Can you look at a word and see if a "u" should be pronounced as "ooo" or "yoo" by using some set of rules, or do you just have to know the correct pronunciation ahead of time?

For example:

cop[u]late "yoo"
l[u]minate "ooo"
r[u]minate "ooo"
imm[u]ne "yoo"
cons[u]me  "ooo"
comm[u]ne "yoo"
  • 2
    I pronounce consume with a yoo sound.
    – wythagoras
    Sep 4, 2015 at 18:23
  • New York drops its yod half way across the Atlantic (travelling westwards). Sep 4, 2015 at 18:27
  • 2
    Not only isn't there a rule, there isn't even agreement. Sep 4, 2015 at 18:34
  • You might want to include t[u]ne “yoo” in British English (at least some forms), which sounds strange to this American ear. Oct 29, 2017 at 16:58

1 Answer 1


I believe the following are reasonable guidelines (although there are numerous exceptions, like cuckoo).

For words that came from Middle English, in standard British English you pronounce long u as "oo" if it follows an "l", "r", "sh", "ch", or "j" sound; and "yoo" otherwise.

In standard American, you can pronounce long u as "oo" if it follows an "l", "r", "sh" "ch", "j", "n", "t", "d", "s", "z" or "th" sound; and "yoo" otherwise.

This phenomenon is called "yod dropping" and exactly what consonants trigger it varies widely with the specific dialect of English (and maybe even the speaker). See Wikipedia.

For foreign words, like kudos, sushi, and puma, all bets are off. All of these were pronounced "oo" in their original languages, but English speakers may (fairly randomly) decide to pronounce some of them with the spelling pronunciation.

  • Great info! And knowing its called yod dropping is also helpful.
    – chiliNUT
    Sep 4, 2015 at 19:18
  • 1
    Yep. Syllable structure/word stress also affects yod-dropping: compare menu and renew or value and allure.
    – herisson
    Sep 5, 2015 at 2:57
  • 1
    I can imagine someone saying pyuma. I can just about accept kyudos. But syushi?!? Surely not! @sumelic Allure is an interesting case since it’s pronounced both with and without yod on both sides of the Atlantic. Sep 5, 2015 at 12:40
  • Also, how is cuckoo an exception? The u is /ɵ/, and the only /uː/ in the word is oo (= from a pre-Great Vowel Shift /oː/) and never had a yod to drop. Sep 5, 2015 at 12:43
  • 3
    @sumelic: Cuckoo goes back to 1240, so it should have been affected by the Great Vowel shift. And it had various spellings, probably representing various vowels, including /oː/, in Middle English (among the ones the OED gives are cuccu, koko, kookoo). The fact that it was imitative probably helped it to resist the Great Vowel shift to some extent – for example, I can't imagine it being pronounced cowcow, which would be the shift from the original French pronunciation /kuːkuː/. Sep 5, 2015 at 16:47

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