Generally, o's at the start of a word are either short (as in 'operation') or long (as in 'open'), or related sounds. However, the word 'one' has a very different initial sound, which (as far as I can tell, from playing around with Mathematica's WordData constructs) is unique apart from related words like 'once', 'oneness' and 'oneself'.

How did this o come to be pronounced this way? Or, alternatively, how did this /wʌ/ come to be spelt with an o?


It started in west and southwest England. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,

the now-standard pronunciation "wun" began c. 14c. in southwest and west England (Tyndale, a Gloucester man, spells it won in his Bible translation), and it began to be general 18c.

The word was originally meant to have a long o sound at the begining and you can still see this in the words atone and alone and an phrase/contractions such as good'un.

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  • 3
    But good 'un doesn't have a long o. Could you add some etymology for "atone" and "alone?" That would be useful. – Katherine Lockwood Dec 30 '16 at 4:04
  • If this is purely about the sound, not the spelling then what does any of that say about either 'want' or 'wanton', please? – Robbie Goodwin Jan 12 '17 at 20:50
  • @RobbieGoodwin And while we're at it, what about "wont," which in the US is sometimes a homonym of "want." and sometimes pronounced with a long O, but seldom pronounced like won with a t attached, as I am wont to do.. – Airymouse Jan 29 '17 at 14:55
  • Oh, yes. Many Brits also sound 'want' for 'wont' and never like 'won.' – Robbie Goodwin Jan 31 '17 at 15:14

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