English Language Blog

Vowel sounds: Looking at the letter u Posted by on Oct 12, 2012 in English Language

To continue our look at vowel sounds, today we will investigate the letter ‘u.’  I wanted to learn more about this letter to share with you and so I turned to Wikipedia for some help and found some very interesting information about how the vowel ‘u’ and consent ‘v’ were once connected. Apparently during late Middle Ages (the time from the 5th-15th centuries) two forms of the letter ‘u’ existed.  The pointed form ‘v’ was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form ‘u’ was used in the middle or end of words, regardless of the sound the letter ‘u’ or ‘v’ made.  So, the words “have” and “upon” would be written haue and vpon.  At this time the placement of the letter in the word was more important than the sound of the letter in terms of how the letter looked.  The first distinction between the letters ‘u’ and ‘v’ was recorded in an alphabet in 1386, where ‘v’ preceded ‘u’ in the alphabet, as it does in the English alphabet today. By the mid-16th century, the letter ‘v’ was consistently used to represent the consent sound it now has and the letter ‘u’ came to represent the vowel sounds it now has.  Isn’t it amazing how much history there is in one letter – now on to how to pronounce this letter.

u (short vowel sound)

This sound is made with the jaw in a neutral not overly closed or open position. The lips go from slightly rounded to very rounded and puckered (like you are going to kiss someone).  In making this sound the tongue starts out neutral or flat near the front of the mouth and moves up and tenses near the back of the mouth.  Example words:

u (long vowel sound)

This sound is made with the jaw slightly open.  When making this sound the tongue is tense and moves back in the mouth as you produce sound.  The lips are rounded and apart, but then move closer together.

Example words:

Here is one last vowel sound grouping exercise for you to practice what you just learned about the short and long sounds of the vowel ‘u’.  Say the six words below out loud and group them by whether they have either a short or long ‘u’ sound.  Hint: There are two words with short ‘u’ sounds, two words with long ‘u’ sounds, and one word with both.  Once you have finished deciding which group each word belongs to you can check your answers by clicking on this link: http://www.abcfastphonics.com/vowel-letters/vowel-u.html.


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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.