If “w” is double u, why is it made of two v’s?


The 23rd letter of the English alphabet is a bit of a wonder. The humble “w” is the only letter of the alphabet with a three-syllable name. It is also the only letter with a name that does not indicate its phonetic use. The complications of “w” are doublefold because of its name, ‘double u’ and its shape, ‘double v’. What’s going on here?

In English, /w/ typically reads as a voiced labio-velar approximate. In other words, “wa.” However, in other Germanic languages, /w/ reads like “v”. Think of the famous phrase by Swedish acting legend Greta Garbo, “I vant to be let alone.”

(If you enjoy this history, you’ll love to meet two extinct letters of the alphabet, right here.)

In Classical Latin, the /w/ sound was represented by the letter “v”. Through the years, the language shifted, the sound associated with the Latin “v” became a voiced bilabial fricative — like the “v” in “vampire.” Meanwhile, another sound was forming out of v, the /u/. At first glance “u” shouldn’t be part of our story, however its representation and relation to the sound /v/ in spelling give it an indirect and important role in shaping the letter “w”.

To distinguish the sound of “w” from either “v” or the up and coming “u”, a double form of “u” was taken to represent the original Classical Latin “v”, written as ‘uu.’ Compound letters used to represent a phoneme are called a digraph. The earliest writing with the digraph “uu” dates to 8th Century writers of Old High German. This is a standard that came with the Normans into England after the invasion of 1066.

Fast forward to 1300. With the French-speaking Normans ruling England for a couple hundred years,the English language rapidly evolves from Old English or Anglo-Saxon into Middle English. Runes are replaced in writing by Latin letters. The orthographic rules set down for Brythographic (Celtic) languages, however, differ on the island from developments taking place in continental Europe. There the pronunciation of “w” shifts to /v/ in other Germanic languages. Even while letter forms become standardized across Europe thanks to the printing press, the pronunciation of the English “w” remains. Weird way to work with words, we wager.


  1. englishman -  February 26, 2016 - 6:46 am

    Of note, I think, is the english vs french / spanish / other language(?) naming of the letter. In english, a doubled letter follows a single letter when sorted alphabetically. Aardvark follows a, for instance.

    So, in naming a letter double-u, one would imagine it would naturally fall in the alphabet directly after u, leading us to …t,u,w,v,x,y,z. It really should be called double-v in english, or relocated in the alphabet.

    • Brit Yahlen Shoshana -  April 18, 2016 - 12:11 pm

      In Paleo Hebrew it was a consonant U with a sound of oo. This was before the masoretic vowel system was introduced. Possibly in Babylonian times when Daniel was told to seal the Scriptures it became v and later was changed again to w.

      • Lorna -  May 15, 2016 - 5:57 am

        Where are you getting your information for this transition in the Hebrew language from W to V and back to W? What is your source? You say “pronunciation” in the Paleo. The Paleo is a font, yes, and not another aleph bet and definitely not a language? Very similar to choosing Times New Roman font on your PC.

    • Vakyology -  September 16, 2016 - 11:17 am

      During the time of the Middle English, letter U was written as letter V and letter V as letter U.
      If you search for articles of more than 400years ago you will see that words like the word “upon” was written as “vpon”.
      So this is the time they created letter “w” as “vv”.

  2. Carl -  June 30, 2015 - 10:45 am

    …you heard it first here…

    • Carl -  July 14, 2015 - 11:42 am

      In the Danish dictionary “V” and ‘W” are interchanged entirely. The words are placed in the order of the second letter in any given word in the “V” section. As it is very few words in the Danish language begins with “W” and for good reason there is no heading for words beginning with “W”. A BMW in Denmark is pronounced a BMV just like it is in Germany. A Volkswagen is pronounced a Folkswagen in Germany and a Folkevogn in Denmark. VW is Fau-V in Germany and a V-V in Denmark.
      One thing that annoys me mostly about Denmark is that they use the division sign for a minus sign. I’ll see what Google have to say about that.

      • onox -  December 19, 2015 - 8:03 pm

        Nope. In Germany Volkswagen is pronounced Folksvagen. German is my mothertongue, so I know it.

        But indeed there are two pronounciations of the German ‘v’. When it is used in words of german origin, such as Vater and the prefix ver-, it represents an ‘f’, while in foreign words, such as Vase, it is a ‘v’ sound. However, f is allways f and w is always v (and never a vowel).

        • Xu -  August 4, 2016 - 6:30 am

          Yes, Volkswagen is ‘Folksvagen’ but VW is most certainly ‘Fau-vay’. Are you sure you’re German? I live here and ‘Fau-vay’ is ubiquitous.

  3. Richard -  May 20, 2015 - 11:54 pm

    The reason it’s called “Double U” is because it used to be spelt with “uu” instead for that sound. The ‘w’ symbol replaced “uu” later on and that’s why it’s called “Double U” today. It has nothing to do with the ‘w’ symbol.

    Despite this, there are languages which do actually call it “Double V” such as French and Spanish which may be naming it from the actual symbol instead of for historic reasons.

    • Joakim -  March 19, 2016 - 10:04 am

      It is called double v (or dobbel v) in Norway as well. :)

  4. Tom Bradley -  April 17, 2015 - 9:31 pm

    I’ve wondered in this age of computers why people tie up their mouths saying “double u, double u, double u” when “sextuple u” is right there laying on that card table over yonder jes itching to be used…yeah over there, sitting next to Kansas and Arkansas.

    • Claus Appel -  October 12, 2015 - 12:09 am

      Lying. Not laying.

    • markku -  June 22, 2016 - 2:38 am

      Been wondering the same. Often the actual site name is shorter than double u, double…
      But on less evolved languages we simply say vvv.site.abc. Or, as in today’s conversation the context pretty well indicates the case, the entire prefix is simply omitted.
      Anyway, truly interesting this subject regarding evolution of languages. And for you that believe that learning Finnish is impossible I would suggest a closer look. You would be amazed about how simple a language can be, still offering endless possibilities for nuanced expressions.

    • Xu -  August 4, 2016 - 6:34 am

      Who really says the www anymore? Most people just skip it and say the site name. And no one actually says ‘double u double u double u.’ People actually say ‘ dub u dub u dub u.’

  5. J. Mike -  March 29, 2015 - 1:35 pm

    This blog post is terrible, in my humble opinion….
    While it appears factual, I think its useless because it fails to explain why the the W is shaped like 2 Vs.
    That’s due mostly, if not entirely to the fact that you mentioned nothing of u and v switching uses in English….any person who picks up a Geneva Bible will realize QUICK that once upon a time U and V where interchangeable, as far as anytime the U sound was at the beginning or end of a word, V was used as “Consonant U” the letter U was only used in places where it was covered on both sides by a consonant (at which time it was vowel U) and likewise anytime V was between two consonants a U was substituted. So using that rule “U was vowel U”, “V was consonant U” and when you needed to make a w sound, in the middle of a word two Us(vouuel = vowel) BUT when using double U at the beginning of a word, two Vs would take the place of double Us. For that reason when using a “double u” at the beginning of a word it would be spelled VV as in vvood (wood) eventually W came into its own letter, but English kept U and V being interchangeable for a few hundred more years, but eventually moved on and decided to normalize U and V use, thus loue became love, vp became up, and double u, is left looking like 2 Vs…..
    The French part of what you said was correct though :)

    • Carl -  June 30, 2015 - 10:33 am

      John F. Kennedy, good at word games, was playing “Given _this_ answer, make up an apt question.”
      Given “9W” (name of a road in New York) as the answer, JFK offered the question: “Herr Wagner do you spell your name with a V?”
      I spell my name with a C not a K.
      Best wishes,

    • Comeagain -  February 16, 2016 - 9:28 am

      …so I guess “vacuum” just slipped by when no one was looking??!?

      If these rules were consistent vacuum should be vacwm!

    • Meshelemiah -  June 15, 2016 - 6:14 am

      The double “UU” became the shape of a “W” due to the Romans who carved the letter in stone and making a curved U was a lot more difficult than making it a V.

      • IBCNU -  October 14, 2016 - 11:51 am

        I must be part Roman as I shortcut my writing too. e.g. IBCNU (but not with a ‘V’).

  6. Hamish -  January 10, 2015 - 3:25 pm

    I must have missed something after uu. Since uu was hand written, my thoughts were that with the invention of type it was just cheaper and easier to make w instead of uu.

    • J. Mike -  March 29, 2015 - 1:47 pm

      but the reason w looks like 2 Vs is because uu was used when the wha sound was between two vowels (like vouuel=vowel), but at the beginning of a word VV was used (such as vvood=wood) and because of German influence there were a lot more words with double u at the beginning, so when the Latin alphabet came into use the letter W came to look like 2 Vs, that was about 200yrs before they stopped using Vs as “Consonant U”.
      If you notice back in the day the minuscule/lowercase w used to still have the tail of a u….even though uppercase W was Vs….
      I’m Paul Harvey,
      Good Day!

