Or digraph examples, word lists, free worksheets and games for phonics teaching.
The ‘or’ 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 ‘for’, ‘or’, ‘morning’ and ‘horse’.
This phoneme is represented by the symbol /or/ in popular phonics programmes such as Jolly Phonics and Letters and sounds. British English speakers normally use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol ɔ: for this sound, but some dictionaries represent the sound with different symbols. For example, the symbol ɔr can be used to represent the sound in American English.
A number of other letter combinations can also represent the ɔ: sound. For example, aw, au, ore, al, augh, ough and our in the words claw, August, store, stalk, taught, bought and four.
The Sounds American video below explains how to pronounce this phoneme in a variety of words:
In a few words, such as attorney, word, work and world, the or digraph represents the /ur/ sound (ɜ: Br. or ɝ US), but this correspondence is much less common. It mostly occurs when or follows the letter w.
The digraph can represent another sound when it appears at the end of words such as doctor, mirror, sailor and tractor. 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.
The schwa sound is also pronounced at the beginning of a few words; for example, forbid and forget. Click on the following link to access our article on the schwa sound if you want more information about this.
There are also some words where the or letter combination doesn’t act as a true digraph because the o and r represent 2 separate sounds at the boundary between 2 syllables. This usually occurs when or is followed by a letter that represents a vowel sound. For example, in words such as anorak, coral and memory.
In some of these words (such as flora, memory and gory), the ɔ: sound is still pronounced but it’s followed by a distinct ‘r’ sound. This is quite a subtle distinction, and many students could read these words without being aware of it.
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.
The or 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.
You can also use some online resources to provide variety. For example, Reading Bear has several presentations that include ‘or 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 or digraph:
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 link or the image below to download a free printable pdf version of this word list.
Words containing the /or/ (ɔ:) sound as in for:
One-syllable words with regular spelling patterns and no other digraphs:
Born, cord, cork, corn, dork, dorm, for, ford, fork, form, fort, horn, lord, nor, norm, or, orb, org, pork, port, scorn, skort, snort, sort, sport, stork, storm, sworn, torn, tort, worn.
One-syllable words with other digraphs or some irregular spelling patterns:
Chord, force, forge, forth, gorge, gorse, horse, morph, Norse, north, porch, scorch, short, sword, thorn, torch.
Two or more syllable words – may contain other digraphs:
Abhor, abnormal, abort, absorb, accord, acorn, adorn, afford, airport, aorta, border, cavort, cohort, condor, conform, consort, cordon, corgi, corner, corny, cyborg, decor, deform, deport, discord, disorder, distort, divorce, endorse, enforce, enormous, escort, export, fiord/fjord, forgo, formal, format, former, fortune, forty, forum, hornet, import, inborn, inform, Jordan, korma, morbid, Mormon, morning, morsel, mortal, mortar, Nordic, normal, northern, orbit, orca, orchard, order, organ, ornate, orzo, porter, reform, report, resort, tornado, tortoise, transport, uniform.
Words containing the /ur/ sound (ɜ: Br. or ɝ US) as in work:
Attorney, word, work, world, worm, worse, worship, worst, wort, worth, worthy.
Words containing the schwa sound (Ə British and Australian) (ɚ USA) as in doctor:
Actor, arbor (arbour UK), ardor (ardour UK), armor (armour UK), author, castor, color (colour UK), comfort, cursor, doctor, donor, error, favor (favour UK), forbid, forget, gator, honor (honour UK), humor (humour UK), juror, labor (labour UK), major, manor, minor, motor, odor, prior, razor, rigor, rotor, rumor (rumour UK), sailor, savor (savour UK), sculptor, sector, sensor, sponsor, squalor, tailor, tenor, terror, tractor, tremor, tumor (tumour UK), tutor, valor (valour UK), vapor (vapour UK), vendor, victor, vigor (vigour UK), visor.
Words where or doesn’t act as a digraph
Anorak, borax, boron, coral, factory, flora, forest, gory, glory, ivory, Koran, mayor, moral, oral, orangutan, Orient, origin, oryx, story, theory, tory.
Note that the /or/ (ɔ:) sound is pronounced in some of these words (such as borax, flora and gory), but it’s followed by a distinct ‘r’ sound, so the ‘or’ letter combination is representing 2 sounds rather than one. This is quite a subtle distinction, and many students could read these words without being aware of it.
Pseudo-words Containing the or Digraph:
Bork, Corf, Forb, Gorm, Hork, Mort, Norp, Ort, Smorg, Sorb, Tor, Torc.
Since this digraph can represent different sounds in different words, you could allow alternative pronunciations when children are reading some of these words. However, the /or/ (ɔ:) sound is most consistent with the structure 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.
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.
We’ve created the following worksheets that you to download for free. Click on the headings or the images below to access these resources.
Children need to decide which pictures represent words that contain the or 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.
Each of the sentences on the worksheet has a word missing that contains the ‘or’ 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.
Circle or write in the digraph that gives the correct spelling for each picture.
The spellzone website has some free games using words containing the or 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 or words. You have to sign up to access all the activities but it’s free to try it.