Apart from words derived from Australian Aboriginal languages, are there any words in English that are written at least some of the time with individual letters being underlined for pronunciation reasons, like "Uluṟu"? (I'm not sure whether "Uluṟu" counts as an English word, FWIW)

  • No. I think to get any longer answer, you'd have to allow things like abbreviations.
    – herisson
    Feb 28 '16 at 1:32
  • 1
    I've never seen underlining used as a part of English spelling or punctuation. The main use of underlining is as a typewriter era alternative to italics or bold type. In this use underlining might be used to "guide" pronunciation by indicating words or parts of words to be pronounced with more emphasis, but this is outside the realm or ordinary syntax, spelling, and punctuation.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 28 '16 at 21:13

English does not use underlines to guide pronunciation. The only marking (that I've ever seen) on a letter for that purpose is a diëresis — two ¨ dots over a vowel — to indicate a break between syllables. This marking is purely optional and not part of an alternate spelling. Thus, diëresis itself is officially spelled dieresis and pronounced like dye-e-resis rather than dye-resis.

dieresis   1. A mark (¨) placed over a vowel to indicate that it is sounded in a separate syllable, as in naïve, Brontë – oxforddictionaries.com

In the example above, the two dots of the dieresis in naïve replace the single dot of the i.

A dieresis is not an accent mark, such as that over each e in résumé, which represents an alternate spelling in deference to a word's native language.

Wikipedia (using an alternate spelling, diaeresis) goes on to note the difference between a dieresis and it's lookalike, an umlaut:

The diaeresis and the umlaut are diacritics marking two distinct phonological phenomena. The diaeresis represents the phenomenon also known as diaeresis or hiatus in which a vowel letter is not pronounced as part of a digraph or diphthong. The umlaut, in contrast, indicates a sound shift. These two diacritics originated separately; the diaeresis is considerably older.


While not a guide to pronunciation, in the past abbreviations have sometimes been indicated with underlined superior (superscript) text. The ones that survived the longest are probably:

  • Number (numero): N (still used occasionally, has its own Unicode character: №)
  • Company: C (still seen in a few company logos)
  • Cardinals: 1s̲t̲, 2n̲d̲, 3r̲d̲, etc.

I seem to remember seeing titles (M, Mr̲s̲, etc) like this as well, but that was many years ago.

  • I'm a native midwest U.S. English speaker, and I underline the superscripts in my cardinal numbers when handwriting. Don't know if that's something I was taught, or something I picked up from seeing it written. Maybe it's regional, maybe it's just me. The Wikipedia article indicates that it's no longer common practice, though: Wikipedia, "The practice of underlined [...] superscripted abbreviations [...] was also found in handwritten English until at least the late 19th century (e.g. "first" abbreviated 1<sup>s&#818;t&#818;</sup> [...])."
    – M. Justin
    Oct 12 '20 at 16:31

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