  7. Notmine -  January 10, 2015 - 7:11 am

    It would be great and fair if you ( and all the other articles) would mention below the article the sources wereu used.

  8. Mark Read Pickens -  January 6, 2015 - 1:48 pm

    The complications of “w” are doublefold because of it’s name…

    “It’s” should be “its.”

  9. grammar gramma -  January 6, 2015 - 8:31 am

    It’s–a contraction for “it is.”
    Its–possessive form of “it.”

    It’s making me crazy that a linguistic blog doesn’t know its correct grammar.

  10. Julie -  January 6, 2015 - 8:24 am

    In French W or double U is pronounced “Doobla Vay.”

    • The Lonely Oni -  January 25, 2015 - 2:02 pm

      Which is French for “Double V”.

  11. Emilia -  September 6, 2014 - 5:28 am

    Has anyone ever heard a nursery rhyme that talks about mr V & mr W who meet and mr W asks why he is called “double you” instead of double V, or something like that?
    I have looked it up in all the nursery rhyme books I could find and never came across it again.
    Please, if anyone has it, I would love to read it again.

    • Khalil -  January 7, 2015 - 2:04 pm

      if you find out the answer to your nursery rhyme of My U meets Me W, please let me know.

  12. Y U NO PRONOUNCE? -  March 4, 2014 - 2:38 pm

    MIND BLOWN. Now…why do we not pronounce eleven onety one?

    • aldfkj -  December 4, 2014 - 3:12 pm

      Because it’s actually oneteen. :o

      • booduh -  December 27, 2014 - 9:36 am

        *I think firsteen secondteen thirteen

        • Sandy -  January 4, 2015 - 12:22 pm

          I think teenty-one, teenty-two, teenty-three, et al. As in: tens equal teens, two tens equal twenty, three tens equal thirty.

          It is said that our laborous counting practices hold English speaking children back because of eleven, twelve, thirteen, and all the rest of the “teens” are artificial number words. Only the twenties, thirties, and so on, use natural counting where the number of tens are added to the number of ones. Natural counting in other languages teaches children the concept from the beginning and they don’t have anything to unlearn or translate when it’s time to study mathematics.

    • Carl -  June 30, 2015 - 10:13 am

      “onety one” could never become an English word because it sounds stupid, and I’m level serious about this. To list & define the several factors that make it a “stupid sounding” expression would require a short essay. It would be wonderful and entirely acceptable in an English nursery rhyme.

  13. OCHIENG BRIAN OTIENO -  January 25, 2014 - 12:09 pm

    Ladies and Gentlemen, teenagers and children, students and civilians. Dictionary. com is the place to click. Please click here (DICTIONARY.COM)

  14. Pagane -  December 11, 2013 - 9:38 pm

    You cannot give ‘vampire’ as an example. It is a Bulgarian word. The original spelling in Bulgarian is with ‘V’ in Cyrillic. That is why it is written with V in English.

    • Xu -  August 4, 2016 - 6:40 am

      They were just giving it as an example of the sound of the letter, not derivation, so it was a fine example.

  15. Avettinee -  June 23, 2012 - 11:28 am

    [http://labor-studies.org/ buy klonopin without prescriptions] – generic klonopin not effective

  16. sherryyu -  June 9, 2012 - 2:56 pm

    will theis is a very good article here i stomploed oupon

  17. James -  April 18, 2012 - 8:39 pm

    I don’t think voiced bilabial fricative ever existed in English….

  18. talles -  April 11, 2012 - 1:09 pm

    m is an bilabial aspirant drew

    (damn, this thing doesnt have reply button)

  19. ... -  April 10, 2012 - 7:26 pm

    ….vait vhat

    • hi -  March 10, 2015 - 10:32 am


      • hi -  March 10, 2015 - 10:33 am


        • hi -  March 10, 2015 - 10:34 am


  20. sithembiso -  April 10, 2012 - 9:03 am

    i always knew there was a vald reoson behind the “w” thanks for the information, now i can explain with confidents to my my peers.

  21. Puggle91 -  April 9, 2012 - 6:49 pm

    @ Mrs Dean Wormer on February 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I’m going to form a band called the Bilabial Fricatives. Who is with me?!

    … I could just imagine what the average Joe would think of that name… he he he.
    I mean – what else could be extrapolated from something with two lips and a bit of friction?

    • Max -  January 6, 2015 - 8:28 pm

      They could always open for The Cunning Stunts, a girl band of the ’70s in LA.

  22. Cathleen -  March 28, 2012 - 6:45 am

    [v] is a voiced labiodental fricative. I’m a student of English linguistics and I can confirm that this is true. You can look this stuff up on wikipedia, too.

    • Jaleel -  January 28, 2015 - 6:41 am

      Thank you. I was just thinking the same thing.

  23. Michelle -  March 11, 2012 - 7:33 am

    Well, I just wanted to tell you that I write W(s) with double U(s) instead of double V(s).

    • Xu -  August 4, 2016 - 6:43 am

      A lot of people do. I do, it’s quicker.

  24. tahrey -  April 26, 2011 - 4:06 am

    Heh, I was just wondering that. Maybe Vacuum should actually be written Vacwm, but escaped that change because most languages (other than Welsh) don’t see W as a vowel any more?

    Here’s a challenge: name three other words, besides vacuum / vacwm and continuum / continwm which have two consecutive u’s in them…

    • Xu -  August 4, 2016 - 6:45 am

      Not nick picking, just pointing out that continuum is different. In that case, both u’s get sounded as vowels, creating two distinct syllables.

  25. ME -  April 9, 2011 - 7:53 am

    What about the uu in words like vacuum?

  26. Thauron -  March 24, 2011 - 6:13 pm

    If we look at history, the Romans didn’t have ‹u› and the *earliest* rule was ‹v› if it was the first letter of the word, ‹u› if it was anywhere else. ‹U› spent the middle ages gaining it’s own identity as a vowel and from there to the modern world.

    ‹W› originated as a digraph ‹vv› common in Old High German, but uncommon in Old English were /w/ (the sound) was represented with the runic ‹Ƿ› (Thorn). Going back to what we know about ‹v› & ‹u› the two where, at one point, interchangeable based on where the letter was in the word. Thus /w/ could be represented as ‹vv› or ‹uu› double-ve (French, Spanish et al.) or double-you (English).


    “Through the years, the language shifted, the sound associated with the Latin ‹v› became a voiced bilabial fricative — like the ‹v› in ‘vampire.’”

    Basically states:

    “The Romans used to sound like Germans, before they sounded like Spanish, French and Italians”


    Until very recently, it was customary to pronounce Latin in one’s native accent. There were no native speakers and even if we could time travel there would be regional and socio-economic variations. My own experience is Latin is comfortably pronounced in the middle, not the front, of the mouth.

    Presently, we have two dominant systems: “Ecclesiastical” Latin which is the way it is spoken by Italians native to Rome and “Classical” Latin which is a reconstruction based on scholarly evidence. Most of the time there is plenty of evidence for the “Classical” pronunciation, with the exception of “‹v› like /w/” which is often simply shoehorned into the grammar with a stern look from the teacher.

    • lee -  June 23, 2014 - 10:26 am

      I’ve seen this way more often than the uu explanation, which I’ve only seen here.
      Hell, vv is even in the Ni No PS3 game, and that’s Japanese trying to explain the history of ‘w’.

      The explanation in the game is that w used to be vv. This is because v had two uses (as v and u), which is the same as c having two sounds (scene ‘cine’ and cake ‘kake’).

      Therefore vv would have pronunciation vu, which sounds aweful lot like w. VUHERE are you? If you start saying it over and over, you lose the sharp v.

      I find it hard to believe that w morphed from uu, because uu is no where near the sound of w. uu sounds more like nordic j. With uuhere sounding like ‘yee-air’. Whereas vu is so close.

  27. RJ -  March 24, 2011 - 7:11 am

    In French, the letter “V” is pronounced “vay,” and “W” is pronounced “du-blah-vay” (aka “double v”). =]

  28. Sethamevor -  March 22, 2011 - 11:47 pm

    The lesson ,s takken me to school once again.

  29. book_addict247 -  March 7, 2011 - 5:18 pm

    In the first paragraph, towards the end, you misused “it’s”. It should be “its”. “It’s” always means “it is” (I learned that from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events! Books, not movie.), but you used it possessively. Yes, there’s nothing you can do about it now, the damage is done, but be careful. Really.

