Consonants /l/ versus /r/, 657 pairs     [lockrock.html]

The spelling of /l/ is <l> or <ll>. The /r/ sound is spelled <r> or <rr>. Quite often a final <r> is silent so that a pair occurs only when the words are inflected or a derivation is made. For instance war and wall are not a minimal pair, but warring and walling are. Similarly odourous and odourless are minmal, although there is no word pairing with odour. Several pairs arise from contrasting an -ally adverb with a noun or adjective ending in -ary or -ery, such as beneficially/beneficiary, bestially/bestiary, finally/finery or literally/literary.

The /l/ versus /r/ contrast involves two frictionless continuants which are rarely contrasted phonemically in non-European languages although both often occur in one language in complementary distribution. As a result they are notoriously difficult for many learners and are often confused. They are also a major cause of unintended mirth, since English speakers do not recognise a problem, and many of the pairs call up ludicrous images: ‘rice’ replaced by ‘lice’ or ‘pleasant flight’ by ‘present fright’. The distinction is famously an important element in the plot of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penszance, where the hero Frederick has joined a band of pirates because his nursemaid misheard her employer's instruction to apprentice him to a pilot.

A sad mistake it was to make and doom him to a vile lot.
I bound him to a pirate—you—instead of to a pilot.
More recently two well-known Scots have formed a minimal pair, the actor [Sean] Connery and the comedian [Billy] Connolly. As one of them is strongly in favour of Scottish independence while the other wants Scotland to remain part of the UK, one has to listen carefully to anyone who says "I agree with Connery" in case they actually said "I agree with Connolly".

The distinction is exploited in the phrase "Roger the lodger" which often occurs in jokes and sexual limericks. Other taboo word pairs include clap/crap.

Interesting pairs include:

airless heiress
clamour crammer
collect correct
enamelling enamouring
lavish ravish
lentil rental
lino rhino
mandarin mandolin
Mauritius malicious

The figure for the mean density is 2.8%. The set makes 344 semantic contrasts, a loading of 52%.

