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.
- 1 As /juː/ or /uː/
- 2 As /ʊ/
- 3 As /ʌ/
- 4 As /w/
- 5 As schwa
- 6 Silent U
- 7 Others
- 8 Combined with vowels
- 9 Combined with "r"
- 10 Homophones
- 11 Heteronyms
- 12 Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1
- 13 References
- 14 See also
As /juː/ or /uː/
The letter U can represent the sounds /juː/ or /uː/ depending on the previous consonant.
- 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
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
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
See main article IPA phoneme /ʊ/.
- "u" + final consonant: put;
- "u" + two consonants: bull - bullet - bush - cushion - full - pull - push
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
- "u" + two consonants: hungry - judge - number - public - trumpet - uncle - under
- "u" + single consonant: study
- The prefix "un": unable - unemployed - uninvited - unusual
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
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
- Antigua /ænˈtiːɡə/ - buoy - guarantee - guard - guardian - guess - guest - guide - Guinea /ˈgɪnɪ/ - Guinnes /ˈgɪnɪs/ - guilty - guitar - mosquito
See also "Silent ue" and "ui as /ɪ/" below.
- As /ɪ/: business - busy - lettuce - minute (n. 1/60 of an hour)
Combined with vowels
- As /uː/: blue - issue - tissue - sue - true
- As /juː/: argue - continue - due - revenue - Tuesday - value
- antique - cheque - colleague - conquer - 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
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"
See also as schwa above.
See main article /ɜː/.
- blur - burn - curb - curl - curling - curly - furniture - hurt - surgeon - Thursday - turn - urban - urgent
- currency - current - hurry
- cure - pure - secure
As /ʊə/ or /ɔː/
- assure - ensure - insure - sure
See main article Homophone.
- blue - blew; bury - berry; flu - flew; sun - son
See main article Heteronym.
- minute: n. 1/60 of an hour /ˈmɪnɪt/, adj. very small /maɪˈnjuːt/
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.