  30. FooGriffy -  February 21, 2011 - 9:14 am

    I write both capitol and lower-case w’s like two u’s.

  31. Ian -  February 19, 2011 - 9:04 am

    “im 13 and learning new i look up to you for putting these articles” …

    Me too, Perle, I learn every day – and the web is a great tool.

    Good luck to you – Ian

  32. perle -  February 18, 2011 - 8:41 am

    this is really interesting stuff im 13 and learning new i look up to you for putting these articles

  33. Ian -  February 18, 2011 - 4:51 am

    Hello, Zippi – Thanks for yours and for your interesting observations. (In view of his comments on the length of your contribution I just hope that John Rhea doesn’t see my last effort and this one … he’ll think I’ve had a crate-load of drink delivered, alas untrue … )

    Latin in Italy ? Well, hardly – Italy didn’t exist at that time and folk in what is now Italy would have spoken their own languages, letting the Romans get on with theirs. Even today, (as you know) many Italians prefer to speak other Italian languages or dialects, at least at home.

    I know nothing of any of this, but I guess that the Latin alphabet was suitable for … Latin – though God knows there were no academies around at that time insisting that sound and written symbol correspond exactly (which they can’t …) We must remember that Latin did not rise immaculate from the ashes of earlier failures, and did not appear as an invented language with a perfectly-precise correlation between written and spoken forms – or so we must suppose, if other languages are any guide.

    As for the connexion between classical Latin and modern Italian (based largely, I understand, on the Tuscan tongue), it is not perhaps that close : Spanish verb forms, for instance, are closer to those of Latin than their Italian equivalents (I stand to be corrected, here as elsewhere), and, as in English and French, I understand that many ‘Latin’ words in Italian were dragged back into that language, kicking and screaming, during the Renaissance and later.

    In any case, the connexion between the speech patterns of Roman citizens two thousand years ago and those of modern Italians (very varied) is not so clear. Presumably, those ‘evolving’ the Romance languages ‘from’ Latin with admixtures of elements form the ‘home languages’, in regions now known as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, &c., felt they were doing a pretty good job of reproducing the sounds they heard and what writing they read …

    Hmmm …

    Nearer to home, those living intimately with monastics in Wales probably felt the same : and yet, along with recognisable forms such as ‘pont’, ‘eglwys’ and ‘ysgol’, we have the wonderful ‘llyfyrgell’ (‘library’ – think French ‘livre’ and ‘cell’ and the elegant ‘eglwys gadeiriol’ (cathedral church), from the Welsh ‘cadeir’, ‘chair’, Latin (and English) ‘cathedra’ < Greek 'kathédra'

    And just how was Latin pronounced .. ? Presumably, it depended on where you were, when you were, how well educated you were, your mother tongue, your status, &c. …

    Sorry – I ought to have been more specific about English spelling and pronunciation. I ought to have made clear that I spoke of changes since the last systematic standardisations of English spelling. I ought to have written something along the lines (and I could have done no better) of -

    "In general, English spelling does not reflect the significant changes in the pronunciation of the language that have occurred since the late fifteenth century." – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_orthography

    An very interesting article …

    I work as a singer, and problems of modern pronunciation v. archaic orthography are evident in texts from even as late as the 19th century. For instance, the vowel heard in educated British speech in the word 'love' is, I am told, a mid -or late-19th century affection, and as such is a minefield for singers and actors alike. Of course, in the North and Midlands we have no truck with this and continue to give this vowel its more primitive, 'continental', value, as do all British speakers in words such as 'put', 'cushion' and 'butcher'.

    This solves at a stroke problems with rhyme-schemes : I am at present working on a lute song (c. 1600) by the very wonderful John Dowland, whose poet rhymes 'love' with 'move' (or as it there appears, 'moove'). Less of a problem for those born north of the famous 'Bugger Line' (the vowel change boundary), somewhere out Leicester way, I'm sure you'll agree, but all the same troubling.

    So you see, English pronunciation is changing (and quite right too, you'll say) … whereas the spelling quite obviously isn't.

    (The same is happening in France, where I live, with the nasal vowel. A Great Vowel Shift is now taking place : the nasalised 'A' sound in 'bien' (and that Quebecers still pronounce that word with a nasalised 'E', is an indication of an earlier vowel shift) is more and more pronounced as 'biOn' [I have no way on this keyboard of indicating nasal vowels but they should be so assumed], and 'bon' is spiraling out of control towards something like 'bUn'. Doubtless you will have remarked parallel phenomena in Italian.)

    Other modern European languages do make the effort to reform their spelling systems to reflect modern pronunciation (once every 10 years, I have heard, for Dutch), whereas English doesn't and hasn't, apart from the minor (and very logical) efforts of Noah Webster – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webster's_Dictionary – and others.

    This is one of the problems of the English language – and also one of its joys, of course.

    (I somehow doubt, though, that the French Académie will dare touch the nasal sounds I mentioned. It's all really fascinating … )

    The language (or group of languages) to which you refer was written down, I read, only as late as 1978, and so it is no surprise that it should represent fairly accurately the sounds heard – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twi.

    This being said, there are different dialects, I read, and I wonder how this is handled. Again, there is the tonal structure of the languages : these will be handled by diacritics, I guess.

    I must say that I find the search for 100% correlation between what is heard and what is written rather troubling. What we require of writing systems, surely, especially of alphabetic systems, is that they guide us towards a quick understanding of roughly how a language is pronounced, letting us use our ears for the rest of that fascinating voyage.

    And alphabets are truly wonderful in their adaptability. How many languages does the basic Latin alphabet (with adaptations) serve ? 100s, 1,000s ? Who knows ?

    And alphabets really have it for me. In spite of my best efforts, I am handicaped in the learning of my wife's mother tongue, Mandarin, by the knowledge that the pictorial writing system is virtually useless as a guide to pronunciation (although the 'phonetic' element of some characters once was a help, before the pronunciation changed over the course of many centuries).

    Even then, the Mandarin Pinyin system of romanisation has its limits : 'water' is written as 'SHUI' although everyone can hear that it is actually pronounced 'SHUEI' (with the principal vowel being the E, the one omitted !). This is as rendered correctly in the Wade system used in Taiwan, which has just abandoned it for … Pin-Yin ! Ye Gods !!! The 'adaptors' of this system decided (and God only knows why) that THREE vowel sounds written together were one too many, and that the middle one should be binned (but only in certain words !), to the dismay of folk like me …

    Can they get nothing right ?!

    Toodle-Pip !


  34. Zippi -  February 17, 2011 - 5:57 pm

    Ian, I cited Italian, partly because of my knowledge of it and also because, as far as I am aware, Italy is where Latin originated, thence, where out characters came and therefore, Italian would be the closest representative of how the characters should sound. You say the the pronunciation has shifted over the centuries but not the spelling; this is not entirely true. There are many words of which the spelling had changed and subsequently, the pronunciation has changed; for example, “ageyn” has become “again” and is often pronounced “agen.” To my knowledge, Twi is the most phonetic, written, language; sadly, it is becoming contaminated with “C”, “J” and “Q” which do not exist in the alphabet.
    John Rhea, you made me laugh! Thanks.

  35. Ian -  February 17, 2011 - 1:34 pm

    I have enjoyed reading about the letters W, V & U, and understand that they are variants of the same basic letter. In Welsh they were, I understand more or less interchangeable, and the same has been pointed out for earlier English spellings. They are used in specific and non-specific ways in different languages to represent widely-differing sounds – one of the joys of writing systems, I guess. Similar things happen (or happened) in various languages between the letters – F & V – Y & IJ – I, J & Y – G & H … and so on …

    When speaking of ‘phonetic’ and ‘non-phonetic’ systems of writing we should bear in mind that alphabets only approximate spoken sounds, and that these approximations can never be 100% accurate. We should also bear in mind that most (all ?) European languages do their best using variants of the Latin and Greek (and Cyrillic) alphabets not designed, by and large, for the comfort of these various languages, and that much ingenuity has been sown over the centuries : many which use the Latin alphabet stretch its limits through the use of digraphs and / or diacritics : for example, the English PH, TH & SH, the Welsh DD, CH & TH, the German TSCH & Ö, and the French Ë, Ü, é, è, à & ù.

    When it comes to praising certain languages for the fidelity of their transcriptions and denigrating others it is traditional to slag off English with the handle ‘non-phonetic’ and laud others (Italian is often quoted, and has been so here) as ‘phonetic’. The truth is not so simple. Surely, English has its problems ; and one of its joys is trying to divine exactly where the tonic stress falls and such matters as the pronunciation of EA of -OUGH : still, it does obey the ‘Rules’ a lot of the time (it is after all a Germanic tongue, of sorts), and the difficulties are perhaps exaggerated. The problem, as usual, is that the pronunciation has shifted over the centuries, but not the spelling.

