/ʌ/ cut, hut, bun, nothing, love, enough, flood, does

/ʊ/ put, soot, foot, good, look, cook

To me the ʌ is a more short, low front (unrounded?) vowel, but the vowel /ʊ/ which sounds like "uh" is a short, high back (rounded?) vowel but this difference is only minor that you could probably swap each sound when speaking and get away with it.

For example, pronouncing cut as /kʊt/ "kuht", instead of the short /kʌt/ "kut". I can do this with the other words too: hut, bun, nothing, love etc.

Edit: I'm talking about British English phonology, not American English...

For example in AmE, you can say soot in 2 ways (sʊt and su:t ?), Merriam Webster:

\ ˈsu̇t , ˈsət, ˈsüt \

  • 14
    The difference is not subtle at all. If it is subtle for you, you're a native speaker of a very particular dialect.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 31, 2020 at 18:19
  • 5
    In most American dialects, /ʊ/ is high, back, lax, and rounded; it has a limited distribution, appearing only in stressed syllables. [ʌ] is the allophone of the central phoneme /ə/ that occurs in stressed syllables; it's mid, central, lax, and unrounded. The biggest difference between them in American English is that you round your lips a bit to say [ʊ] and you don't round them to say [ʌ]; that's visible in a mirror. Mar 31, 2020 at 18:19
  • 4
    @ukemi root, hoot, boot, toot etc all have the /u:/ phoneme, not the /ʊ/. Mar 31, 2020 at 18:23
  • 2
    @ukemi Yes I can tell the difference between short ʌ (hut) and long vowel u: (hoot), but not the difference between ʊ/ʌ against long vowel u:
    – mrcurious
    Mar 31, 2020 at 18:26
  • 5
    The difference between these pairs is not very subtle to my (pretty standard American) ear: putt/put, luck/look, cud/could, pus/puss. If your native language doesn't have both of these vowels, it's not unusual that you can't differentiate between them, but that's a limitation of your ear, rather than the IPA
    – Juhasz
    Mar 31, 2020 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


The sounds of /ʌ/ and /ʊ/ are only moderately similar from a strictly phonetic point of view. However, in the context of phonology, you might feel like the difference is "[so] minor that you could probably swap each sound when speaking and get away with it" for a couple of reasons:

  • the contrast has a low "functional load": in standard English, /ʊ/ is a rare sound, and there are only a few pairs of words, such as buck and book, that are distinguished solely by the use of /ʌ/ vs /ʊ/. (In other dialects, the same pair of words can be distinguished differently by the use of /ʊ/ vs /uː/.)

  • In some fairly widespread British English dialects, /ʌ/ is not normally used and words that have /ʌ/ in standard English instead have /ʊ/.

  • 2
    I would suggest using "received pronunciation" which is the correct term for what you call "standard English", as there isn't really a standard English. Alternatively be specific which dialects you mean (ie dialects of Southern England by and large use /ʌ/ and those elsewhere in the UK by and large don't).
    – Muzer
    Apr 1, 2020 at 10:20
  • @Muzer: while it's true that a single standard of spoken English doesn't really exist, I don't think my wording is so inaccurate in this particular matter. Dictionary transcriptions could be viewed as indicating a certain level of standardization in the assumed inventory of phonemes. I don't want to say "received pronunciation" because that is also a controversial or ill-defined term, and it's narrower than what I mean: not only RP speakers but the majority of speakers of non-RP varieties in Southern England and also in the United States have a distinction between /ʌ/ and /ʊ/.
    – herisson
    Apr 1, 2020 at 10:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.