airless heiress
alight aright
alive arrive
allay array
  allayed arrayed
  allaying arraying
  allays arrays
allies arise
allows arouse
ally awry
aloe arrow
  aloes arrows
applies apprise
balling boring
bally Barry
beggarly beggary
belated berated
believe bereave
  believed bereaved 
  believes bereaves
  believing bereaving
belly berry
  bellies berries
belly bury
  bellied buried
  bellies buries
  bellying burying
beneficially beneficiary
bestially bestiary
blacked bract
blacken bracken
blackish brackish
blade braid
  blades braids
blah bra
blanch branch
  blanched branched
  blanches branches
  blanching branching
bland brand
blaze braise
  blazed braised
  blazes braises
  blazing braising
blazon brazen
  blazoned brazened
  blazoning brazening
  blazons brazens
bled bread
bled bred
blew brew
blight bright
blighter brighter
blink brink
  blinks brinks
bloke broke
bloom broom
  blooms brooms
blouse brows	 
blouse browse
  blouses browses
blue brew
  blued brewed
  blues brews
  bluing brewing
blued brood  
bluer brewer
blunt brunt
blush brush
  blushed brushed
  blushes brushes
  blushing brushing
blent Brent
blessed breast
calling coring
cartload cartroad
  cartloads cartroads
celebration cerebration
clack crack
  clacked cracked
  clacking cracking
  clacks cracks
clam cram
  clammed crammed
  clamming cramming
  clams crams
clamour crammer
  clamours crammers
clamp cramp
  clamped cramped
  clamping cramping
  clamps cramps
clank crank
  clanked cranked
  clanking cranking
  clanks cranks
clap crap
  clapped crapped
  clapping crapping
  claps craps
clash crash
  clashed crashed
  clashes crashes
  clashing crashing
clause crores
clave crave
claw crore
  claws crores
clue crew
  clued crewed
  cluing crewing
  clues crews
climb crime
  climbed crimed
  climbing criming
  climbs crimes
clipped crypt
clique creak
  cliques creaks
cloak croak
  cloaked croaked
  cloaking croaking
  cloaks croaks
clock crock
  clocked crocked
  clocking crocking
  clocks crocks
clone crone
  clones crones
close crows
cloud crowd
  clouded crowded
  clouding crowding
  clouds crowds
clown crown
  clowned crowned
  clowning crowning
  clowns crowns
clucks crux
clutch crutch
  clutches crutches
collect correct
  collected corrected
  collecting correcting
  collects corrects
collection correction
  collections corrections
collective corrective
collie corrie
  collies corries
complies comprise
Dawley dory
dearly dearie
Eileen Irene
elect erect
  elected erected
  electing erecting
  elects erects
election erection
  elections erections
Elland errand
enamelling enamouring
fairly fairy
fallow farrow
finally finery
flagrant fragrant
flail frail
flame frame
  flamed framed
  flames frames
  flaming framing
flank frank  
  flanked franked
  flanking franking
flawed fraud
flay fray
  flayed frayed
  flaying fraying
  flays frays
flays phrase  
flea free
  fleas frees
fleas frieze  
flee free
  flees frees
  fleeing freeing
fleas frieze  
flees frieze
fled Fred
flesh fresh
fleshly freshly
flier friar
  fliers friars
flight fright
  flighted frighted
  flighting frighting
  flights frights
flock frock
  flocks frocks
floe fro
floes froze
flog frog
  flogs frogs
floored fraud
flow fro
flute fruit
  fluted fruited
  flutes fruits
  fluting fruiting
fly fry
  flies fries
  flying frying
flan Fran
flank frank
   flanks franks
flume Frome
functionally functionary
gallantly gallantry
galley gharry
  galleys gharries
galling goring
gently gentry
glade grade
  glades grades
glamour grammar
gland grand
glass grass
  glassed grassed
  glasses grasses
  glassing grassing
glassy grassy
  glassier grassier
  glassiest grassiest
glaze grays
glaze graze
   glazed grazed
   glazes grazes
   glazing grazing
glazier grazier
  glaziers graziers
glean green
  gleaner greener
  gleans greens
glebe grebe
  glebes grebes
glimmer grimmer
gloat groat
  gloats groats
gloom groom
  glooms grooms
glow grow
  glowing growing
  glows grows
glue grew
Halle Harry
hallow harrow
  hallowed harrowed
  hallowing harrowing
  hallows harrows
haulier hoarier
Helen heron
hireling hiring
holler horror
  hollers horrors
Horley hoary
implicate imprecate
  implicated imprecated
  implicates imprecates
  implicating imprecating
implication imprecation
  implications imprecations
jelly jerry
  jellies jerries
keeling keyring
la rah
labelling labouring
lace race
  laced raced
  laces races
  lacing racing
lacy racy
  lacier racier
  laciest raciest
lack rack
  lacked racked
  lacking racking
  lacks racks
lade raid
  lading raiding
lag rag
  lagged ragged
  lagging ragging
  lags rags
lair rare
lake rake
  lakes rakes
lamb ram
  lambed rammed
  lambing ramming
  lambs rams
lamp ramp
  lamps ramps
land rand
  lands rands
lane rain
  lanes rains	 
  laned rained
  laning raining
lane reign
  lanes reigns
  laned reigned
  laning reigning  
lank rank
lap rap
  lapped rapped
  lapping rapping
  laps raps
laser raiser
  lasers raisers
lat rat
