The consonantal sounds "w" and "v"

The sounds denoted by the letters "w" and "v" in the English alphabet are very often confused by foreign language learners of English. However, it is very important to know and practise the correct pronunciation of these two sounds so that listeners do not confuse words that sound very similar. Take for example the words "worry" and "very". They can be easily confused when their beginning sound is mispronounced.

The sound "w"

The IPA symbol that represents the sound of the letter "w" is [w].
To learn the correct pronunciation of this sound, you need to know its characteristics:
  • When pronouncing it, the lips are put forward and rounded.
  • The back part of the tongue is raised towards the soft tissue at the back of the roof of the mouth.
  • The vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • Air is only allowed to escape through the mouth.
  • The air is directed along the centre of the tongue.
These characteristics may seem very hard to follow. Therefore, you need to know that the first two features are the most important ones:
  • You need to put your lips forward and round them, and
  • you need to put the back of your tongue against the back of the roof of your mouth.
To practise the sound, speak the following words out loud several times: when, while, weather, worm, which, word, warm, winter, woman, week, awaiting, awake, award. You may listen to the audio file below if you like.

The sound "v"

The IPA symbol that represents the sound of the letter "v" is [v].
To learn the correct pronunciation of this sound, and to differentiate it from [w], you need to know its characteristics as well:
  • Air flows through a narrow channel at the place of articulation. You can test this by pronouncing the sound and holding one hand in front of your mouth.
  • It is articulated using the lower lips and the upper teeth: the lower lips are slightly put behind or against the upper teeth.
  • Its phonation is "voiced". That means that you let your vocal cords vibrate when pronouncing it.
Notice: This sound is the same sound that differentiates the preposition "of" from the adverb "off". To read more about the pronunciation of these two words, click here.
In contrast to the [w] sound, the lips are not rounded. The lower lips are slightly put behind or against the upper teeth. Also, you let air flow through your mouth when pronouncing [v].
To practise the pronunciation of the [v] sound, speak the following words out loud several times: very, vary, various, variety, vibration, voice, village, video, vampire. Then listen to the audio file.
 
 

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