Thursday, July 19, 2007

Can you give an example of the use of "w" as a vowel?

Who's asking: Larry Willis, St. Louis, MO

Every first-grader knows -- or should know -- that English vowels are a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y. Conscientious English teachers may add, "and sometimes y and w." Larry wants to know when "w" is a vowel.

Although Welsh uses "w" as a vowel in words such as cwm (which means "valley," and is transliterated into English as "coombe"), English uses w as a vowel only in diphthongs. "W" acts as a vowel in combination with "e" and "o," in words such as new and how. It gives the letters e and o sounds those letters would never have, standing alone, and is phonetically equivalent to the true vowel "u." (It may also stand in for the silent "e," in words such as tow and show.)

In these cases, w's role as a vowel is a linguistic detail, and not something first-graders really need to worry about.

W is an interesting letter. Latin didn't have it, and it's still rare to find it in any Romance language; English adopted it from Germanic languages sometime in the Middle Ages, and it doesn't show up in manuscripts until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. What, I wonder, did we call wiggly worms before then?

16 comments:

Mark Dunn said...

they were called viggly vorms.

Claire said...

We called them gross.

Anonymous said...

My recollection is that the song by the 80's one hit wonder group
EBN-OZN was called "Aeiou sometimes y" no W. and since most people can only think of cwm as a word with a w as a vowel, then I move we don't consider w to be a vowel.

If pluto is not a planet, W is not a vowel

RB

Anonymous said...

Why is it that in latin (at least in my high school latin) the V is pronounced like a W, and in German, the W is pronounced like a V.

Maybe if we all agreed upon one way to pronouce it, we could eliminate it

Signed
The Commitee to Reduce the Alphabet to 25 Letters by Eliminating the W.

Anonymous said...

If you eliminate W my last name would be illis.

Larry (W) Illis

AnswerGirl said...

You know, you start eliminating letters and the next to go is C. Why do we need C when we have K and S? And why do we need J when we have G and Y? And B and P are practically the same sound anyway...

First they came for W. And then they came for me.

Michelle said...

> Latin didn't have it... English adopted it from Germanic languages sometime in the Middle Ages....

Hey Answer Girl, English is a germanic language with lots of Latin vocabulary, is it not?

AnswerGirl said...

You're right, English is the descendant of a language that originated in northwest Germany -- but they didn't write the letter w until after 1066. Maybe they pronounced it "v" and only needed the w to recreate French's "ou" sound?

Speling iz arbitrarie ennywhey...

Anonymous said...

Being dyslexic, spelling is an adventure. Just as my wife, who gets the task of being the first to proof what I write.

Larry

Dave D. said...

..Anyone not too twp knows w is a vowel.

Bella (Beya) said...

Can we just take a moment of silence for the idiot who put two as an example? wow. dont answer the question if you dont know. it is mostly welsh words that connected into our language that make this rule true. I wasnt taught this in grade school, but my niece wont stop talking about it. A E I O U, and sometimes Y and W! (it rhymes, and she sings it alllll day)

AnswerGirl said...

I've just gone through and deleted several anonymous comments and some comment spam. Keep it polite, please, and sign your comments.

Gary said...

Playing around with a few links, they all gelled to start with vowels, or sometimes vowels like w.

Android, iPhone, & now Windows phones, hmm... What's up with that?

You can see the vowel type list at botchee.com

/signed/
BXtreme

Gerald Novara said...

Thank u herd on stern show like this sight

Anonymous said...

crwth

Buffy Summers said...

The consonant letter v is a fairly new addition to our alphabet. Earlier v was simply a variant form of u , and the two were used to spell both the consonant sound v and various vowel sounds. It was not until the 17th century that our present distinction between the letters u and v was firmly fixed. The constraint against doubling v parallels that against doubling u. Double-U became a separate letter, w, which in print actually looks like double v! It is this constraint against doubling v that leads to words like ever and never rather than evver and nevver. However,in a few very recent formations vv does occur: revved and revving from rev, itself clipped from revolution; divvy from dividend or divide; savvy from the Spanish sabe; and flivver, of unknown origin. (I got this info from a course I'm doing to improve my spelling - You may find it interesting and it explains why w is called double-U. It also explains why sometimes w is a vowel and sometimes its a consonant)...