My native language is Portuguese (Brazil), and I've been noticing in the past few weeks that I may not know how to speak "why" correctly. I've always pronounced it as "uai", but suddenly in every TV Show and movie I'm listening it as "huai" or something like "uhuai" (I know that "uai" is not pretty accurate as an example, but I've mentioned Portuguese and it's the closest way of showing it).

So, which one is correct?

I've checked on wiktionary, and I've discovered that I'm not crazy when I've actually listened to both versions. "huai" in the audio of "in accents without the "wine-whine" merger", and "uai" in the audio of "in accents with the "wine-whine" merger".

Do you native English speakers even care about, or notice it?

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    This question might be better on English Language Learners. Also, could you use IPA for more clarity? Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 15:33
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    Relatively few dialects still preserve the distinction between wine and whine. I don't know why you've recently started watching movies and TV shows that have actors who make this distinction (unless you're watching older movies and TV shows). I don't generally even notice it. But if somebody pronounced wine /waɪn/ like whine /ʍain/; then I might notice. Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 15:35
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    First you've got to learn the phonetic symbols used in dictionaries, British or American. (choose the variety you've been taught) Once you can read the symbols, it will be much easier for you to find the right pronunciation of a word. There is the IPA, which is the International Phonetic Alphabet, which you should adopt when posting a question here. Most dictionaries have their own varieties, though.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 16:00
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    It's a well known dialect difference in American English -- some people distinguish "wine" from "whine"; some don't. Since I do distinguish, I notice when (/hwen/) others don't.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 16:03
  • @Greg Lee: After being mercilessly ribbed by Family Guy's "cool whip" skits for years now, I wonder how many people who used to make that distinction have now abandoned it. But even if the answer to that is "Almost none", I've no doubt most of their children will tend to copy other people, rather than their parents. As Peter says, it's effectively a dying dialectalism. Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


As you've pointed out, you're not crazy and both pronunciations you've heard for the word why are correct.

Some speakers may use /hw/ for ⟨wh⟩, and although the wine/whine merger is complete in many English speaking countries, the merger is not found in other ones. As it happens in all languages, accents are changing all the time, be it due to migration from/to rural and urban areas or other cultural aspects.

Merriam-Webster dictionary indicates both pronunciation forms for the word why, please see. - Why adverb \ˈhwī, ˈwī\ or /ˈwaɪ/.

I'm also a Portuguese native speaker and I usually pronounce the word Why as /ˈwaɪ/ with the merger. While meeting with Americans from all over the US, as also English native speakers from all over the world, I could notice the /hw/ accent for ⟨wh⟩ on a few speakers pronunciation. They usually say the accent is still there in their home countries and that it is clearly perceived.

In the Southeastern US that seems to be more evident, see the map.


In my experience, there is a distinction that can be heard between "wh" words and "w" words. "Whine" is not something to drink with dinner. "What" is not a unit of electric power. The "h" is heard before the "w". The "merger" of "whine" and "wine" is not "complete" anywhere I have lived in the United States.

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    Hello, David, and welcome to ELU. Please read the guidelines / instructions at the Help Center: these include the requirements for good answers (accompanied by supporting references; rarely parochial and never purely subjective ...). Commented May 27, 2019 at 10:35

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