10: The American English 'oo sound' /u/ and 'other u' /ʊ/

Learn about the tricky other u (as in put) and the oo sound (as in soon).

PRACTICE"Good fruit looks like good food should."


Hello listeners around the world! I have to say, I am surprised at the international audience this podcast has been getting. I started producing the American English Pronunciation podcast to give extra instruction to my students and to offer reminders for my former students. So I am excited to see that there are so many people from all over listening. So far, Japan and Spain have the most listeners outside the United States. If you are listening from outside the United States, please, send me an email and say hello. Tell me how you like the podcast. You can send emails to podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com.

If you are a new listener, welcome. My name is Mandy, and this is Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. And this is episode number 10.

We worked on vowels during episodes 8 and 9. We studied the long vowels, which are usually the easiest vowels, then went on to short vowels. If you can remember the key words from those episodes, hooray to you. If not, here they are again.

The long vowel key words are, and you should repeat after me if you are in a place where you can talk to yourself: cake, keep, bike, home cute. Remember, the long vowels sound like their letter names: a, e, i, o, and u.

Much harder are the short vowels. Here are their key words: cat, bed, sit, top, sun. Those sounds were (short a, short e, short i, short o, and short u).

Our final five vowel sounds don't fit into a neat category, so I'm just going to call them the "other vowels". I want to say again that the linguists don't all agree on the number of vowels or which ones there are. I teach what I have found to most help my students over the past three years of working with them on pronunciation. At Seattle Learning Academy, and for this podcast, we teach 15 vowel sounds.

We aren't going to study all of the last five vowel sounds today because I want to be able to focus on two harder sounds. Next week we'll wrap up the introduction to the vowel sounds with the final three vowels. So, today we'll only have two key words: soon and put. That should be easy, right? So I'll add a practice sentence back in today as well. Here it is: Good fruit looks like good food should.

Let's begin with the horrible sound in the middle of the sound put. The (u sound) sound. This sound is hard for a number of reasons. First, its spelling makes students think it should sound like something else. I'm going to call this sound "u as in put" because if I just call it the u sound, you may confuse it with the short u. Listen to the difference in sound (u sound, short u) Put, sun. The u as in put sound is also spelled o-o, like in the words book and foot, and so students often accidentally say it like the oo sound in the word soon. The sound in the word soon is what I call the oo sound.

Listen to the difference in the short u, u as in put, and the oo sound: (short u, u sound, oo sound), sun, put, soon.

Another spelling for the u as in put sound is o-u-l, as in could, should, and would. I want to make sure you understand that there is no l sound in any of those words. They are all only three sounds: could, (k sound, u sound, d sound), should (sh sound, u sound, d sound) and would (w sound, u sound, d sound).

The u as in put sound actually isn't in very many different words, but that does not make it a less important sound, because many of the words it is in are words we say a lot. Words that we use a lot are called "high-frequency words". There is a Wikipedia page that I really like that deals with word frequency in TV and movie scripts. I like this frequency chart, even though it isn't perfectly scientific, because it is more accurate to words we say than the other corpuses that count written words. You can go to that page and see how important a word is for everyday conversation. I'll link to it in the show notes for this episode. Of course, this list does not add technical words that you probably use for your job.

Here are the top u as in put words, go ahead and repeat after me:


I like studying the oo sound along with the u as in put sound because so many students substitute the oo sound where the u as in put sound should be. The direct comparison between sounds is good for listeners. Not many people have trouble correctly saying the oo sound.

During the practice words for the oo sound, I want you to notice that another common spelling is u-consonant-e. Remember also from episode number 8, that the u-consonant-e spelling can also be the long u sound as in the word cute. Here are the oo sound practice words:


Let's get back to that practice sentence I told you at the beginning of the show today: Good fruit looks like good food should. That sentence alternates between the u as in put sound and the oo sound. Listen again: Good fruit looks like good food should.

Now repeat it after me. I'll say it first in two parts:

Good fruit looks / like good food should.

And one more time:

Good fruit looks / like good food should.

Now all in one chunk:

Good fruit looks like good food should.

Is it memorized yet?

I'm going to give you a little listening quiz. I am going to say seven words. I will have one word each for the short vowels, the oo sound, and u as in put. I'm going to read them all, then come back and tell you the answers. If you have memorized the key words, this will be easier for you because you will be able to compare sounds in context. Here are all of the key words again:


short a (short a) cat
short e (short e) bed
short i (short i) sit
short o (short o) top
short u (short u) sun
oo sound (oo sound) soon
u as in put (u sound) put


Here are the words that I want you to identify the sound in:


1. stop
2. bruise
3. from
4. head
5. took
6. him
7. ask


Now let's go over those again.

1. stop is a short o sound, like the word top
2. bruise is the oo sound, like the word soon
3. from is the short u sound, like the word sun. Did the spelling cause you to make an error? Listen again: from, sun.
4. head is a short e sound, like bed. That one may have been hard, too: head, bed.
5. took is u as in put: took, put. Don't say that word with an oo pronunciation, like t(oo)k, it should be took.
6. him, hopefully that was easy, it is the short i
7. and the last one was also not too hard, probably, ask is the short a sound, like cat: ask, cat.

How'd you do? For most people, that activity is somewhat tough. So, if it wasn't, good for you!

Okay, three more vowel sounds to go. We'll wait until next week for them, and only one of them is especially hard. Then I think I'll take a break from this hard sound stuff and do some different fun activities dealing with the way Americans speak.

Thanks for listening everyone. Have a great week, and have fun noticing new things about English that maybe nobody ever told you before. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication, where we strive to help the whole world learn.