The w Sound (/w/ Phoneme)

This lesson is about the w sound (/w/ Phoneme), as in the words:

  • what /wɒt/
  • work /wɜːk/
  • and quick /ˈkwɪk/

It is a sound from the Single Consonants group.

How to pronounce the w Sound

The w sound is called the “labio-velar approximant,” which means that you round your lips and form a narrow space at the back of your mouth with your tongue.

The w sound is made through the mouth and is Voiced, which means you vibrate your vocal chords to make the sound.

It is defined by the position of your tongue and lips. It is an approximant sound which is a sound made by creating a narrow space in your mouth through which air flows. In this case, it’s both the space between your tongue and the top of your mouth and the space between your lips. To produce the /w/ sound, purse your lips and raise the back of your tongue a bit near the roof of your mouth and voice out.

How the /w/ Phoneme is spelled

The /w/ sound is usually spelled with the letter ‘w,’ or as ‘w-h’ as in:

  • where /weə/

But it is also part of the sound made by the letters ‘q-u,’ which is pronounced /kw/ as in:

  • question /’kwestʆən/

Also, in a few words the /w/ sound doesn’t have any letters, like:

  • one /wʌn/

Examples of the w sound

Here are some words that start with /w/.

  • we /wiː/
  • world /wɜːld/
  • whether /ˈweðə/
  • wait /weɪt/

Here are some words with the /w/ sound in the middle.

  • away /əˈweɪ/
  • towards /təˈwɔːdz/
  • someone /ˈsʌmwʌn/
  • require /rɪˈkwaɪə/

English words don’t normally end with the /w/ sound, at least when they are written with the phonetic symbols. However, a lot of words do end with the letter ‘w’, but are spelled phonetically with different symbols.

The vowel /ɔ:/, and the diphthongs /əʊ/ and /aʊ/ end with the same mouth shape as the /w/ sound. As in the words:

  • “saw”
  • “rainbow”
  •  “now”

So strictly speaking the /w/ symbol is only used when the /w/ mouth shape transitions into a vowel, when a vowel transitions into the /w/ mouth shape one of these other symbols is used.


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