    This has happened in all languages, of course : it is inevitable. And yet other languages are more rigorous, perhaps, and once the orthographic system is understood there are fewer problems. Again, many countries reform the spellings in their languages from time to time so that the written form is closer to the (modern) spoken sounds : older folk and foreigners (like me) form the Résistance – wild horses will not make me write the French word ‘événement’ as ‘évènement’, though this may approximate better the modern-day pronunciation of that word. Even so, there are limits, and the Dutch have yet to propose writing “tragisch” (Eng. ‘tragic’) as “tragis”, which would be closer to its sound – tradition is against such a change, though it may yet come. And the Dutch themselves have balked at writing “kado” in the place of the adopted French word “cadeau”. Quite right, too, I say !

    Now, if you want a European language written phonetically, of the ones I know of Spanish is a good bet, showing without ambiguity (as it does, I am assured) its five vowel sounds, its double consonants and its pattern of tonic stress (strict rules with a diacritic accent wherever the rule is broken), though even here the letters G & C have two different (but unambiguous) sounds, and the digraph GU is used in such words as ‘guerra’, with a soft G sound, and CH as in English. It also uses an unpronounced H from time to time.

    Italian is a little less phonetic, since it does not mark stress infallibly, has the digraphs CI, GI, CH & GH, and, more seriously, does not distinguish its two forms of E and O (it has seven vowels, not five, as often advanced).

    German, French, Dutch and Welsh all use digraphs and diphthongs to get around the problems of the (limited) Latin alphabet, though once you know the rules you are OK, by and large. (Incidentally, the German language holds the world record, I am told, for the greatest number of letters needed to represent just one sound, -TSCH – English -CH – and rather ironically this falls in the word “Deutschland”).

    I give up …

    So whilst you might call these languages ‘consistently unphonetic’ I suppose you’d have to call English ‘inconsistently (un)phonetic’ …

    Now, if you really want an accurate phonetic representation of a European language using the Latin alphabet then I am told that Finnish is a very safe bet. Why so ? Firstly, its written form was invented fairly late, in the 16th century, by the (probably) bilingual Finnish bishop, Agricola, and so is precise ;


    … secondly, it later lost its ‘non-latin’ consonants (“th” both as in ‘thin’ and as in ‘this’) and with this the need for digraphs ; and, thirdly, vowels are both clear and thin on the ground, and only two diacritic forms, Ä & Ö, are needed, as well as the Y, as in Welsh (a vowel, in both languages, similar to French U and German Ü, though in Welsh it does strange things in stressed positions).


    • Karen -  January 9, 2015 - 9:11 am

      Ian, you’re smart. If you’d like to get the truth behind the letter, w, see Ziggy’s comment. I’d type it here for you but I’m using my phone. Phone= small keypad =/

  36. Eric -  February 17, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    Interesting that in French, ‘W’ is pronounced “du-bli-vay” while ‘V’ is pronounced “vay”. Translation: ‘W’ in French is “Double V”.

  37. Dean -  February 17, 2011 - 1:11 pm

    I still don’t get it.

  38. alohahaha -  February 17, 2011 - 11:30 am

    Some people do write the letter w with the bottom 2 points rounded like two “u” ‘s, I must point out, especially in cursive. Why bother picking on “w”? It’s not the letter’s fault that it is an oddity, it’s the people who came up with it. If you have any complaints, why don’t you try coming up with a form of writing? It’s hard stuff!

  39. Cynan Rees -  February 17, 2011 - 8:35 am

    Enjoyed the last line of the article too. I can go one better, though. When I was 16 or 17 in Hong Kong, in the family car one day, my brother felt the need to inform us when the first world war took place (as if we all didn’t know).

    Without planning, I retorted, “We’re quite well aware when World War One was.”

  40. Greg -  February 10, 2011 - 9:42 am

    What about President Bush? They call him “dubya.” How’s that fit in the double “u” sitchee”w”aysheon?

  41. john rhea -  February 9, 2011 - 1:42 am

    The letter W and its sound are not even present in my first and last name. However, one can imagine this sound, when saying my name slowly, when one has smoked some weed. weed not uueed.
    Also, why must people repeat what has already been written? And what’s up with the “it’s” vs. “Its’? To Zippi; your comment about the Article, is longer than the article. Put the Bottle down!!

  42. Wendy White Wolf -  February 8, 2011 - 9:58 pm

    “It is also the only letter with a name that does not indicate its phonetic use.”
    ~ read through most of the comments actually- did anyone else note that “y” does not indicate its phonetic use either? and wouldn’t it make more sense if “y” made the “wa” sound instead of “w”? Why does “y” say “ee”, like in my first name? or “ai” in “thyme”? but what would be the letter to indicate the “yu” sound that “y” has only when it is at the beginning of a word, as in “yak”. Yakkety iakkety, Why ask Y?…….
    (i think i’ve been reading too much Dr. Seuss lately…=)

  43. Zippi -  February 5, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    Cynical Canadian Cookie, this is, most likely, because people don’t read what has been written and therefore learn nothing; they merely comment. Furthermore, they probably have no interest in linguistics and therefore, find the article uninteresting, hence calling it “stupid.” Although I found the article somewhat lacking, I have been forced, as a result, to carry out further investigation, which can only be a good thing.

  44. Cynical Canadian Cookie -  February 5, 2011 - 8:23 am

    • I find it amusing that people who have no idea about Linguistics take the time to comment about how “stupid” this article is.

    • one of the key concepts in Ling is that language is DEscriptive not PREscriptive; different in different regions even when speaking the same language

    • it’s annoying when people post something that’s been said ten times already!

  45. :) -  February 4, 2011 - 9:12 pm

    Really? Why so much controversy over a letter? I know that this site is all about words but still. I mean, who cares about a w. Get on with it for pete’s sake. Anyone agree?

  46. Spence -  February 4, 2011 - 8:18 pm

    Happy Wea of da Wabbit!

    Elmer Fudd

  47. Zippi -  February 4, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    tariquendi, the Anglos, as you call them, WERE Germanic, although Germany didn’t exist, at the time. The word order has its routes in the Celtic languages. English has always resisted outright change from the lands invaders; the latest historical example would be that of the Normans attempt to impose their version of French upon the people. The English didn’t want it so, it became the preserve of the Court. English is very good, however, at assimilating; meat, for example, “beef” has a French origin, yet the animal, whence it came, “cow,” has Anglo-Celtic Origin.
    I am withdrawing my comment about Italian being the most phonetic written language. Twi, from Ghana is, I believe, a phonetic written language. The alphabet has 23 characters, two of which are “E”s (e and ɛ) and two are “O”|s (o and ɔ). “ŋ” is now obsolete, however, it is still used, verbally.
    It is interesting how in Modern German, “V” sounds like English “F” whereas in Welsh, “F” sounds like English “V.”
    We must remember that “W” is a ligature of two “V”s but it was not until the Middle Ages that “V” became “V” as we know it. In the same period, “U” was also being used like “V”. Note that “U” “V” and “W” appear together, in the English alphabet. We find it strange that “W” is called “double U,” despite looking like double “V” but “U” and “V” were once one and the same; what they were called, I don’t know. The French, Spanish and Italians, it seems call “W” “double V”.
    There are examples of “poure” and “povre” (both poor), “dewill” (devil) and these, all in the same work; adventures, seruyse (service), vndertake, vnto, Quene, perceyue (perceive), haue, leue (leave), euer. In another work, are heven and heuen. If both “U” and “V” were being used, simultaneously, to represent both “U” and “V” sounds that we know, today, who is to say which was “iuu” and which was “vii”? If “V” was being used as the modern “U” it is quite conceivable that the ligature “W” should be called double U.

    • Karen -  January 9, 2015 - 8:56 am

      Ziggy, I agree with you! I’m so glad you correctly explained the reason behind the w. This article need’s correcting.

  48. frenzie -  February 4, 2011 - 5:24 pm

    Actually, because of the way I write, ‘w’ looks like two u’s connected.

  49. me8 -  February 4, 2011 - 4:36 pm

    D. James: “I am a charter member of the English Grammar and Spelling Police…” I’m still in high school and probably one of the few left of my generation who would qualify for “The English Grammar and Spelling Police!”

  50. me8 -  February 4, 2011 - 4:08 pm

    Mrs Dean Wormer:
    “I’m going to form a band called the Bilabial Fricatives. Who is with me?!”
    I’m in!

  51. me8 -  February 4, 2011 - 4:05 pm

    “although some people use their tounge as well” Unless you just mistyped it, it’s spelled “tongue,” not “tounge.”

