U u
(See below)
Writing cursive forms of U
Writing systemLatin script
TypeAlphabetic and Logographic
Language of originLatin language
Phonetic usage[u]
Unicode codepointU+0055, U+0075
Alphabetical position21
  • Waw
    • PhoenicianW-01.png
      • Waw
        • Waw
          • Υυ
Time period1386 to present




Variations(See below)
Other letters commonly used withu(x), qu
This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

U or u, is the twenty-first and sixth-to-last letter and fifth vowel letter of the Latin alphabet, used in the modern English alphabet, the alphabets of other western European languages and others worldwide. Its name in English is u (pronounced /ˈj/), plural ues.[1][2]


U derives from the Semitic waw, as does F, and later, Y, W, and V. Its oldest ancestor goes to Egyptian hieroglyphics, and is probably from a hieroglyph of a mace or fowl, representing the sound [v] or the sound [w]. This was borrowed to Phoenician, where it represented the sound [w], and seldom the vowel [u].

In Greek, two letters were adapted from the Phoenician waw. The letter was adapted, but split in two, with the first one of the same name (Ϝ) being adapted to represent [w], and the second one being Upsilon (Υ), which was originally adapted to represent [u], later fronted, becoming [y].

In Latin, a stemless variant shape of the upsilon was borrowed in early times as U, taking the form of modern-day V — either directly from the Western Greek alphabet or from the Etruscan alphabet as an intermediary — to represent the same /u/ sound, as well as the consonantal /w/, num — originally spelled NVM — was pronounced /num/ and via was pronounced [ˈwia]. From the 1st century AD on, depending on Vulgar Latin dialect, consonantal /w/ developed into /β/ (kept in Spanish), then later to /v/. During the late Middle Ages, two forms of U developed, which were both used for /v/ or the vowel /u/. The pointed form 'V' was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form 'U' was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas 'valour' and 'excuse' appeared as in modern printing, 'have' and 'upon' were printed 'haue' and 'vpon', respectively. The first recorded use of 'U' and 'V' as distinct letters is in a Gothic alphabet from 1386, where 'V' preceded 'U'. Printers eschewed capital 'V' and 'U' into the 17th century and the distinction between the two letters was not fully accepted by the French Academy until 1762.[3] The rounded variant became the modern-day version of U and its former pointed form became V.

Pronunciation and use

Pronunciations of Uu
Languages in italics do not use the Latin alphabet; the table refers to latinizations
Language Dialect(s) Pronunciation (IPA) Environment Notes
Afrikaans /y/
Chinese[4] Standard Chinese /u/ After the Pinyin consonants ⟨b⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨m⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩, ⟨n⟩, ⟨l⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨k⟩, ⟨h⟩, ⟨zh⟩, ⟨ch⟩, ⟨sh⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨z⟩, ⟨c⟩, ⟨s⟩, ⟨w⟩[4] In Pinyin
/y/ After the Pinyin consonants ⟨j⟩, ⟨q⟩, ⟨x⟩, ⟨y⟩. To make the /y/ sound after the consonants ⟨n⟩ or ⟨l⟩, ⟨ü⟩ is used.[4]
Danish /u/ Usually
/ʊ/ Before two consonants
Dutch /œ/ Before two consonants
/y/ Usually
English /ɛ/ In "bury" and "burial"
/ɪ/ In "busy" and "business"
(j)u Stressed and not preceding a consonant
/ʊ/ Sometimes
/ʌ/ Usually
/w/ Following ⟨q⟩ or ⟨g⟩ and preceding a vowel
silent Following ⟨q⟩ or ⟨g⟩ and preceding vowels ⟨e⟩ and ⟨i⟩, usually in French loanwords
Faroese /ʊ/ Before two consonants
/u/ Usually
French /y/ Usually
/ɥ/ Before vowels
German /ʊ/ Before two consonants
/u/ Usually
Icelandic /u/ Usually
/ʏ/ Before two consonants
Indonesian[5] Standard Indonesian /u/ Always
Italian /u/ Usually
/w/ Before vowels
Japanese /ɯ/ Usually
silent Unstressed, between two consonants
Lithuanian /ʊ/
Low German /ʊ/ Before two consonants
/u/ Usually
Malay /u/ Usually
/w/ Before vowels
Norwegian /ɵ/ Before two consonants
/ʉ/ Usually
Portuguese /u/ Usually
/w/ Before vowels
/ɐ/ Only in some recent loanwords
Spanish /u/ Usually
/w/ Before vowels
Swedish /ɵ/ Before two consonants
/ʉ/ Usually
Welsh Northern dialects /ɨ/
Southern dialects /ɪ/
Pronunciation of the name of the letter ⟨u⟩ in European languages
Pronunciation of the name of the letter ⟨u⟩ in European languages


In English, the letter ⟨u⟩ has four main pronunciations. There are "long" and "short" pronunciations. Short ⟨u⟩, found originally in closed syllables, most commonly represents /ʌ/ (as in 'duck'), though it retains its old pronunciation /ʊ/ after labial consonants in some words (as in 'put') and occasionally elsewhere (as in 'sugar'). Long ⟨u⟩, found originally in words of French origin (the descendant of Old English long u was respelled as ou), most commonly represents /j/ (as in 'mule'), reducing to // after ⟨r⟩ (as in 'rule'), ⟨j⟩ (as in 'June') and sometimes (or optionally) after ⟨l⟩ (as in 'lute'), and after additional consonants in American English (see do–dew merger). (After ⟨s⟩, /sjuː, zjuː/ have assimilated to /ʃuː, ʒuː/ in some words) In a few words, short ⟨u⟩ represents other sounds, such as /ɪ/ in 'business' and /ɛ/ in 'bury'.

