Consider two words, for example, lot and all.

The phonetic symbol of l in the two words are the same, which makes me wonder why the sound of l in the first is considered to be the same as in the second one (or not?).

To me, the l in lot requires "active" motion of the tongue, while the l in all only requires a slight motion of the mouth, and a slightly prolonged sound, and does not require the tongue to move. Sometimes I even think that the pronunciation of all is nothing but "o-ow".

My question is: 1. Should the two ls be considered to have the same sound? 2. If so, why? To be concrete, do you (or is it wrong if not) move your tongue while pronouncing "all"?

In fact, the pronunciation of the letter L in the alphabet should be "el", but many people (non-native speaker) pronounce it as "e-low", seemingly to "solidify" the unsubstantial sound of l. I am no better than them since I pronounce it as "e-ow".

  • 1
    Is there a question in here somewhere?
    – Hellion
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 4:48
  • The l in each sounds the same to me. If you pronounce a lot do you hear a difference in the l from either of lot and all. If so, which one?
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 4:55
  • 5
    There's a lot of material about dark and light Ls. Have a look at the discussion on velarisation in Wikipedia and its presence in different accents of English: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velarization
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 5:04
  • @Drew For "a lot", I can't imagine to confuse it with "al-ot".
    – FJDU
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 5:08
  • 2
    If you record someone saying "oil" and play it backwards, it sounds almost exactly the same. The terminal ell is essentially a vowel; it only assumes "ellness" when it's immediately followed by another vowel, which initiates the release.
    – bye
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 5:25

1 Answer 1


Phonemic /l/ that occurs in words like laugh and full is indeed two different sounds in many speakers, but these are just different allophones of the same underlying phoneme.

In fact, phonemic /l/ can be realized as any of [l], [ɫ], [ɤ], [w], [o], or [ʊ] — see here.

For most speakers of English, the allophone in laugh is phonetic [l], whereas the one in full is [ɫ]. Some speakers do have [ɫ] for both, however.

This [ɫ] sound is sometimes called a dark l. Both the bright l and the dark one are alveolar lateral approximants, but the dark version is also velarized.

  • 1
    Good answer. Some non-native speakers (Russians, for example) do make a phonemic distinction between "hard" L and "soft" L, and they may have a problem if they're looking for a semantic distinction when there is only a phonemic one.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 11:36

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