  52. My name is name backwards and forwards -  February 4, 2011 - 2:40 pm

    MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA i never realy thought about that that way

  53. boredouttamymind -  February 4, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    yaaaaaawn .. that waaaas BORINGGGG :/

  54. Thinking -  February 4, 2011 - 7:51 am

    I think “double u” needs a new name. It’s not fair all the letters get a unique ID but “double u” is a derivative. What if your older brother was named Bob and you were then officially named “Bob’s Brother”. Think of what it would do to your self esteem. You’d probably turn to food for solace. Maybe this is why “double u” is the widest letter.

  55. Peggy -  February 4, 2011 - 7:38 am

    Back when I went to elenemtary school and we were taught to write in cursive the w was written as uu.

  56. Ash -  February 4, 2011 - 7:26 am

    Actually, when writing the letter ‘W’, it supposed to look like two U’s joint together, it wasn’t supposed to be pointed at the bottom, try writing it, the only thing is when you type it, it resembles two V’s. When writing it (handwriting), you’d notice that a lot of people make it look like two U’s joined together, yet for some it looks like two V’s.

  57. lol -  February 4, 2011 - 7:23 am

    im in 21 grad n i dunt undastnd ny of dis lol

  58. Name -  February 4, 2011 - 7:15 am

    I got half of it. Very interesting!

  59. faust666 -  February 4, 2011 - 6:37 am

    Not a very good article. Somewhat tenuous and obfuscatory; and as many have already pointed out, technically erroneous too.

  60. Clark -  February 4, 2011 - 6:18 am

    BLOGCHI@mayopia.com Seriously? Stupid and off subject.
    Sammie Excellent
    The one about usage in Wales and Welsh like it’s two different languages was funny, too.

    I wan’t to know where the pirates got the double “R”

  61. inviting a handlename -  February 4, 2011 - 6:06 am

    slow down

  62. a.b -  February 4, 2011 - 6:04 am

    who ever dnt get is stupid

  63. Glory!@ -  February 4, 2011 - 6:00 am

    BLOGCH! That was amazing. Quite perceptive. THE “W” and all…very very good!

    The conservative xians against the democratic islamists…both wierd bed fellows, indeed. Me thinks that the both of them require an overhaul. And those of us who see it, require self reliance.


    • Karen -  January 9, 2015 - 9:02 am

      But it’s not correct! This article need’s to be taken down . Look for Ziggy’s comment….it explains it correctly. No need for me to retype it.

  64. Junfan Mantovani -  February 4, 2011 - 4:24 am

    I am really, really confused. My tiny mind cant handle all of this information so early in the day. Great article. I am also Italian.

  65. twibbles -  February 4, 2011 - 3:50 am

    Funny. I live in Sweden and am always trying to explain the difference between W and V to people. I tell them, “Do you know what W is called in English? That’s right, ‘double U’. That’s because it’s pronounced like a U. Uuen, uuere, uuith, uueather.” Doesn’t help, though. They still talk about the vest side of the willage.

  66. Wilma Wilson -  February 4, 2011 - 2:22 am

    I am feeling very special because my name is Wilma Wilson and some people ask is that spelled “double uu” and some will ask is that spelled “dub-ya” and I just agree with both. It’s true about the upside down “double uu” being an “M”, My neice gave me the name “Mimi” when she was learning to talk she could not pronounce “Wilma”, so I have had the name “Mimi” for the past 53 years and that’s what most people call me and I have had the name “Wilma” for 70 years come March.
    After reading all the silly coments about the “W” I can’t remember how to spell my name.

  67. tariquendi -  February 4, 2011 - 1:51 am

    ok someone said they thought English was easy to learn. please tell me you’re joking, right? even though English is becoming the “standard” language all over the world, it is by far the most difficult. i’m not gonna say that I’m an expert or have a degree in linguistics, but i found in a research paper of the history of the english language that the Anglos actually created the language to be a secret military code to confuse the French and Germanic armies. It then continued to develop because the King liked his new language and i guess it’s all history now but it was built as a code. thus why it is so confusing and has backwards word order and everything.

  68. Pauline -  February 3, 2011 - 11:00 pm

    Sorry, I’ve got quite a few typos…please don’t impale me! It’s late but I hope the reader gets my drift….sorry. Gosh, if we had everyone in one room, would we be able to speak one at a time? Bring on the wine (or beer)…HA HA HA

  69. Pauline -  February 3, 2011 - 10:54 pm


    This is my favorite subject…thanks for the interesting item on Prof. Mombat’s “upside-down M” for expressing “W” and also Nala’s humorous observance of the the pronounciation of V as Fow and W and “Veh”….gee, it really helped me learn German so easily when I moved there for family business without ANY backgound on the landguage (I was the Spanish, French, and Italian lover…now I’m learning Hungarian…ha h…totally different ballgame.) And I was mostly raised in Hawaii – go figure!
    Anyway, all I really wanted to mention (but after reading everyone’s take – lovely!), that earlier on the longest blog I’ve ever read, there was mention of “www” in English, for example, being way to tedious. I must say, though, the in German, it would be simply, “veh, veh veh punkt (dot) Nein! (The ‘Nein’ is a little correction to the person who wrote “Nien, Nien, Nien” incorrectly. But don’t blame ya, languages, where would we be without them…still grunting and growling…= )

  70. Pustekuchen -  February 3, 2011 - 10:46 pm

    Jerry: /w/ is a labio-velar approximant. Fricatives achieve a certain amount of noise from vibrations at the point of constriction as it’s a tighter aperture.

    And aspirated bilabial is more like a popped /p/ “puh”

  71. Madhusudan Menon -  February 3, 2011 - 10:41 pm

    I wonder how much time, if not a whole of life-time itself, it would take to master the art of correct pronunciation. If learning of correct pronunciation is a tool with which to learn something else using the correct pronunciation per se, how much time it would take to learn something else using this tool? Do you think it is worth the time and effort vis-a-vis the gains attained there-from? It is not a comment to cheapen the efforts of those real connoisseurs but to draw attention to spending time to an activity disregarding more important lessons to be learnt in life.

  72. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 3, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    (‘Ackk’- was missing, so I re-appended it.)

  73. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 3, 2011 - 10:02 pm


    5. The W was more nasal in the early ‘language isolate’, e.g. WSR (Grk. Osiris), was pronounced more ‘Oongsher’ than ‘Osir’.

    (The early ‘language isolate’ had more inflection than could be written, They’d had no need to write, on Ra’s Boat of Millions of years, so only the very ‘bones’ of the alphabet were written, mostly the consonants, plus a few liquids, as well as the accent-directive-semi-vowel, aleph, pronounced ‘ah’ or ‘eh’.

    (Note, the early ‘language isolate’ acquired the local words for employment, artisans, farmers priests, shepherds, etc., for simpler teaching of mankind.)

    6. The Greek pi-variant, ϖ, which looks like an o-mega-(ω)-bar, came from the early P pronounced more voweled-to-aspirated ‘ops/oph’, e.g. Egyptian SPDT became Sothis in the Greek, Akkadian Purattu became Ophratthu Euphrates.

  74. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 3, 2011 - 9:49 pm

    P.S. #2. Also, should mention–

    6. The Greek pi ‘variant’ ϖ, which it looks-like-an-o-mega-ω-bar, came from the Egyptian P which was pronounced like ‘ops/oph’ (you see the O-part of the P)– e.g. SPDT became Sothis in the Greek because of the O-part of the P, Purattu (Akk.) became Ophratthu Euphrates because of the Oph-part of the P, plus the Th-part of the T….

  75. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 3, 2011 - 9:38 pm

    P.S. Also left out–

    5. The nasalization of the W in the earliest Sumero-Egyptian god-language: WSR (Grk. Osiris), was pronounced closer to ‘Oongsher’ than ‘Osir’…. (We know this by the similarity in the Sumerian identification of Anshar, pronounced more Angshar, being the same person-or-title at times in the first millennium.)

    The earliest god-language ‘probably’ had more inflection than could be written (They had no need to write on Ra’s Boat of Millions of years) and so only the very ‘bones’ of the alphabet were written, mostly the consonants, and a few liquids, as well as the accent-directive-semi-vowel, ah or eh. affected by the rest of the word.

  76. Bookreader321 -  February 3, 2011 - 9:10 pm

    and @poop. First of all, no one appreciates your name or your hatred. Second, if no one cares why are you here? This really is quite an interesting article. And third, can you not see how many people think this article is fascinating? Great observation skills there.

  77. Bookreader321 -  February 3, 2011 - 9:07 pm

    @jAd, you are right. I wonder why the French have caught on and we have not?

