Ar Digraph Words and Sounds

Ar digraph examples, word lists, free worksheets and games for phonics teaching.

Ar Digraph Sounds

The ‘ar’ digraph is one of the most common graphemes in written English and the sound most frequently associated with the digraph is found in a number of high-frequency words such as car, garden, dark, and park.

This phoneme is represented by the symbol /ar/ in popular phonics programmes such as Jolly Phonics and Letters and sounds.  British English speakers normally use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol ɑ: for this sound, but some dictionaries represent the sound with different symbols.

Some educators and linguists describe ɑ: as a murmur diphthong or an r-controlled/r-coloured vowel; however, these terms are rarely used in schools in the UK.

A number of other letter combinations can also represent the ɑ: sound.  For example, a, al and ear in the words ‘father’, ‘half’ and heart.

The Sounds American video below explains how to pronounce this phoneme in a variety of words:

When the ar digraph follows the letter w or the ‘qu’ letter combination, it often represents the /or/ (ɔ: IPA) sound.  This correspondence is far less common than the one for the main sound associated with this digraph, but it occurs in a few familiar words such as warm, wart and quarter. 

In words such as area, Mary and vary, the ar digraph represents the /air/ ( IPA) sound.  Again, this correspondence is far less common than the one for the main sound associated with this digraph.         

The ar digraph often represents another different sound when it appears at the end of words such as cellar, dollar, nectar and vinegar.  This might be described as an ‘uh’ or schwa sound (Ə) for British and Australian accents, but a slightly different sound and symbol (ɚ) is used in American accents.  Click on the following link to access our article on the schwa sound if you want more information about this.        

There are also a few words where the ar letter combination doesn’t act as a digraph because the a and r represent 2 separate sounds at the boundary between 2 syllables.  For example, in words such as arena, caravan and kangaroo.  

Additionally, when the letter combination ar is followed by the letter e, this forms a trigraph that represents the /air/ ( IPA) sound found in words such as bare, care, and hare.  The word ‘are’ is an exception.

Finally, trigraphs are also formed when the ar letter combination is preceded by the letters e or o, as in dear or boar.

Teaching the Ar Digraph

Since the digraph is common in children’s literature, it makes sense to teach it quite early in a phonics programme.

However, it’s best to wait until children can recognise individual letters and say the sounds they represent accurately and fluently. 

It’s also helpful if children are able to blend and segment simple words such as CVC words and other one-syllable words before digraphs are taught.

The ar digraph is taught in phase 3 of the Letters and Sounds phonics programme which is broadly followed in many schools in England.  This phase starts in the second half of the first term in reception when children are aged between 4 and 5 years old.

Introduce the digraph by showing children how to decode and blend some simple examples of words from the word list below and then get them to read some words for you.

Point out that there is more than one sound for the digraph and compare words with the different sounds to highlight this.

In addition to practising reading the words, they should also practise spelling them. 

If children have trouble doing this, show them how to make the words with alphabet cards.  Say the sounds as you put the cards down then shuffle the cards and ask them to make up the word again. 

When you are demonstrating spelling these words with alphabet cards, put the two digraph letters down at the same time as you say the sound just once.

See our articles on teaching digraphs and spelling with phonics for more guidance.

You can also use some online resources to provide variety.  For example, Reading Bear has several presentations that include ‘ar words’ in the purple section. 

The Little Learner’s video below is useful to show children how to sound out and blend some simple words containing this digraph…

And the video below should also appeal to young children as the popular Mr Thorne teaches Geraldine the giraffe about words with the ‘ar’ digraph:

Ar Digraph Word List

We’ve split the lists into different sound categories in alphabetical order to help you locate words you might want to use with your students. 

Initially, it can help to use words that students are familiar with, but as they get more proficient, it’s good to introduce some new words to expand their vocabulary and refine their decoding skills.

Click on the following following link or the image below to download a free printable pdf version of this word list.

Ar Digraph Word ListWords containing the /ar/ (ɑ:) sound as in park:

One-syllable words with regular spelling patterns and no other digraphs:

Ark, arm, art, bar, barb, bard, barf, bark, barn, car, carb, card, Carl, carp, cart, dark, darn, dart, far, farm, garb, hard, hark, harm, harp, jar, lard, lark, mar, mark, Mars, mart, nark, par, parcel, park, part, scar, scarf, snarl, spar, spark, star, stark, start, tar, tarn, tart, yard, yarn, zarf.

