Pronunciation exercises: /uː/ vs /ʊ/
Together with the page possible pronunciation difficulties, this page sets out some common words teachers can use to help their students become more aware of how they can improve their pronunciation of the vowel sounds /uː/ and /ʊ/.
A simple way of introducing the difficulty is with common words with /ʊ/ like good and foot; words with /uː/ are much more common and will probably pose no problem to students.
Since spelling is of little help, separating both sounds is a bigger challenge than the case of /ɪ/ vs /iː/.
Note that some native speakers don't make a distinction between /uː/ and /ʊ/. This happens mainly in Scotland, but also in Ulster, and Singapore.
A word can't end in stressed /ʊ/. In bold words that can't be confused.
- With "oo": boot - choose - cool - fool - loose - moon - pool - root - school - soon - stool - too - tool
- With "u" and magic e: absolute - include - June - rule
- With "u": brutal - conclusion - flu - truth
- With "ew": blew - brew - chew - crew - drew - screw - threw
- With "ou": group - soup - through - you - youth
- With "o": lose - move - tomb - who
- With "oo": book - cook - foot - good - hook - look - shook - stood - took - wood - wool
- With "u": bull - bullet - bush - cushion - full - pudding - pull - push - put - sugar
- With "ou": could - would - should
- With "o": bosom - wolf - woman
Normally only a few consonants follow /ʊ/.
- /d/: could - good - hood - pudding - should - stood - wood - would
- /g/: sugar
- /k/: book - brook - cook - crook - hook - rook - shook - took
- /l/: bull - bullet - full - pull - wolf - wolves - wool
- /m/: woman
- /ʃ/: bush - cushion - push
- /t/: chutzpah - foot - put - soot
- /tʃ/: butch - butcher
/uː/ or /ʊ/
The following words are mainly pronounced with /uː/, but some people pronounce them with /ʊ/. The proportion of people pronouncing /ʊ/ is decreasing in time.
- /f/: hoof - roof
- /m/: bedroom - blooming (swear word) - broom - groom - mushroom - room - roomy
- /t/: root (/rʊt/ is heard only in American English)
There are very few minimal pairs, which explains why the /ʊ/ sound is seldom taught.
- fool - full; Luke - look; pool - pull;
- cooed - could; shooed - should; stewed - stood; wooed - would;
- Boole - bull; kook - cook; suit - soot (black powder produced by burning); who'd - hood;
- pool - rule; too - flu - true - you - who - chew - through; youth - truth; food - rude;
- good - could; wool - pull; foot - put;
Both sounds in the same word
These words can be used to practise: schoolbook, footstool, bulletproof.
Some curious contrasts
Which of the following words do not contain /u:/? There is one:
- you - moon - who - through - book - true - grew - rude;
Which two of the following words do not contain /ʊ/:
- would - book - good - food - soup - wool - foot - cook?
Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.
Most Spanish speakers have difficulty distinguishing between /uː/ and /ʊ/. While /uː/ is very similar to the Spanish letter "u", it is actually much longer. /ʊ/ is much shorter and of a different quality.
Many teachers don't teach the difference explicitly in the belief that students will imitate the teacher. However some Spanish speakers are very difficult to convince that boot and book have a different vowel or that pull and pool are not homophones.
- English Speech Services, GOOSE backing, December 24, 2013.
- Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary. See for example continuous.
- Wikipedia, Foot–goose merger.