in American English

In this lesson, we will learn about all the sounds of the letter U. It is the twenty-first letter of the English alphabet. Still aiming at learning more? C'mon.

"The Letter U" in the English Alphabet

U is the twenty-first letter and the fifth vowel letter of the English alphabet.

Vowels are sounds that are pronounced without any restriction in the vocal tract. It means we can produce it with the unrestricted flow of air.

Uppercase Form U
Lowercase u
Name u (pronounced /ˈjuː/)
Common Sounds /ʌ/, /uː/, /ə/, /ʊ/, /ju:/

The Letter U: Sounds

Vowels in the English language can have many many sounds. Here we will look at some of its common ones.

Common Sounds

Sound 1: /ʌ/

The letter 'u' mainly sounds /ʌ/:

bus /bʌs/

under /ˈʌndər/

drum /drʌm/

Sound 2: /uː/

'u' also sounds /u:/ in some words:

feud /fjuːd/

druid /ˈdruːɪd/

June /dʒuːn/

Sound 3: /ə/

'u' can sound /ə/ if it comes before 's' in the last syllable of a word:

walrus /ˈwɔːlrəs/

circus /ˈsɜːrkəs/

virus /ˈvaɪrəs/

Sound 4: /ʊ/

'u' also sounds /ʊ/:

push /pʊʃ/

pull /pʊl/

bush /bʊʃ/

Sound 5: /ju/

'u' sometimes sounds /ju/:

use /juːz/

computer /kəmˈpjuːtər/

united /juˈnaɪtɪd/

Other Sounds

Sound 6: /w/

'u' sometimes sounds /w/ if it is placed after g' or 'q' and before a vowel:

penguin /ˈpeŋɡwɪn/

quack /kwæk/

harlequin /ˈhɑːrləkwɪn/

Sound 7: /ɪ/

'u' also sounds /ɪ/ in some cases:

busy /ˈbɪzi/

business /ˈbɪznəs/

Sound 8: /jʊ/

'u' sounds /jʊ/:

purify /ˈpjʊrɪfaɪ/

fury /ˈfjʊri/

security /sɪˈkjʊrəti/

Tip

The letter 'u' also has the /e/ sound in a few words:

bury /ˈberi/

The Letter U: Multigraphs

'U' can also appear in combination with other letters (mainly vowels and sometimes consonants). They can create distinct vowels:

ue

'ue' at the end or in the middle of words sounds /u:/

blue /bluː/

glue /ɡluː/

clue /kluː/

ui

'ui' together sounds /uː/:

fruit /fruːt/

juice /dʒuːs/

suit /suːt/

However, 'ui' sometimes sounds /ɪ/:

biscuit /ˈbɪskɪt/

building /ˈbɪldɪŋ/

circuit /ˈsɜːkɪt/

ou

'ou' in the middle of words has four sounds; the first one is / aʊ/:

house /haʊs/

cloud /klaʊd/

mountain /ˈmaʊntn/

'ou' also sounds /ʌ/:

touch /tʌtʃ/

tough /tʌf/

cousin /ˈkʌz.ən/

'ou' also sounds /uː/:

group /ɡruːp/

soup /suːp/

you /juː/

'ou' also sounds /əʊ/:

shoulder /ˈʃəʊl.dər/

boulder /ˈbəʊl.dər/

soul /səʊl/

'ou' at the end of words sounds /ə/:

enormous /ɪˈnɔːrməs/

famous /ˈfeɪ.məs/

outrageous /ˌaʊtˈreɪ.dʒəs/

'ou' also sounds /ʊ/:

contour /ˈkɑːn.tʊr/

tour /ˈtʊr/

tourist /ˈtʊr.ɪst/

Tip

In the word 'cough', the letters 'ou' sounds /ɑː/:

cough /kɑːf/

our

'our' mainly sounds /ɔːr/:

four /fɔːr/

court /kɔːt/

'our' also sounds /ʊr/:

contour /ˈkɑːntʊr/

tour /tʊr/

tourist /ˈtʊrɪst/

ough

'ough' sounds /aʊ/:

drought /draʊt/

bough /baʊ/

'ough' sounds /əʊ/ in some words:

although /ɔːlˈðəʊ/

doughnut /ˈdəʊnʌt/

'ough' also sounds /ɑː/:

thought /θɑːt/

brought /brɑːt/

'ough' also sounds /ə/:

thorough /ˈθʌrə/

borough /ˈbʌrə/

au

'au' sounds /ɑː/:

sauce /sɑːs/

August /ɑːˈɡʌst/

laundry /ˈlɑːn.dri/

'au' also sounds /æ/:

aunt /ænt/

laugh /læf/

Tip

'au' in French loanwords sounds /əʊ/:

aubergine /ˈəʊ.bə.ʒiːn/

mauve /məʊv/

aur

'aur' sounds /ɔːr/:

centaur /ˈsentɔːr/

tyrannosaurus /tɪˌrænəˈsɔːrəs/

augh

'augh' sounds /ɑː/:

caught /kɑːt/

daughter /ˈdɑː.t̬ɚ/

naughty /ˈnɑː.t̬i/

eau

'eau' mainly in French loanwords sounds /əʊ/:

gateau /ˈɡætəʊ/

chateau /ˈʃætəʊ/

plateau /ˈplætəʊ/

Orthography

One thing to note is that certain varieties of the English language (i.e. British English, Canadian English, etc.) use the letter U in words such as colour, labour, valour, etc.; however, in American English the letter is not used and said words mentioned are spelled as color and so on.

The Letter U: Uses

The letter ⟨u⟩ is used in
text messaging and internet and other written slang to denote 'you', by virtue of both being pronounced /juː/.

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