas ch words have an upthrust of the bottom lip. Well, that's how it works for me anyway!
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:58

The difference is the position of the tongue:

Compared to /t/, where the tongue touches the ridge behind the teeth, in /ʃ/ the tongue is just off that ridge and the air almost whistles through it.

For /ɹ/, the tongue is further away and further back, possibly even curled back slightly.

The reason "trees" might sound like "cheese" is that going from the sound of the /t/ through to the /ɹ/ the tongue more or less moves though the same position it would while making /ʃ/. That's why it can sound like /tʃr/.

  • /r/ is unvoiced after unvoiced plosives in English, unless exaggerated, so there is no difference in voicing (a better term than vocalisation, which more commonly describes the process underlying L-vocalisation). Also please don’t use code text for IPA; that’s not what it’s for—and even worse, the code font used here (Menlo) has horrible spacing problems with diacritics, so your IPA often ends up looking like this: [t͡ʂɻʷiːz]. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 21:14
  • Ah, good point - thanks - I hadn't noticed the voicing didn't start until the vowel after the /tr/.
    – user52889
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 21:34

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