L (letter)

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L, l is a letter of the Latin alphabet. It is the twelfth letter of most variants, being placed after K and before M, as is the case for instance in the English alphabet. Its English name is el, pronounced [ˈel].

L is also the Roman numeral representing the number 50.

Use in English

Use in English
Alphabetical word list
Retroalphabetical list  
Common misspellings  

l is a liquid sound: the tongue touches the top of the mouth behind the teeth: lâke, lít, lót, lúng, lòunge, ålways, Álice, alîve, alône, alàrm, lêek vegetable = lêak water, lāst.

  • 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.

l begins consonant clusters: élbow, álcohol, ôld, Álfred, Ólga, élk, Élspeth, ållspîce, élm, hélp, álpha, ålso, ålter, fílth, últra, alvêolar or alveôlar, ålways.

It is silent in the rhyming modal verbs coúld, shoùld (*cùd, shùd) and woùld (= woòd tree) and in the end-of-syllable combinations -àlm, -ālf: cālf, hālf, càlm, bàlm, quàlm, and in the apparently plural àlms: compare hålt, where the l is pronounced. It is also silent in fôlk, yôlk egg (= yôke ox), tålk, wålk (which rhyme with squåwk) and sálmon; cölonel army = kërnel nut, and for most speakers, Hôlmes Sherlock = hômes dwellings.

l is normally doubled at the end of words after short vowels of one letter: íll, fåll, féll, dóll, pôll election (= pôle wood), tôll, bùll, gúll, núll, fíll, Bíll, båll, ståll, fùll but not in níl, and the unstressed, suffix version of fùll has only one l: hôpeful, wònderful.

BrE inståll can also be instål in AmE, and, in reverse, BrE appål can also be appåll in AmE; both have appålling.

In sátellîte it is the l, not the first t, which is doubled, and in párallel it is the first l - not the r or the second l, as one might expect.

l is single after a two-letter vowel: cråwl, foôl, rêal, fòul horrible = fòwl bird, håul, sôul spirit (= sôle only, fish).

Hyphens are normally used to avoid more than double letters, e.g. shéll-less, but the Welsh placename Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogóch has four in a row.

Light and dark l sounds

There are actually two l sounds: two l allophones form the l phoneme. Initial l is called light l, while dark l is found in final position, or before another consonant. Light l is pronounced more in the front of the mouth, with the tip of the tongue (as l is always pronounced in French, Italian, Spanish and German); dark l is pronounced with the middle of the mouth and tongue (but not, except in some dialects, virtually as a w as in Portuguese) and lasts longer:

Light l (beginning a syllable): prelíminary, lîght, clínk, líp, allót, flíp, alône, slêek. Dark l (ending a syllable): ålways, stíll, élse, ålso, dóll, fåll, ålter, fåult, píll, cråwl. Compare the two l sounds of Glenêagles; and of bléss and fâbles (*fâblz).

Medial double l is lighter in BrE than in AmE: fílling, téller, bállot, tåller, fållen, instílled.

In some varieties, Welsh English, for example, only light l is used.

Dark, doubled and final, -ll influences the sound of a preceding a: wåll, håll, tåll, åll, fåll, appåll (AmE; BrE appål), gåll, båll, ståll, cåll and måll - but not, strangely, in Páll Máll and the Máll .

But only one l, plus a consonant, is required in the middle of a word to produce å: fålter, ålter, hålt, hålter, althôugh (ål-), Wålter (cf. wåter), målt, scåld, ålder and the l for most speakers is rendered silent before k: wålk, tålk, chålk, bålk (also spelt båulk).

There can be a similar lengthening effect on ô before final -ll: pôll, tôll, rôll - but not in dóll, lóll or knóll. And also in gôld, tôld, hôld. For some speakers -ôl- has an ô sound that is more like ó plus ù than the normal schwa plus ù: such speakers will tend to distinguish Hôlmes from hômes.

Dark l can follow another single consonant to form a cluster without altering the long sound of the preceding vowel: âble, tâble, îdle, bûgle, nôble (cf. the double consonants in stráddle, ẁaddle, míddle, kéttle, píffle).

A diphthong ending with the sound í adds a schwa before final l, so that ŏil rhymes with lŏyal, and râil with betrâyal.

Final -le versus final -al:

Adjectives: mûsical, clássical, nåutical, cómical, cónical, particípial, príncipal (head = prínciple first, reason).

Nouns: prínciple (= príncipal), partíciple, pàrticle, fóllicle, múddle, púddle, cúddle, ẁaddle, dóddle, and mólecule.

Welsh double l sound

In Welsh names such as Llangóllen the ll has a special, voiceless pronunciation, IPA [ɬ], usually approximated in non-Welsh English as Cl- or Thl-.


A common ending is -ôl, spelt thus in contrôl, but not in monosyllables, where there are several variants: bôwl, côal fire = Côle person, dôle (also Dôle person; cf. dóll), fôal, gôal, hôle, cajôle, Kôhl person, môle (cf. móll), knôll *nôle (cf. Knôwles person), ôle (informal variant of ôld), pôle wood = Pôle person = pôll vote (cf. Póll Polly), rôll round = rôle play, sôul spirit = sôle only, fish = tôll bell, vôle.

Anomalous pronunciation

In all standard pronunciations, whether rhotic (sounding r before a consonant) or not, cölonel army = kërnel nut. Thus in most of the USA, the first l in cölonel is pronounced as r.

Scientific uses

  • L: electromagnetic inductance