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U (letter)

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U, u is a letter of the Latin alphabet. It is the twenty-first letter of most variants, being placed after T and before V, as is the case for instance in the English alphabet. The original alphabet in ancient Rome did not distinguish between U and V: the former was the lowercase form of the latter, and they represented both the vowel [u] and the semivowel [w].

The English name of U is pronounced [ˈjuː], like the words you and ewe.

Use in English

Use in English
Alphabetical word list
Retroalphabetical list  
Common misspellings  

u represents three back vowel sounds, one of which (û) has a variant with an initial semivowel, sounding like the word yoû; it can also be a semi-consonant sounding like w, most often after q.

  • The accents show stress and pronunciation (see English spellings): A: sát, mâde, pàrk, cāst (cást/càst), åll, ãir; E: ére, êar, vèin, fërn; I: sít, mîne, skì, bïrd; O: sóng, môde, lòve, wörd, ŏr; OO: moôn, foòt; U: sún, mûse, fùll, pürr; W: neŵ, ẁant; Y: gým, mŷ, keỳ, mÿrrh.

The short sound: dúck, fún, úp, cúddle, lúst, múst, lúck, búbble, troúble, soúthern (but not sòuth), nút, cúp, fúss, búg, bús, stún, búlb, pútt golf (cf. pùt place), nún God (= nòne negative). The sound is a stressed schwa in American English, IPA [ʌ] in standard British English.

lúck and loòk are normally a minimal pair—though they are pronounced the same in demotic speech in Northern England: lùck = loòk.

A ú is written after an ò, though there is still only the one short sound, in some words: Doúglas, floúrish, noúrish, yoúng, troúble, doúble (cf. BrE roûble, AmE rûble).

There are two different long sounds: one with an invisible consonantal y before it (as always found in as in feŵ or ieŵ as in vieŵ); and a plain sound (as in toô, foôd, noôn). The sound is always yû- initially: ûse (verb, voiced s; noun, unvoiced s), ûsual, Ûrals, ûríne.

Pronounced like yoû: cûrious, mûcous, Canûte, pûre, cûre, ukulèlê, bûte, cûte, fûtile, mûte, pûtrid, queûe line (*kyoô = cûe hint), with secondary stress in vácûum (where it is doubled) and Uttóxeter (where it precedes a double consonant), and regarded as the more correct pronunciation in stûpid, nûclear, nûde.

Pronounced in British English: Lûke, lûnar, flûe chimney = flû influenza, blûe, glûe, rûde, rûle, rûmour, Rûfus, Rûpert, accrûe, scrûple. It is pronounced yoû in BrE, but can be in AmE, in tûne, tûbe, dûty.

Pronunciation depending on region and idiolect: lûred, lûrid, lûcid, Lithuânia, sûit, Surinám.

The sound with the invisible y can also be spelt : neûrotic, Eûrope, pneumônia, eûphony, psêud, psêudo- (and without the y sound in rheûmatism), or ûi as in nûisance, though in this case the 'oô' sound, often after a liquid consonant, is more common: slûice, brûise, recrûit, crûise, frûit, jûice.

There is never any y sound when the spelling is (except in the local pronunciation of Hoûston, Texas): soûp, groûp, throûgh, roûble (rûble in American), Loûvre, goûlash - though ou has other sounds: yoúng, troúble, doúble, fŏur, cŏurse, ŏught, nŏught, jöurney.

After j it is impossible to make a difference: Jûne, Jûpiter, jûniper, jûry, jûke-bóx, jûte, cf. choôse. There are no words beginning shû- (cf. shút) or chû- (cf. chúm) - except for the French chûte shaft = shoõt gun, which does not have the normal 'ch' sound.

Occasionally with the combination there is a tendency to palatalise fully and pronounce the s as sh, as for example in sûre certain, which BrE speakers can make sound like the name Shåw, and which never sounds like sewêr waste; and in íssue (*íshue - though there is a recent trend back to *íssyue) and tíssue. But most words do not palatalise: assûme has the y sound, as can sûit, while sûture and sûper have a plain s sound.