  78. Zippi -  February 3, 2011 - 8:48 pm

    Deb, “Y” is pronounced “wai” not “wii,” which would be written “we” in English. Furthermore, “H” is not aspirated and spelt “aitch”. Some English people, however, do aspirate “H” but I have no idea why. I say English, because I have yet to hear a Scottish, Irish or Welsh person aspirate “H.” I think that Italian is the most phonetic written language. Writing phonetically is like writing for harp. When writing for harp, every string must be accounted for. When writing phonetically, every character should be voiced. In Italian, as far as I am aware, the vowels remain constant, unlike in English, French and German and the consonants rarely change their function, even when compounded; notable exceptions are “gli” and “gn.”
    Charles, the syntax rules might be loose but “there’s often periods” is still incorrect.
    “V” and “U” were different ways of representing the same sound. At one time, they appear to have been interchangeable; the word “have” was written “haue.” I would have liked the article to have explored this.

  79. wyattstorch42 -  February 3, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    In Spanish, calling it “doble u” or “doble ve” is interchangeable. Maybe Englishmen are just stubborn?

  80. stan -  February 3, 2011 - 6:44 pm

    What do U.F.O stand 4 is – U F##K OF#. – un – vy – NZ2- IH – 6eg9 – 7rL – 3EWM – B008oo74M-3y17

  81. JAN -  February 3, 2011 - 6:39 pm

    whats even better, is that the Spanish name for the letter ‘w’ is “uve doble”, which translated literally means double V……

  82. V -  February 3, 2011 - 6:13 pm


  83. lalalalala elmo's world -  February 3, 2011 - 6:07 pm


  84. grizzy -  February 3, 2011 - 6:03 pm

    @ dictionary.com
    maybe because in some contrys the ” v” is pronuced ” w”
    or the other way around i fro get sorry o_O

  85. NONE UR BIZ! -  February 3, 2011 - 5:54 pm

    ………………..HAPPY B-day RANDOM PEEPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!………………………………

  86. NONE UR BIZ! -  February 3, 2011 - 5:52 pm

    ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………………………………………CHICKEN WING…………………….oh…oh …….. how do you get a tissue to dance……..?………………………………..OK U PUT a little BOGIE in it!!!!!!!!…………HAHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHH…………………phew………..that was………hahahah…………………………so…………..HALARIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    ok BYE RANDOM PEOPLE!!!!!!! :) :P :o 0.o >3<

  87. Jerry -  February 3, 2011 - 5:48 pm

    Pigtown*design: two Welsh words with “w” as their vowel seem to have made it into large English dictionaries: cwm and crwth.

    Kysore: wouldn’t the initial “wh” qualify as a “bilabial fricative”? Or am I confusing that with an aspirated bilabial?

    I suggest the writing of “double-u” as two v’s may have arisen just as the writing of the “u” sound as a “v” did: because of the difficulty, in writing ancient inscriptions, of carving a smooth curve in stone.

  88. Audun -  February 3, 2011 - 5:35 pm

    In answer to drew who wrote “Voiced *bilabial*? Feel free to correct my limited knowledge of phonetics, but wouldn’t the /v/ sound be a voiced labio-dental fricative? A voiced bilabial fricative would be /m/, wouldn’t it?”

    /m/ isn’t a fricative, which is made by forcing the breath through a narrow passage. Bilabial doesn’t have to mean that the lips are pressed shut, but that both lips are used in making the sound, so a bilabial fricative means pressing the lips so close together that forcing your breath through them make a distinctive sound, like /w/. It’s easy to make a bilabial sound that sounds somewhere in between labio-dental /v/ and /w/ if you change the shape of the lips. Try it. The article says that through the years the language shifted, so maybe at some point, the latin v did sound like that bilabial sound.

  89. Quintus -  February 3, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    Drew is absolutely right. English /v/ sound is a voiced labio-dental fricative: the opposite of /f/, an unvoiced labio-dental fricative.
    A voiced bilabial fricative isn’t in many western languages, but it’s represented by (greek minuscule beta) in the IPA.
    /m/ (and ) is a bilabial nasal.

  90. werdna -  February 3, 2011 - 5:21 pm


  91. Double V -  February 3, 2011 - 5:17 pm

    I saw some write “w” like this uu. And some people would call it double v. And I got realy confused. But this cleared things up. :D

  92. poop -  February 3, 2011 - 4:39 pm

    no one cares about this article

  93. M. Blame -  February 3, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    For those wondering if /p/ is a bilabial fricative, my understanding is that it is in fact a bilabial plosive. I believe a bilabial fricative would be something like blowing a two-lipped raspberry.

    “Raspberry,” in this sense, is from Cockney rhyming slang. Irrelevant aside, but aren’t those the best ones?

  94. Barbara Poston -  February 3, 2011 - 3:57 pm

    p.s. I apologize for leaving off the final ” ] ” after my “fa, la, la, la, la.

  95. Barbara Poston -  February 3, 2011 - 3:55 pm

    Like another person said, I came to look something up, got caught in all the fun. . . .
    Note that in the German pronunciation of the alphabet, “V” is pronounced “fow,” [rhyming with how/now/cow/sow]; and “W” is pronounced
    “vay” [rhyming with say, lay, nay, day, etc. Also “H” is pronounced “hah”
    [rhyming with “fa, la, la, la, la.”
    Note, also, that the “H” is pronounced by Cockney speaking British as “haitch” and does indicate its use. It is all quite confusing, but fascinating, isn’t it!
    Lots of clever remarks!

  96. Peter -  February 3, 2011 - 3:26 pm

    I’m stupid. What was the article about?

  97. Don -  February 3, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    I suppose that it would appear as two v’s when typed in a computer. W. However when wrote on paper, before computers were invented like most people did, and even today, how ofter does someone make their W look as it does on the computer. Try it, write the letter and you will see it looks like two u’s togeter, connected on the right of the first, and the left of the second, therfore giving it the name of the letter that is recieved, so the real question would be why do computers make our W look like two v’s. Its the font creators fault that this thread was even brought about. lol.

  98. dude -  February 3, 2011 - 2:57 pm

    technically a lower case “w” is made up of two U’s

  99. Cyberquill -  February 3, 2011 - 2:47 pm

    In a way, it’s a good thing that most Americans have never heard of Winnetou, because they wouldn’t know how to pronounce the “W.”

  100. D -  February 3, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    The complications of “w” are doublefold because of it’s name, ‘double u’ and its shape, ‘double v’. What’s going on here?

    “it’s” should be “its”

  101. Jake -  February 3, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    This is confusing, someone email me why, i dont know.

  102. Jake -  February 3, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    In cursive, there is two “u”s in W.

  103. Kailin -  February 3, 2011 - 1:40 pm

    Such coincidences! This is kind of weird. My friends and I were talking about the alphabet at school today (don’t ask. It’s a long story) and we were making fun of whoever named the letter “w” and why he/she named it “double-u.”

    Great article, by the way. Very interesting!

  104. Wrasfish -  February 3, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    Well, Kathy, up in the northern states, it’s definitely “double-you”–Dub-ya is a former president with big ears.

  105. John -  February 3, 2011 - 1:24 pm


  106. Homegirl -  February 3, 2011 - 1:02 pm

    Will wo weave wit walone?

  107. A random kid -  February 3, 2011 - 12:53 pm

    I have always wondered why /w/ was pronounced double u and not pronounced double v, but this has really cleared things up for me, so thanks.

  108. SQEEF -  February 3, 2011 - 12:45 pm

    Wack article.

  109. Nala -  February 3, 2011 - 12:38 pm

    As you said, in German “W” is pronounced as a “Vee” (they say “vay”), but to make it even more interesting, their “V” is pronounced as an “eFF” (or “fow”)! So, the VW Beetle is NOT made by “Vee-Double-U” as we say, but by “Fow-Vay” or “Folks-Vah’-gen”. Do vee have zat straight now?

  110. DER -  February 3, 2011 - 12:32 pm

    My son when he first learned to say the alphabet, said “double me” for “w”, makes sense to me :-)

  111. Ron -  February 3, 2011 - 12:27 pm

    One thing this article does NOT explain is why the w is written as two v’s. It says that it used to be written as two u’s, which explains the name, but the article then glosses over the titular question of how the double u’s became double v’s.

  112. ross -  February 3, 2011 - 12:22 pm

    ii?VV Many latin names ii

  113. james -  February 3, 2011 - 12:02 pm

    dumbest article I’ve ever read

  114. Ooga Booga -  February 3, 2011 - 12:00 pm

    I will never be a lexicographer and a metallographer I will stay.

    Chemistry is so much easier than the English language!

  115. Coriander -  February 3, 2011 - 11:59 am

    I thought bilabial is having or using two lips. It is when you need both lips to make the letter sound like /p/ and /b/. I have no idea what fricatives are.

