I'm wondering about the modern English pronunciation of "u" like the vowel in "few" in open syllables, such as "pure", "cute", "tribunal", "u", etc. What's the origin of this?

(This question is not about the smoothing of this diphthong in American dialects after a coronal consonant- new, grew, lure, etc.)


  • 1
    Note: grew doesn’t have a /j/ in any dialect. Tautosyllabic /rj/ is not allowed in English. Mar 10, 2015 at 17:42
  • @Robusto: It seems to me like there are two related but distinct questions involving this: how did words spelled with "u" like "Duke" come to be pronounced with /juː/, and how did words with "ou" like "coupon" come to be pronounced with /juː/ by at least some speakers. This question only covers the first group. What do you think about editing your question so it only covers the latter? Then neither would be a duplicate.
    – herisson
    Jul 14, 2015 at 0:31
  • @sumelic: So you're saying this duplicate should stand because it only addresses part of the one I mentioned? That doesn't make any sense.
    – Robusto
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:13
  • It's recently come to my attention that Dutch went through a similar process where long <u> is pronounced /y/ because of palatalization (i.e. the vowel moved to a more frontward pronunciation). I wonder if this could be a similar development?
    – Kaninchen
    Jul 22, 2015 at 21:08

2 Answers 2


In most cases the pronunciation of u as /ju:/ is an indication that the word is connected with a French word. French u is regulary pronounced as /y/ as in

  • French le duc /dyk/ - English duke /dju:/, AmE /du:k/
  • F dû/due /dy/ - E due /dju:/
  • F la vue /vy/ - E view /vju:/

Also German words with ü become words with /ju:/ in English

  • G München - E Munich /'mju:nik/

The letter u has the pronunciation (PN) /ʌ/ as in to cut, and the PN /ju:/ in open syllables as in cu-te. An open syllable has the structure vowel (no consonant); here only the written form is relevant, not the spoken form. A closed syllable has the structure vowel+ consonant.

In American English /ju:/ is reduced to /u:/ after a certain group of consonants as in

  • duke /du:k/
  • new /nu:/

In his comment below Peter Shor has enumerated the special consonants after which /ju:/ is reduced to /u:/.

  • Saying "in American English /ju:/ is regularly reduced to /u:/" is liable to confuse some non-Americans. We only do that after certain consonants, most notably /n/, /d/, /t/, /s/, /l/. We never do it after /b/, /p/, /k/, /m/, /h/, /f/, /v/ . Mar 10, 2015 at 16:57
  • @Peter Shor - Thanks for the correction. I'll change my formulation accordingly .
    – rogermue
    Mar 10, 2015 at 17:19
  • @rogermue the American phenomenon is not at all universal. There are plenty of Americans who say duke as /du:k/ and new as /nju:/. Even those who say /dju:k/are very unlikely to say sue as /sju:/.
    – phoog
    Nov 4, 2015 at 20:03
  • Also words that came to us from Anglo Saxon are pronounced neither as /u/ nor /ju/: house, out, etc. It seems to be that /ju/ is more about when the word with the /u/ vowel entered the language than its source. It's just that the biggest source of new words at that time was French.
    – phoog
    Nov 4, 2015 at 20:06
  • There are a bunch of different sources for the /ju/ combination. The most common is probably the French /y/, but there are a number of words originating in Old English (for example, spew) where a diphthong in Middle English mutated into /ju/. Jul 18, 2020 at 21:26

I specUlate that the "ew" (/ju/) is more common in Southern Regional English. E.g. there are towns in the South spelled with "u" which have the /ju/ sound: Bude, Mississippi, is pronounced like its English namesake, Bude/Bewd, England. Could it be another of those archaic survivals from dialectical isolation in the rural South? (e.g., "Pierre" pronounced as "Per"; "person" as "poisson"; "roasting" as "rowsn"; and the aformentioned "new" as "gnew", a pronunciation quite common in my rural South of the past. Not sure if "shoe"/"shew" is related, for other such words ("hoe", "froe") have a simple long "o" sound.

  • Without using IPA or at least a standardized pronunciation notation your examples don’t really help. How do I know how you pronounce “rowsn” or “poisson” and what is a porson anyway?
    – Jim
    Jul 18, 2020 at 23:24
  • sorry; corrected tyoe of "porson/person". There is no phonological notation I'm aware of, including IPA or any other, than can accurately represent the pronunciation of "rowss-nears", which is the Southern version of "roasting ears", referring to ears of corn picked at a particular time for the purpose of roasting them in-husk over fire. Even my (mis)representation of its pronunciation is way off. I guess it's an oral thing.
    – dmms
    Jul 19, 2020 at 15:18

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