Decoding the letter U

From Teflpedia

jʊə

cure /kjʊər/

ɜː

nurse /nɜːrs/

juː

cute /kjuːt/

ʌ

strut /strʌt/

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.

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/
Traditional pronunciation, as in cure, curious or fury: IPA phonetic sequences /jʊə/BrE or /jʊ/AmE
Newer pronunciations: IPA sequences /jɔː/BrE (cure) or /jɜː/AmE (cure, curious)
Without /j/
Traditional pronunciation, as in sure, tourist: IPA phoneme /ʊə/BrE or /ʊ/AmE
Newer pronunciation IPA phoneme /ɔː/BrE (sure, tourist) or /ɜː/AmE (sure)

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]

See main articles IPA phoneme /uː/ and IPA phonetic sequence /juː/.

The letter U can represent the sounds /juː/ or /uː/ depending on the previous consonant.

Always /juː/[edit | edit source]

Initially and after /b, f, g, h, c, m, p/ and /v/ the letter U sounds /juː/

  • Initially /juː/: unit - unite - university
/bjuː/ /fjuː/ /gjuː/ /hjuː/ /kjuː/ /mjuː/ /pjuː/ /vjuː/
"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

Exception

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

Exceptions

Always /juː/: annual - manual - menu

Always /uː/[edit | edit source]

After /dʒ, l, r, ʃ/ and /tʃ/ U represents /uː/.

/dʒuː/ /luː/ /ruː/ /ʃuː/ /tʃuː/
"u" + magic e June conclude rude - rule chute - parachute
"u" + consonant + vowel conclusion - illuminate imprudent actuate
"u" in the last syllable flu truth

Exceptions:

/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]

  • mature

As /ʊə/ or /ɔː/[edit | edit source]

  • assure - ensure - insure - sure[1]

As /e/[edit | edit source]

  • bury

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.

Spanish[edit | edit source]

See Pronunciation exercises: /uː/ vs /ʊ/#Spanish

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]