latch ratch
  latches ratches
late rate
lather rather
latter ratter
laud roared
laughed raft
laughter rafter
lave rave
  laved raved
  laves raves
  laving raving
lavish ravish
  lavished ravished
  lavishes ravishes
  lavishing ravishing
law raw
law roar
  laws roars
lay ray 
  laying raying
  lays rays
lays raise
laze raise
  lazed raised
  lazes raises
  lazing raising
leach reach
  leached reached
  leaches reaches
  leaching reaching
lead read
  leading reading
leader reader
  leaders readers
  leadership readership
leading Reading
leaden redden
leaf reef
  leafing reefing
  leafs reefs
leap reap 
  leaping reaping
  leaps reaps
leer rear
  leered reared
  leering rearing
  leers rears
left reft
legally regally
legion region
  legions regions
lea re
Leigh re
Len Rennes
lend rend
  lending rending
  lends rends
  lent rent
lender render
  lenders renders
lens wrens
lentil rental
  lentils rentals
Les res
lest rest
let ret
  letting retting
level revel
  levelling revelling
liar wrier
Lib rib
lice rice
lick rick
  licks ricks
lie rye
lie wry
lied ride
lied Ryde
lies rise
lieu rue
life rife
lift rift
  lifts rifts
light right
  lighted righted
  lighting righting
  lights rights
light write
  lighting writing
  lights writes
lighter writer
  lighters writers
lightest rightist
light-handed right-handed
lightly rightly
like Reich
  likes Reichs
limb rim
  limbed rimmed
  limbs rims
limn rim
  limned rimmed
  limns rims
  limning rimming
lime rhyme
  limed rhymed
  limes rhymes
  liming rhyming
line Rhine
lined rind
ling ring
  lings rings
link rink
  links rinks
lino rhino
lisle rile
list wrist
  lists wrists
literally literary
lithe writhe
liver river
  livers rivers
lo roe
lo row
load road
  loads roads
loam roam 
loan roan
  loans roans
loaves roves
lob rob
  lobbed robbed
  lobbing robbing
  lobs robs
lobe robe
  lobed robed
  lobes robes
loch rock
  lochs rocks
lock rock
  locks rocks
  locked rocked
  locking rocking
locker rocker
  lockers rockers
locket rocket
  lockets rockets
lode road
  lodes roads
lodger Roger
lolly lorry
  lollies lorries
long wrong
  longed wronged
  longing wronging
  longs wrongs
loo rue
look rook
  looked rooked
  looking rooking
  looks rooks
loom rheum
loon rune
  loons runes
loosed roost
loot root
  looted rooted
  looting rooting
  loots roots
lope rope
  loped roped
  lopes ropes
  loping roping
lor raw
lor roar		
lore raw
lore roar
lord roared	  
lose ruse
lot rot
  lots rots
loud rowed
lout rout
  louts routs
low roe
  lows roes
low row
  lows rows  
  lowed rowed
  lowing rowing	  
lowed road
lowed rode  
lows rose  
lower rower
  lowers rowers
loyal royal
  loyally royally
loyalist royalist
  loyalists royalists
loyalty royalty
  loyalties royalties
lubber rubber
  lubbers rubbers
lubberly rubbery
luck ruck
luff rough
  luffed roughed
  luffing roughing
  luffs roughs
luff ruff
  luffs ruffs  
lug rug
  lugs rugs
luge rouge
  luges rouges
lugger rugger
lumber rumba
  lumbers rumbas
lumme rummy
lump rump
  lumps rumps
lung rung
  lungs rungs
lush rush
  lushes rushes
lust rust
  lusted rusted
  lusting rusting
  lusts rusts
lusty rusty
  lustier rustier
  lustiest rustiest
luxe rucks
Lytham rhythm
mallow marrow
  mallows marrows
mandarin mandolin
  mandarins mandolins
masterly mastery
Mauritius malicious
miller mirror
  millers mirrors
mislead misread
  misleading misreading
  misleads misreads
  misled misread
molasses morasses
odorous odourless
ovary overly
overcloud overcrowd
  overclouded overcrowded
  overclouding overcrowding
  overclouds overcrowds
overload overrode
overplays overpraise
palate parrot
  palates parrots
pallid parried
palling poring
palling pouring
pally parry
palace Paris
pearling purring
penitentially penitentiary
pilot pirate
  piloted pirated
  piloting pirating
  pilots pirates
plank prank
  planks pranks
plate prate
  plated prated
  plates prates
play pray
  played prayed
  playing praying
  plays prays
play prey
  played preyed
  playing preying
  plays preys
plays praise
pleach preach
  pleached preached
  pleaches preaches
  pleaching preaching
pleasance presence
pleasant present
pleasantly pleasantry
plied pride
pliers priors
plod prod
  plodded prodded
  plodding prodding
  plods prods
plop prop
  plopped propped
  plopping propping
  plops props
plough prow
  ploughs prows
ploughed proud
ply pry
  plies pries
  plying prying
  plied pried
queerly query
Rosalie rosary
savagely savagery
secondly secondary
splay spray
  splayed sprayed
  splaying spraying
  splays sprays
splint sprint
  splints sprints
splinter sprinter
  splinters sprinters
split sprit
  splits sprits
stalling storing
starling starring
Stirling stirring
supplies surprise
sully Surrey
tally tarry
  tallied tarried
  tallies tarries
  tallying tarrying
teller terror
  tellers terrors
telly Terry
towelling towering
usually usury
walling warring
whirling whirring

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, April 2014.