Decoding the letter U
The letter U (lower case u, pronounced /juː/), as most vowel letters in English, had initially four main pronunciations; however in Received Pronunciation they are currently eight and in General American there are seven.
- So-called “short u”, IPA phoneme /ʌ/, as in strut, run, running or hurryBrE
- So-called “long u”, with two possibilities
- IPA phonetic sequence /juː/, as in cute, student, assume, or assuming
- IPA phoneme /uː/, as in rule, ruling, conclusion or flu
- Long "ur" monophthong (short vowel spelling), IPA phoneme /ɜː/, as in nurse, fur, furry or hurryAmE
- Long vowel "ur" spelling, with two possibilities and several sounds
- With /j/
- Without /j/
U also can be pronounced /ʊ/ as in full and /w/ as in quit, plus other, less common pronunciations, sometimes in combination with other letters, and, of course, it can be used as schwa. There are some helpful rules (to be taken with the habitual pinch of salt).
It is also very much one of those cases in which teachers, whichever their preferences might be, need to point out the differences between RP (/juː/) and American (/uː/) pronunciations regarding, particularly with words like due or nude. This is also explained at "Yod dropping"" in the IPA phonetic sequence /juː/ article.
As /juː/ or /uː/[edit | edit source]
The letter U can represent the sounds /juː/ or /uː/ depending on the previous consonant.
Always /juː/[edit | edit source]
- Initially /juː/: unit - unite - university
|"u" + magic e||distribute||refuse||legume||huge||cube - excuse||amuse - mute||compute||ovule (of plants)|
|"u" + consonant + vowel||distribution||confusion - future||argument||human - humor||accumulate - Cuba - occupy||community - music - stimulate||computer|
- as /uː/: recuperate
Depending on the accent[edit | edit source]
After /d, n, s, t, θ and s between two vowels (zuː)/ U sounds /juː/ in Received Pronunciation and /uː/ in General American
|/djuː/ or /duː/||/njuː/ or /nuː/||/sjuː/ or /suː/||/tjuː/ or /tuː/||/θjuː/ or /θuː/||/zjuː/ or /zuː/|
|"u" + magic e||dude - introduce - reduce||nude - nuke||assume - consume||attitude - substitute - tube - tune||presume - resume|
|"u" + consonant + vowel||duty||nutrition||consumer||opportunity - student - tuna||enthusiasm|
- Always /juː/: annual - manual - menu
Always /uː/[edit | edit source]
After /dʒ, l, r, ʃ/ and /tʃ/ U represents /uː/.
|"u" + magic e||June||conclude||rude - rule||chute - parachute|
|"u" + consonant + vowel||conclusion - illuminate||imprudent||actuate|
|"u" in the last syllable||flu||truth|
- /juː/: volume
As /ʊ/[edit | edit source]
See main article IPA phoneme /ʊ/.
- "u" + final consonant: put;
- "u" + two consonants: bull - bullet - bush - cushion - full - pull - push
As /ʌ/[edit | edit source]
See main article IPA phoneme /ʌ/.
- "u" + final consonants: bun - but - cup - discuss - fun - just - lunch - much - run - sun - up
- "u" + double consonant: butter - funny - runny - suffer - summer - sunny - tummy - puppy
- "u" + two consonants: hungry - judge - number - public - trumpet - uncle - under
- "u" + single consonant: study
- The prefix "un": unable - unemployed - uninvited - unusual
As /w/[edit | edit source]
See main article IPA phoneme /w/.
- with "g": anguish - bilingual - distinguish - guacamole - Guatemala - iguana - language - linguistics - Nicaragua /nɪkəˈrɑːgwə,AmE nɪkəˈræɡjʊəBrE/ - Paraguay - penguin - Uruguay
- with "q": acquire - consequence - equal - equipment - quality - quarter - question - quick - quickly - quiet - quite - quote - request - require - requirement
- with "s": dissuade - persuade - suite
As schwa[edit | edit source]
See main article Schwa.
- as "-ure": figure /ˈfɪɡər/,BrE /ˈfɪɡjər/AmE
- as "-ture": adventure - creature - feature - future - nature - picture - structure - temperature
- others: minuscule - molluscBrE/molluskAmE - opossum - Saturday - supply - support - virus
Silent U[edit | edit source]
- Antigua /ænˈtiːɡə/ - buoy - guarantee - guard - guardian - guess - guest - guide - Guinea /ˈgɪnɪ/ - Guinness /ˈgɪnɪs/ - guilty - guitar - mosquito
See also "Silent ue" and "ui as /ɪ/" below.
Others[edit | edit source]
- As /ɪ/: business - busy - lettuce - minute (n. 1/60 of an hour)
Combined with vowels[edit | edit source]
As "ue"[edit | edit source]
- As /uː/: blue - issue - tissue - sue - true
- As /juː/: argue - continue - due - revenue - Tuesday - value
Silent "ue"[edit | edit source]
- antique - cheque - colleague - intrigue - league - synagogue - technique - tongue - unique
Ending in "logue":
- analogue - catalogue - dialogue - epilogue - monologue - prologue
- In American English the following spellings are also used:
- analog - catalog - dialog - epilog - monolog - prolog
With magic e:
- fugue - plague - vogue
As "ui"[edit | edit source]
See main article Decoding exercises: "ui".
- as /uː/: bruise - cruise - fruit - juice - lawsuit - suit - suitable - suitcase;
- as /ɪ/: biscuit - build - built - circuit;
Combined with "r"[edit | edit source]
See also as schwa above.
As /ɜː/[edit | edit source]
See main article /ɜː/.
- blur - burn - curb - curl - curling - curly - furniture - hurt - surgeon - Thursday - turn - urban - urgent
As /ʌ,BrE ɜːAmE/[edit | edit source]
- currency - current - hurry
As /jʊə/[edit | edit source]
- cure - pure - secure
As /ʊə/[edit | edit source]
As /ʊə/ or /ɔː/[edit | edit source]
- assure - ensure - insure - sure
As /e/[edit | edit source]
Homophones[edit | edit source]
See main article Homophone.
- blue - blew; bury - berry; flu - flew; sun - son
Heteronyms[edit | edit source]
See main article Heteronym.
- minute: n. 1/60 of an hour /ˈmɪnɪt/, adj. very small /maɪˈnjuːt/
Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit | edit source]
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.