Note: In English, some words have a /y/ sound before /uw/. This sound is “invisible” – it’s not shown in spelling.
If the /uw/ is spelled “u,” “eu,” "eau," or “ew”, there is usually an invisible /y/, unless the syllable begins with “j”, “r”, or "ch."
Words with invisible /y/:
Words with no invisible /y/:
For other words, there may be variation in whether speakers pronounce an invisible /y/ before /uw/. For example, invisible /y/ is usually pronounced after the "n" in "menu" but may or may not be pronounced after the /n/ in "newspaper" or "nutrition." This variation occurs when /uw/ is spelled "u," "eu," "eau," or "ew" and comes after "t," "d," "s," "x," "l," or "n."
In informal questions with a "you" subject, the /y/ is often blended into the final sound of the previous word if the final sound is /t/ or /d/. This creates an affricate sound. (This blending is not required, but it is common in fast, conversational speech.)
/t/ + /y/ = /tʃ/
- Won't you come? - Wontcha come?
- Didn't you hear? - Didn'cha hear?
/d/ + /y/ = /dʒ/
- Did you know? - Didja know?
- Could you help? - Couldja help?
These are both voiced, palatal consonants. However, /y/ is a liquid consonant while /y/ is a glide consonant. When you pronounce /l/, your tongue should touch the roof of your mouth, but when you pronounce /y/, the sides of your tongue should touch your upper teeth.
You can hear the difference between /y/ and /l/ in these words.
1. A. yes, B. less
2. A. young, B. lung
3. A. yearn, B. learn
4. A. use, B. lose
5. A. few, B. flu
6. A. furies, B. flurries
Now, compare /y/ and /w/
These are both voiced, glide consonants. However, /w/ is a bilabial glide and /y/ is a palatal glide. To pronounce /y/, your tongue should be high in your mouth and your lips should usually be spread.
You can hear the difference between /y/ and /w/ in these words.
1. A. yet, B. wet
2. A. you, B. woo
3. A. yay, B. way
4. A. yonder, B. wander
5. A. your, B. wore
6. A. unyielded, B. unwielded
Listen and repeat these words: (A * marks words with an invisible /y/.)
Now, practice /y/ in sentences. Say the words first, then the sentences.
1. you - yellow - onions
Where did you put the yellow onions?
2. yearly - reunion
My family has a yearly reunion.
3. yoga - yesterday
I practiced yoga yesterday.
4. refused - yield - opinion
He refused to yield to my opinion.
5. you - youngest - your
Are you the youngest person in your class?
6. use - youthful - beautiful
Many people use makeup to appear youthful and beautiful.
To practice with different varieties of English, choose another native English speaker by clicking one of the links below: