Decoding the letter U

From Teflpedia


cure /kjʊər/


nurse /nɜːrs/


cute /kjuːt/


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]

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

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]

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


as /uː/: recuperate

Depending on the accent[edit]

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]

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


/juː/: volume

As /ʊ/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /ʊ/.

  • "u" + final consonant: put;
  • "u" + two consonants: bull - bullet - bush - cushion - full - pull - push

As /ʌ/[edit]

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

As /w/[edit]

See main article IPA phoneme /w/.

  • with "g": anguish - bilingual - distinguish - guacamole - Guatemala - iguana - language - linguistics - Nicaragua /ˌnɪkəˈrɑːgwə,AmE ˌnɪkəˈræɡjʊəBrE/ - 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]

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]

  • 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[edit]

As "ue"[edit]

  • As /uː/: blue - issue - tissue - sue - true
  • As /juː/: argue - continue - due - revenue - Tuesday - value

Silent "ue"[edit]

  • 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

As "ui"[edit]

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]

See also as schwa above.

As /ɜː/[edit]

See main article /ɜː/.

  • blur - burn - curb - curl - curling - curly - furniture - hurt - surgeon - Thursday - turn - urban - urgent

As /ʌ,BrE ɜːAmE/[edit]

  • currency - current - hurry

As /jʊə/[edit]

  • cure - pure - secure

As /ʊə/[edit]

  • mature

As /ʊə/ or /ɔː/[edit]

  • assure - ensure - insure - sure[1]

As /e/[edit]

  • bury


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[edit]

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.


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


See also[edit]

External links[edit]