The letter ⟨u⟩ is used in the digraphs ⟨au⟩ /ɔː/, ⟨ou⟩ (various pronunciations, but usually /aʊ/), and with the value of "long u" in ⟨eu⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and in a few words ⟨ui⟩ (as in 'fruit'). It often has the sound /w/ before a vowel in the sequences ⟨qu⟩ (as in 'quick'), ⟨gu⟩ (as in 'anguish'), and ⟨su⟩ (as in 'suave'), though it is silent in final -que (as in 'unique') and in many words with ⟨gu⟩ (as in 'guard').

Additionally, the letter ⟨u⟩ is used in text messaging, Internet and other written slang to denote 'you', by virtue of both being pronounced /j/.

One thing to note is that certain varieties of the English language (i.e. British English, Canadian English, etc.) use the letter U in words such as colour, labour, valour, etc.; however, in American English the letter is not used and said words mentioned are spelled as color and so on. It is the thirteenth most frequently used letter in the English language, with a frequency of about 2.8% in words.

Other languages

In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, ⟨u⟩ represents the close back rounded vowel /u/ or a similar vowel.[6]

In French orthography the letter represents the close front rounded vowel (/y/); /u/ is represented by ⟨ou⟩. In Dutch and Afrikaans, it represents either /y/, or a near-close near-front rounded vowel (/ʏ/); likewise, the phoneme /u/ is represented by ⟨oe⟩. In Welsh orthography the letter can represent a long close front unrounded vowel (/iː/) or short near-close near-front unrounded vowel (/ɪ/) in Southern dialects. In Northern dialects, the corresponding long and short vowels are a long close central unrounded vowel (/ɨː/) and a short lowered close central unrounded vowel (/ɨ̞/), respectively. /uː/ and /ʊ/ are represented by ⟨w⟩.

Other uses

The symbol 'U' is the chemical symbol for uranium.

In the context of Newtonian mechanics 'U' is the symbol for the potential energy of a system.

'u' is the symbol for the atomic mass unit and 'U' is the symbol for one enzyme unit.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the close back rounded vowel is represented by the lower case ⟨u⟩.

U is also the source of the mathematical symbol ∪, representing a union. It is used mainly for Venn diagrams and geometry.

It is used as for micro- in metric measurements as a replacement for the Greek letter μ (mu), of which it is a graphic approximation when that Greek letter is not available, as in "um" for μm (micrometer).

Some universities, such as the University of Miami and the University of Utah, are locally known as "The U".

U (or sometimes RU) is a standard height unit of measure in rack units, with each U equal to 44.50 millimetres (1.75 in).

U is also used the letter in the coat of arms/flag of the Ustaše.

U is an honorific in Burmese.[7]

Related characters

Ancestors, descendants and siblings

Ligatures and abbreviations

Computing codes

Character information
Preview U u
Encodings decimal hex dec hex
Unicode 85 U+0055 117 U+0075
UTF-8 85 55 117 75
Numeric character reference U U u u
EBCDIC family 228 E4 164 A4
ASCII 1 85 55 117 75
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

NATO phonetic Morse code
  ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ 
ICS Uniform.svg

Semaphore Uniform.svg

Sign language U.svg
BSL letter U.svg
Signal flag Flag semaphore American manual alphabet (ASL fingerspelling) British manual alphabet (BSL fingerspelling) Braille dots-136
Unified English Braille


  1. ^ "U", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993)
  2. ^ Brown & Kiddle (1870) The institutes of English grammar, page 19.
    Ues is the plural of the name of the letter; the plural of the letter itself is rendered U's, Us, u's, or us.
  3. ^ Pflughaupt, Laurent (2008). Letter by Letter: An Alphabetical Miscellany. trans. Gregory Bruhn. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-1-56898-737-8. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
  4. ^ a b c Odinye, Sunny Ifeanyi (January 2015). "Phonology of Mandarin Chinese: Pinyin vs. IPA". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  5. ^ "Indonesian Alphabet and Pronunciation". mylanguages.org. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  6. ^ "Latin". Ancient Scripts. Archived from the original on Jun 11, 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-08.
  7. ^ Pun, Sharon (August 4, 2018). "The meaning behind Myanmar names". Frontier Myanmar. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  8. ^ Everson, Michael; et al. (2002-03-20). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF).
  9. ^ Everson, Michael; Dicklberger, Alois; Pentzlin, Karl; Wandl-Vogt, Eveline (2011-06-02). "L2/11-202: Revised proposal to encode "Teuthonista" phonetic characters in the UCS" (PDF).
  10. ^ a b c d Constable, Peter (2004-04-19). "L2/04-132 Proposal to add additional phonetic characters to the UCS" (PDF).
  11. ^ Suignard, Michel (2017-05-09). "L2/17-076R2: Revised proposal for the encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic characters" (PDF).
  12. ^ a b Jacquerye, Denis (2016-01-22), L2/16-032: Proposal to encode two Latin characters for Mazahua (PDF)