I find it curious that there exist two words spelt wind ("a breeze" vs. "to turn") and two words spelt wound ("an injury" vs. the past participle of wind), and that the words in each pair are unrelated in etymology and are pronounced differently. Did these different pronunciations come about to differentiate between the meanings?

The OED says of wound:

The original ŭ was normally lengthened before nd , but in the standard pronunciation has been prevented from developing into ou (as in bound , hound , ground , etc.) by the influence of the w (in contrast to wound , past tense of wind v.1). The pronunciation /waʊnd/ is however given by some dictionaries of the 18th century (Kenrick, 1733; Jones, 1798), is widely current in dialects, is implied in various forms of wounds int. and zounds int., and was common in the adverb woundy adj.1

How would the w prevent the /u/ from developing into /aʊ/, and why did it only affect one of the two wounds?

  • I take it that OED is not attributing the theta role agent to the lowly 'w' ('If the participant ... has conscious control over something happening, the participant is called an agent), but rather perhaps trigger . Or perhaps we need a further class, influencer (of an agent)? And once you introduce human choice, capriciousness and pragmatism into the equation, is any result surprising? Oct 12, 2013 at 8:30
  • I had thought theta roles were part of syntax, not phonology. Or did I miss an in-joke? An initial /w/ is essentially a very short [u], and continues seamlessly into a nuclear [u] vowel, probably lengthening it. That doesn't necessarily "prevent" anything, but it's one more contributing factor to consider, like the great vowel shift, which has its exceptions, each of which is unique, and each of which has its own unique set of causes, many of which we will never understand. Oct 12, 2013 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


The sound /w/ had a large impact on the following vowel in the Great Vowel Shift. Consider: the combination war should be pronounced like car, but usually is pronounced like bore—consider warp, ward, warm, quarter, quarry, dwarf. The combination wor should be pronounced like bore, but is usually pronounced like burr—consider work, word, worship, worry, worm, worse.

Why does /w/ have this effect? I have seen the explanation that you round your lips for /w/, and this means there is a tendency to round the following vowel as well. This explanation accounts for the different pronunciations of wound (as the OED says), but I don't believe it can account for wind, as the vowel is not rounded in either pronunciation of wind.

Why one of wind and wound was affected and the other wasn't is unclear, and is probably not the kind of question anybody can answer.

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