One-syllable words with other digraphs or some irregular spelling patterns:

Arch, are*, armed, barge, char, charm, chart, czar/tsar, farce, gnarl, harsh, larch, large, March, marsh, parched, shard, shark, sharp.

*This could be described as a trigraph.

Two or more syllable words – may contain other digraphs:

Afar, agar, ajar, alarm, apart, apartment, arbor/arbour (UK), Arctic, arcade, archer, ardor/ardour (UK), argon, argue, armor/armour (UK), army, arson, artist, barber, bargain, barley, barmy, calamari, cardboard, cardigan, cargo, carpet, carton, cartridge, cigar, embark, farmer, garbage, garden, garlic, garment, guitar, harpoon, harvest, karma, larva, marble, market, marshal, marsupial, parcel, pardon, parsley, parsnip, party, sardine, scarlet, radar, tardy, target, tartan, Tarzan.

Words containing the /or/ (ɔ:) sound as in wart:

Award, dwarf, quart, quarter, quartet, reward, swarm, towards, war, ward, warden, wardrobe, warm, warn, warp, wart, wharf.

Words containing the /air/ () sound as in vary:

Aquarium, area, Ares, aria, canary, caring, daring, garish, glaring, hilarious, librarian, malaria, Mary, parent, scarce, scary, sharing, staring, vary, vegetarian, wary.

Words containing the schwa sound (Ə or ɚ) as in dollar:

Altar, beggar, briar burglar, calendar, cellar, collar, cougar, dollar, friar, grammar, jaguar, liar, lunar, molar, nectar, nuclear, pillar, polar, solar, sugar, vicar, vinegar, vulgar.

Words where ar doesn’t act as a digraph:

Area, arena, arid, arise, aroma, array, arrow, baron, carat, caravan, carol, diary, kangaroo, para, parade, Paris, salary, summary, tarot.

Plus most words where the ar letter combination is followed by the letter e, as this forms a trigraph as in care or hare.  Trigraphs are also formed when the ar letter combination is preceded by the letters e or o, as in dear or boar.

Pseudo-words Containing the ar Digraph:

Arf, Argus, Arpen, Chark, Darb, Fard, Jarl, Karn, Pard, Sark, Wark

Since this digraph can represent different sounds in different words, you could allow any of the alternative pronunciations when children are reading some of these words. 

Pseudo-words are sometimes described as non-words or nonsense words and they’re used in some phonics programmes and in the UK Phonics Screening Check

These words are designed to assess whether children are capable of decoding words that are unfamiliar to them. 

Normally, a pseudo-word will be presented next to an image of a monster or an alien, and the child is told that the word represents the creature’s name.  The examples below are from the 2017 phonics screening check.

pseudo words

You could use some of the pseudo-words in our list as practice words for a screening check or as part of a less formal assessment of a child’s decoding ability. 

Some of the words in the list might have a real meaning in some regions, groups, or sub-cultures, but they will be unfamiliar to most children so can be used alongside genuine pseudo-words.

Ar Digraph Worksheets

We’ve created the following worksheets that you to download for free.  Click on the headings or the images below to access these resources.

Find the Ar Words

Children need to decide which pictures represent words that contain the ar digraph.  They can also try to spell the words.  We’ve also created a PowerPoint version of this resource if you want to display it to a class. 

Find the ar words


Fill in the Missing Ar Words

Each of the sentences on the worksheet has a word missing that contains the ‘ar’ digraph. Children need to fill in the missing word to complete each sentence. We’ve also created a PowerPoint version of this resource if you want to display it to a class. 

Fill in the missing ar wordsCircle the Vowel Digraph ar, or, aw

 Circle or write in the digraph that gives the correct spelling for each picture.

Circle the vowel digraph ar, aw, or
Circle the digraph that matches the correct spelling of the vowel in each word.

Ar Digraph Phonics Games

The spellzone website has some free games using words containing the ar digraph.  They also have a variety of other games that require you to sign up and pay a subscription, but they do offer a free trial.

Click on the following link for the spellzone games:

The SplashLearn website also has some activities for practising blending and spelling ar words.  You have to sign up to access all the activities but it’s free to try it.

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