(The tendency noted above for BrE speakers to make sûre sound like Shåw used to be more widespread, as with, for example, secûrity pronounced *sekyŏrity: it can be heard in old British films.)

ù sounds like in foòt and occurs in a few common words: pùsh, bùsh, fùll, pùt, pùdding, coùld, woùld, shoùld (silent l’s in the last three).

In Welsh names such as Plaîd Cymru, u is pronounced êe (*Plîde Kúmry).

Puérto Rìco *Pwãirto Rêeco is often pronounced as it used to be spelt, Pŏrto Rìco.

Sounding like w

u is almost always the letter that follows q, where it is usually pronounced w: quêen, quénch, quâke, quíll, quést. And like w in ẁant, it has an effect on the following a, making it sound like 'ŏ' or 'ó' (or à in AmE):

sounding like 'wŏ': quårter, quårtz, squåll, quartét, quårt.

ùa sounding like 'wó' (= 'wà' in AmE): sqùalor, qùantity, qùadrangle, qùarrel.

In some words, mostly from Spanish, u can be pronounced w without a preceding q: Nicarágua (-gwə, or, more traditionally, gûə), marijuàna (*mariyəwànə, -yû-àna), iguàna (*igwànə, or -gû-), Pápua (*Pápwə or *Pápuwə), guàno, Guàm; suède and persuâde, which rhyme with wâde, assuâge, which rhymes with wâge, suàve and lánguage *láng-gwij, *lángwídge.

Silent and redundant

A redundant u sometimes occurs in the middle of ŏr as ŏur in: 'fŏur, cŏurse, sŏurce, gŏurd, and in the British spelling of some words that end in -or in American: còlour, hónour.

u also occurs in öur, as in jöurney, jöurnal, adjöurn, cöurteous, cöurtesy politeness (making a minimal pair with cürtsey bow), scöurge and Lúxemböurg.

Silent u also occurs before i and e, often after guttural sounds represented by g, k, c, q: before i in guîde, guílty, guíld, buíld, bíscuit, cïrcuit, before e in guéss, guést, Portuguêse and cónquer win (= cónker nut), and usually in the double-silent-vowel ending -ue: tòngue (*túng), vâgue, rôgue, burlésque, baròque, unìque, grotésque, and in the British spelling of words that end in -lógue, like cátalogue (AmE cátalog), but sounded in âgûe and Móntagûe.

āunt and guàrd also have redundant u, as does gâuge (*gâje), though this can be spelt gâge in American.

Sometimes an unwanted silent u creeps into a name involving a q: Ábdul Quàder Mólla (normally Qàder, Qàdir).

In endings

-us is an ending with the schwa sound, most often in names: Màrcus, Dêlius, Míngus, Tåurus, Sagittãrius, Vênus, Sírius, Cánopus, Aquãrius, Pándarus, Lûpus, Cêtus, Arctûrus, Jûlius, Crássus, Cássius, Vílnius, Epicûrus, Confûcius, and also in nouns: óctopus, ábacus, sánctus, nímbus, sýllabus, ómnibus, détritus, crôcus.

-ous is used in adjectives: glorious, fûrious, têdious, pulchritûdinous, màrvellous.

uu is very rare and can be pronounced as one syllable -yû-, as usually in vácûum, or as two syllables -yû(w)ù-, as in contínûùm.

Irregular u’s

Spelling Pronunciation
au pãir *ô pãir
Austria *Óstria
because *bicóz
bûreau *byûrô
bureaucracy *byurócracy
bury earth bérry fruit
business *bízniss
busy *bízzy
faux-pàs *fô-pà
gauche Ghôsh surname
laureate *lóriət
laurel *lórrəl
Laurence *Lórrənce (= Lawrence, which is more common)
Laurie name lórry vehicle
Maurice (BrE) given name Mórris surname
mauve *môav (move is pronounced *moôve)
pláteau *pláttô
Ruthven surname riven
tábleau *táblô

In lieuténant, in some British English, u is pronounced f (*lefténant), and in the British Navy it is silent (*lé-ténant), though in American and most BrE, it is a regular û.

For the many pronunciations of ough, see O.