  116. sandy -  February 3, 2011 - 11:52 am

    Correction: our is not a phonetic alphabet; therefore, /w/ is certainly not the only letter, whose name fails to represent its phoneme. Consider pronunciation of “B’, “C”, D, on and on and on. These do not say the tiny /b/, /ku/ etc. phonemes that they represent. And yes, /v/ is a labio-dental fricative. Good article though

  117. Randy -  February 3, 2011 - 11:50 am

    Lets make it simple, pronounce “W” as two “Us”. The first is said as “ou” as in you. The second is said “uh” as in duh. Now put them together and you have “ou-uh”. Now say it quickly and you have the “W” sound. Hope this will clear up ou-uhhy ou-uhee have a double “U”. Duh.

  118. sidetrack -  February 3, 2011 - 11:48 am

    It’s a good article.I think it might also kind of explain a bit why in spanish the ltter “w” is named “double v”.

  119. JacuzziSplot -  February 3, 2011 - 11:47 am

    It’s actually called “double v” in French.

  120. Sad -  February 3, 2011 - 11:18 am

    “because of it’s name” is “because of it is name” :(

    come on, hotword! i know you can do better.

  121. Mohamed ali -  February 3, 2011 - 11:14 am

    this is gonna be on my facebook itz gd article

  122. Jeff -  February 3, 2011 - 11:14 am

    Yes, pronouncing things in fewer syllables than reality is a trend that many people in “a certain large southern state” seem to have embraced whole-heartedly. This concept seems to be correlated to the ability to accept and promote blatantly false political slogan/jargon/talking head FN diatribe too.

    Ashley, “voiced” in Linguistics, is referring to the vibration of vocal chords, compare s (not voiced) to z (voiced) by putting your hand on your throat while you make the sounds for each letter. Feel it? Of course you do.

    And I’m truly surprised at the number of mistakes in this article. Is it written by interns or something? Come on!

  123. neerajkaushik -  February 3, 2011 - 11:01 am

    It remains UU whatever shape the printing presses or typesets may to itgive.In handwrittenmanuscripts and even in cursive or ordinary writing style it remains joined uu.

  124. mizz ortiz -  February 3, 2011 - 10:59 am

    i hate all yall comments except peach

  125. Todd -  February 3, 2011 - 10:51 am

    This is interesting. What’s even more intresting is I’m a West Virginia Univerity Mountaineer fan. There call letters are …

    W V U

  126. peach -  February 3, 2011 - 10:48 am

    all yall comments r borin.

  127. Charles -  February 3, 2011 - 10:33 am

    English IS easy–primarily because, like most newer programming languages, the syntax “rules” are so loose that nearly any word order can be properly understood.

    HISTORY is hard!

    For starters, there’s often periods in which all ‘subversive’ information was destroyed. Then there’s the continuing process of keeping only the currently useful information–libraries get purged in many ways.

    Then there’s the ‘winner wrote the book,” which is usually pretty obvious, but without any voice from the other side, it’s hard to know just how exaggerated the record may be.

    For most history people were far more concerned with their individual basic needs than with preserving old junk.

    There have been periodic attempts to create new characters, though the most recent I remember was the combined !? Which is punctuation, and ought to be considered part of the alphabet, they signal modifications of timing and pitch.

    Recording on paper exactly what was said requires musical and choreographic–and some form of recording facial expressions since a huge amount of human communication is non-verbal.

    ‘What a lot of things you do use |Good morning| for!’ said Gandalf. ~ “TheHobbit”

  128. animal crazy girl -  February 3, 2011 - 10:25 am

    i write it like a doble u but its my way of making letters.

  129. mona -  February 3, 2011 - 10:21 am

    im from iran, i’ve just read the article. that was nice

  130. D. James -  February 3, 2011 - 10:21 am

    Oops. Have to correct my correction. I meant to say, “. . . so a word contained in one of the first sentences . . .”

  131. D. James -  February 3, 2011 - 10:18 am

    I am a charter member of the English Grammar and Spelling Police, so one word contained in of the first sentences of the essay leaped out at me: “The complications of ‘w’ are doublefold because of it’s name . . .” It should be “its,” not “it’s.”

  132. isabelle -  February 3, 2011 - 10:16 am

    awesome peeps

  133. Tiffany -  February 3, 2011 - 9:53 am

    I also thought that in Old English the letter “u” was written as a V.

  134. aa fasina thomas -  February 3, 2011 - 9:29 am

    Fascinating, educative…especially the stuff contributed by L.Koffi. Ve are thankful bcs of the good Vniwersities in our contly. Ve thank u wery wery much.

  135. professor mombat -  February 3, 2011 - 9:10 am

    did you know that “W” is the only letter in the latin alphabet the is an upside down “M”?

    this comes from ancient times when “W” was actually called obm, meaning inverted “M”.

  136. fabiola -  February 3, 2011 - 9:08 am

    I now speak with a british accent!!!!!

  137. Ole TBoy -  February 3, 2011 - 9:07 am


    Would that state be “Missippy”? “Probby” not. Not “larzh ’nuff.”

  138. Sam -  February 3, 2011 - 9:06 am

    When I was visiting Russia in high school our translator had so much trouble saying the /w/ sound. We made up a tongue twister to help her practice:

    Willy Wonka whacked wildebeasts while walking westward.

  139. AMY-LOU -  February 3, 2011 - 9:06 am

    This really didnt look like it would be a good read and i was right it kinda bored me. But to others who did like it more power to ya!

  140. JimmiGee -  February 3, 2011 - 8:53 am

    OK Kathy. I hereby “dub-ya” queen of drawl!

  141. Anon -  February 3, 2011 - 8:51 am

    Latin letters replaces runes in English long before the Middle English period. The entire corpus of Old English literature is written using the Latin alphabet, although sometimes runes were inserted as shorthand or wordplay, as in the poems signed by Cynewulf.

  142. Breno Rodrigues -  February 3, 2011 - 8:34 am

    I liked this article. It shows an interesting part of English History. Congratulations !

  143. Mrs Dean Wormer -  February 3, 2011 - 8:28 am

    I’m going to form a band called the Bilabial Fricatives. Who is with me?!

  144. AmateurCommenter-924 -  February 3, 2011 - 8:27 am

    @Melanie, they’re just people. Who are supposed to have advanced intellect on words! C’mon Dictionary! Can’t you at least make proper blog posts! Anyway, nice article, though.

  145. Matt -  February 3, 2011 - 8:21 am

    Voiced *bilabial*? Feel free to correct my limited knowledge of phonetics, but wouldn’t the /v/ sound be a voiced labio-dental fricative? A voiced bilabial fricative would be /m/, wouldn’t it?-

    M is nasal.

  146. arben agolli -  February 3, 2011 - 8:08 am

    Your article ends on the last paragraph …Fast forward to 1300. With the French-speaking Normans ruling England for a couple hundred years, the English language rapidly evolves from Old English or Anglo-Saxon into Middle English. my question is:
    If French occupation modeled English language why you never talk about Roman occupation and its influence on your language. Are you sure (why and how if so) that what you consider French is not (to be more accurate) an Italian influence which you never mention when talking about etymologies of the wards.

  147. Soren -  February 3, 2011 - 8:07 am

    @Melanie re H
    You are saying it wrong:) Say “haych” not “aych”. That’s the Austrailian way and it corrects this inconvenient gap in phonetic correspondence.

  148. David -  February 3, 2011 - 8:02 am

    @ melanie – Do some of the Brits pronounce “h” with a hard breath like /haytch/ (sorry not taking the time to look up the codes for phon. symbols) ? I think I’ve heard that… could be wrong…

    Someone once said the silent “h” in many American English words (honor, hour, honest, heir, herb, etc.) is a hold over from a “lower class” accent, like Cockney, or the like where they drop a lot of h’s … Any one know?

    I believe the non-voiced bilabial fricative in English is know as a raspberry (although some people use their tounge as well!) :-)

    Voiced would be like when you blow on a baby’s tummy!

    As a vocal warm-up we called it “bubbling” in choir!

  149. Ruth -  February 3, 2011 - 7:54 am

    If Drew is correct, what’s up with Dictionary.com’s definition of bilabial?

  150. fabiola -  February 3, 2011 - 7:52 am

    have u guys ever heard of twitter

  151. fabiola -  February 3, 2011 - 7:51 am

    i love this website so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@$##########$$$$$%^&*())

  152. The Demon Ira -  February 3, 2011 - 7:40 am

    Well if you ask me all of you people should go back to school and learn this. I mean come on people this is america that some of us live in and we should learn it if you ask me.

