18: The /f/ and /v/ in English

Compare pronunciation of /f/ and /v/ and learn why they're difficult to say fluently.


Hi everyone. Welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is podcast number 18.

Last week we practiced the sh sound and zh sound. Let's review our practice sentence for those sounds.


Vision is usually measured with special machines.


Do you remember the linguistic classification of those sounds? They are consonant fricatives. That means that the sounds happen when we create friction somewhere in the vocal tract.

Today we are going to study two more fricative sounds, the voiced/unvoiced pair of f sound and v sound. You probably already know that we don't need to use the tongue to create these sounds. These sounds happen when we place our bottom lip lightly against our upper teeth, and push air through the small space between the teeth and the lip. The f sound is unvoiced, and the v sound is voiced. Listen to these sounds and repeat after me if you can: (f sound, v sound)

When thinking about the v sound and f sound, always think about the lower lip and the upper teeth. If you are creating friction with air between the lower lip and upper teeth, a native English speaker will hear a v sound or f sound, depending on if you are voicing the sound or not.

Let's practice a few f sound, v sound minimal pairs and notice the difference between these sounds.


leaf, leave
few, view
refuse, reviews
proof, prove


The biggest problem I hear with these sounds is usually with the v sound. Some students do not voice the v sound, and so it sounds more like an f sound to a native English speaker, some students have trouble between the v sound and w sound, and some Spanish speakers have trouble between the v sound and the b sound.

If you remember from podcast number 7, making our lips into a small circle and pushing air out while using our vocal cords creates the w sound. We cannot touch our lips to our teeth at all during the w sound, or it will sound like a v sound to a native English speaker.

Let's practice some minimal pairs between the v sound and w sound to hear and feel the clear difference between them. The w sound is created entirely with the vibration between the lips, and the v sound is created with the vibration between the lower lip and upper teeth.


vent, went
vine, wine
vest, west
veil, whale
verse, worse


Now I'm going to talk a little bit about the v sound compared to the b sound. I'll talk about this again when I teach about the b sound in an upcoming podcast. For now, I just want to point out that a b sound is made by pressing our lips together, then letting them go with a puff of air, (b sound) and that the b sound is not made by pressing the lips to the teeth at all.

Listen to these v sound, b sound minimal pairs.


vote, boat
very, berry
vest, best
vase, base
vent, bent


I will have a link to the word list practice for the f sound, v sound, and w sound, and b sound along with the transcripts for this episode. You can find free word lists and transcripts at www.pronuncian.com.

A very cool new feature for people who have purchased the book Pronunciation Pages is downloadable MP3 lists of words for each sound. Instead of going to the website and clicking to hear each word, you can download the entire list as one file and keep it forever on your computer or MP3 player. Even after the subscription ends, you still have all the lists!

As always, I would love to hear from you! If you'd like to send me comments or suggestions, please email me at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com.

This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy, where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening everyone!