W (letter)

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W, w is a letter of the Latin alphabet. It is the twenty-third letter of most variants, being placed after V and before X, as is the case for instance in the English alphabet. Its English name is pronounced [ˈdʌbl̩ ˈjuː], double-U, even though in most writing it more closely resembles a double V.

Use in English

Use in English
Alphabetical word list
Retroalphabetical list  
Common misspellings  

w is a blowing sound. The lips do not touch and the teeth are not involved. Some foreign learners find it hard to distinguish from v, in which the upper teeth touch the lower lip: compare wét and vét. w is u as a consonant: the position of the lips is the same: wíll, whích, whére, whŷ, wíth, wín, vieŵing, deŵy, flôwing, sewing machine = sôwing seed, wént, awây, wêek, wók, want, awãre, ẁash, Wílliam, ẁhat *(wót).

  • 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.

i before e except after c—and usually except after w, too: wèigh, wèight, wêir, wêird, but wìêld (and sêize, Shêila, Nêil and Kêith).

wh can only begin a morpheme, and so most examples occur at the beginning of a word, excepting awhîle. American speakers, and some British (especially Scottish) speakers, pronounce wh as if it were hw - but most BrE speakers do not distinguish it from simple w: whŷ, whére, whén, whích, what, whísper, whím, whíp, whíppet, whéther if (= wéather sky).

In who (*hû), whôle complete (= hôle empty) and whoôping-cough (cf. hoôp), it is the w that is redundant, and wh is pronounced as a mere h.

Like qu, w has an effect on a following a, making it sound like ó in hót (in British English: in American, there is the usual à sound): ẁas, ẁhat, ẁant, ẁash, ẁander or like ŏ in ŏught, especially before r, l and ll: wårm, wåll, wåltz, Wårner - and in wåter; however, in the onomatopoeic words whám, wháck, wág, and in wágon, the á is as usual.

w also affects a following o, making it sound like ú (cúp) in BrE: wòrry, wònder, wòn, and ü (bürn) in AmE wörry, wönder, wön. It makes a following or sound like ër: wörd, wörk, wörse, wörst, wörld, wörth. Thus - is rare and informal: wónky.

w is redundant initially before r: wrîte, wríng clothes (= ríng noise, round), wróng, wríst, wréstle (*réssəl) and in awrŷ (*ərŷ: a as schwa, not the åw sound).

Final w is silent, so låw is *lå and lôw = , unless the next word begins with a vowel: compare flôw, silent w, with flôw ón where the w is heard, as it is in flôwing. Similarly in knôwing (but in knówledge, although the spelling is retained, the ôw has become ó, making it sound like *nóllidge).

w is also silent in ānswer (*ānser), swŏrd (*sŏrd), Nórwich (*Nórridge), Brómwich (*Brómmidge), Soúthwark (*Súdhək), Dâewoo (*Dâyû) and in tŵo 2 (= toô also, much) where, though historically inaccurate (cf. twîce, twâin) one can put an accent on it and treat it as part of the vowel.

is pronounced like the whole word eŵe sheep (= yoû me) in some cases and like in others (Ándreŵ *Androô, not -ryû; Leŵis, *Loôwis, not Lyoô-). Making a y sound in other words (e.g. neŵ) is a regional, class or even personal matter. The w retains its consonant sound before a vowel: vieŵer, neŵest, feŵer, jeŵel, eŵer, but ew can of course be two separate sounds in separate syllables, with the w as consonant: rewård, bewãre.

In words borrowed from Welsh, w can be pronounced as a vowel, : cŵm (also spelt coômbe), crŵth (also anglicized as cròwd) and various proper names, e.g. the surname Clŵýd rhymes with flûíd.

In some families, Còwper is pronounced the same as Coôper, = Coŵper.

åw occurs in jåw, jáckdåw, påw, dråw. Because this is the same sound as the ŏ in ŏr, fŏr, cŏre and bŏring, such words as påwing and dråwing are often heard with an r pronounced in place of the w, in the first case *drŏring, and in the other sounding like pŏring looking and pŏuring out: this non-spelling pronunciation is widely regarded as uneducated.

Invisible w occurs after u in Jóshûa (-ûwə), and before -ing in words like gôing (which rhymes with flôwing), doing and cûeing (which rhyme with vieŵing and heŵing).

In English, Polish w sounds like f at the end of a syllable: Szymanówski (*Shimmanóffsky), Zbígniew (-nyéff). But it retains its w sound before a vowel (though pronounced like v in the original Polish): Wózniak, Kowálski. And, from Dutch, silent and final in Concërtgebòuw.

As w is silent before a consonant, it cannot begin clusters, and it can only be doubled accidentally, and very unusually, as in the surname Låwwell.

Scientific uses

  • W: tungsten (Wolfram)
  • W: watt, unit of power