  153. georgieboy -  February 3, 2011 - 7:36 am

    “The complications of “w” are doublefold because of it’s name …”
    Shouldn’t the publishers of a dictionary know how to spell its?

  154. Kathy -  February 3, 2011 - 7:11 am

    some of us in a certain large southern state pronounce “w” with only two syllables, as in “dub-ya” … just sayin’

  155. emma smells -  February 3, 2011 - 7:11 am

    ‘w’ is a letter not a word, look at the title LOL

  156. OsamaBinLaden -  February 3, 2011 - 6:55 am

    Ve are not Germans, Ve are English. Nien Nien Nien!!!!

  157. JS -  February 3, 2011 - 6:54 am

    “Moreover, even /m/ is not a bilabial fricative. /m/ is a bilabial nasal. There is no bilabial fricative sound in English language, though you may find one in some phonetic languages in Asia.”

    Phonetic languages? What is a phonetic language? And you can find voiced bilabial fricatives in modern Spanish (and an older form of Greek, which is where the IPA symbol /β/ is derived).

  158. kaaay -  February 3, 2011 - 6:54 am

    you all gone mad, i say.

  159. jhomelle -  February 3, 2011 - 6:50 am

    nice comments in here,!lot of cool stuffs that make me feel more educated about these things..tnx a lot..

  160. Brooklyn JOE -  February 3, 2011 - 6:23 am

    In English, /v/ is indeed a labiodental fricative. However in Spanish it is a bilabial fricative.

  161. Sir Mike Tallon, PhD -  February 3, 2011 - 6:12 am

    I still don’t get how “uu” started getting written as “vv” pushed together? When and why did that happen?

  162. tbstoller -  February 3, 2011 - 6:03 am

    Came to the site to look up the pronunciation of a word and got caught up in this. You are awesome!

  163. Zupa -  February 3, 2011 - 5:54 am

    ‘because of it’s comments’
    now that’s some naughty apostrophe!

  164. Ashley -  February 3, 2011 - 5:50 am

    Actually, I was under the impression that /m/ is not voiced because it’s pronounced with your mouth closed? (I took an introductory linguistics course a while ago, I don’t remember certainly what distinguishes voiced from non-voiced)

  165. Mark II -  February 3, 2011 - 5:45 am

    Because…. in Latin (of which most of the English language is based), “U” looks like a “V”. You boneheads.

  166. jAd -  February 3, 2011 - 5:22 am

    It is called “Double V” in French anyway, makes sense.

  167. dlm -  February 3, 2011 - 5:05 am

    Many interesting comments here! Melanie – you are correct about /h/. Rocky-O – I appreciate your comment about the effect of keyboards on the visual representation of /w/. I, too, learned to write it as “uu”.
    And Will – Appreciated your comment about the syllables. Interesting to note how little we are disturbed by the inefficiency in that term “www”…

  168. @ ;? -  February 3, 2011 - 4:44 am

    @ ;? same here

  169. Drew -  February 3, 2011 - 4:30 am

    @kysore Right you are. Wasn’t sure. I just put my lips together, made a sound and /m/ came out.

  170. scrooge -  February 3, 2011 - 4:16 am

    and I thought learning english was simple!?!?
    whats with all the bilabial fricatives what’s it mean anyways? ? HEADACHE!

  171. James -  February 3, 2011 - 4:16 am

    If I were to have guessed, it would have been that explaination.

  172. Curly -  February 3, 2011 - 3:50 am


    “…because of it’s name…”

    Please fix this typo. Thank you.

    I very much enjoyed the article.

  173. L Koffi -  February 3, 2011 - 3:40 am

    Will W: I don’t think it’s /dub-a-you/, it might be /dou-ble-you/, but, if I’m being phonetic about it I would write it as /duh-bull-u/; ;?: Funny u said your head hurt!; Ndigile: You can get dictionary.com; hahahahehehahuhuha: You sound confused, but so, so funny. Vniversity is the way “university” was spelled at institutions of higher education which existed before Medieval times so the u was typed in as a v. Maybe that’s how the double v (vv) look originated. Just saying!

  174. cutiepup12 -  February 3, 2011 - 2:20 am

    awesome article!!!

  175. my name is Bob -  February 3, 2011 - 1:22 am

    i like cheese

  176. remi -  February 3, 2011 - 1:10 am

    @kysore… isn’t /p/ supposed to be a voiced bilabial fricative?

  177. Deb Burton -  February 3, 2011 - 12:33 am

    ay, bee, cee, dee, ee, ef, ghee, haitch, ii, jay, kay, el, em, en, oo, pee. Qwu, ar, es, tee, (y)uu, vee, way, eks, yay and zee….
    Now I know my ABC – the new version which I teach to kids having trouble with reading! Thanks for all this excellent information, it is good to get the children realising English is only about 70% or so fonetik, and some of the reasons why! French seems even less phonetic, but apparently German is mostly OK…

    And why is ‘y’ called “wii” – beginning with the ‘w’ sound!!!

  178. kysore -  February 2, 2011 - 11:36 pm

    Agree with Drew. /v/ is definitely not a bilabial fricative. It’s a labiodental fricative. Moreover, even /m/ is not a bilabial fricative. /m/ is a bilabial nasal. There is no bilabial fricative sound in English language, though you may find one in some phonetic languages in Asia.

  179. Girl -  February 2, 2011 - 11:33 pm

    Hi guys!!!!! I just finished reading ya’ alls comments. Very cool!!!!

  180. Cuong -  February 2, 2011 - 10:15 pm

    Hehe, the “w” alliteration at the end was so obvious.

  181. Sammie -  February 2, 2011 - 10:05 pm

    i think double u should b pronunced as you you .

  182. Sandeep -  February 2, 2011 - 9:48 pm

    Good Article

  183. matt -  February 2, 2011 - 9:33 pm

    As drew commented, /v/ is indeed a voiced labiodental fricative. Additionally, /w/ is a voiced labio-velar approximant, not approximate. It is a semivowel, like /j/ (representing the sound of the first letter in “yes”).

  184. hahahahehehahuhuha -  February 2, 2011 - 9:26 pm

    hahaha hehehea huhuha imma laughing at these random comments, no noe copy , meh fake name thingy LMAO

  185. Ndigile -  February 2, 2011 - 9:21 pm

    i want a free dictionary which i can download and save in my computer.

  186. xexexe -  February 2, 2011 - 8:19 pm

    Oh, good times, good times. My high school Latin teacher was soooooo strict on the pronunciation of the Latin “v”. For example, she’d always get mad if we pronounced “videō” (= “I see”) vee-de-oh instead of wee-de-oh.

  187. ;? -  February 2, 2011 - 8:09 pm

    Reading this made my head hurt.

  188. W | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 2, 2011 - 8:07 pm

    [...] DUBYA!? WOTYANUTS? The epic epoch of those first eight years did nothing but discombobulate into the brouhaha of the beginning of the Twenty-First Century where Conservative Manipulation did its best to Defenestrate Democracy by stealing an election — solidifying the tools of terrorism — to leave the Love behind closed doors and Wag the Dog for the future, bathed in oil and money, setting the stage for the bursting of the bottled up rage. — We may shout Bama Lama but defenestrate ole ‘W’ and a false perception of justice. — Now we know our ABCs… –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  189. pigtown*design -  February 2, 2011 - 7:31 pm

    in wales, “w” is a vowel. i lived near a place called “pwll”. “y” is also a vowel in welsh.

  190. Will W -  February 2, 2011 - 7:20 pm

    That its the only letter that when pronounced has 3 syllables /dub-a-you/

    and that its actually shorter to say “world wide web” instead of “www”

  191. rocky-o -  February 2, 2011 - 6:47 pm

    good article…very informative and interesting…

    one thing…i do remember, back in the 60′s, when i went to elementary school, we were taught to write the ‘w’ as two u’s connected…

    it’s only been recently, with the plethora of keyboards, text messaging, etc., that the ‘w’ has replaced most possibilities of the hand-written ‘uu’ ever popping up again anytime soon…

  192. Josh Park -  February 2, 2011 - 6:42 pm


  193. Josh Park -  February 2, 2011 - 6:42 pm


  194. Melanie -  February 2, 2011 - 5:45 pm

    “It is also the only letter with a name that does not indicate its phonetic use.”

    I thought that “h” didn’t indicate its phonetic use either. :\

  195. Aditya Dogra -  February 2, 2011 - 5:34 pm

    Fantastic. Really a good article.

  196. drew -  February 2, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    “Latin “v” became a voiced bilabial fricative — like the “v” in “vampire.” ”

    Voiced *bilabial*? Feel free to correct my limited knowledge of phonetics, but wouldn’t the /v/ sound be a voiced labio-dental fricative? A voiced bilabial fricative would be /m/, wouldn’t it?



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