This article is about the letter of the alphabet. For other uses, see U (disambiguation).
Template:Latin letter info

U (named u /ˈjuː/, plural ues[1][2]) is the twenty-first letter in the ISO basic Latin alphabet and the last vowel in the English alphabet.


The letter u ultimately comes from the Semitic letter Waw by way of the letter y. See the letter y for details.

During the late Middle Ages, two forms of 'v' developed, which were both used for its ancestor 'u' and modern 'v'. 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 'valor' and 'excuse' appeared as in modern printing, 'have' and 'upon' were printed 'haue' and 'vpon'. The first distinction between the letters 'u' and 'v' is recorded in a Gothic alphabet from 1386, where 'v' preceded 'u'. Printers eschewed capital 'U' into the 17th century and the distinction between the two letters was not fully accepted by the French Academy until 1762.[3]

Use in English

In English, the letter u has four primary pronunciations. There are "long" and "short" pronunciation. 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 (with the original long u being respelled ou), most commonly represents /juː/ (as in 'mule'), reducing to // after ar (as in 'rule') and sometimes (or optionally) after el (as in 'lute'), and after additional consonants in American English (see do–dew merger). (After ess, /sjuː, zjuː/ have assimilated to /ʃuː, ʒuː/.) In a few words, short 'u' represent other sounds, such as /ɪ/ in 'business' and /ɛ/ in 'bury'.

The letter u is used in the digraphs au /ɔː/, ou (various pronunciations), and with the value of "long u" in eu, ue, and in a few words ui (as in 'fruit'). U 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 and internet and other written slang to denote 'you', by virtue of both being pronounced /juː/.

One thing to note is that other 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, for example.

Use in other languages

In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, 'U' represents the close back rounded vowel /u/[citation needed].

In French orthography the letter represents the close front rounded vowel (/y/); /u/ is represented by 'ou'.

In mathematics and science

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

'u' is the symbol for the atomic mass unit.

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

It is also used as a graphic approximation of the Greek letter μ (mu) for micro- in metric measurements, as in "um" for μm (micrometer).

Related letters and other similar characters

Computing codes

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Encodings decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 85 U+0055 117 U+0075
UTF-8 85 55 117 75
Numeric character reference U U u u
1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations


  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. 

External links

  • 16x16px Media related to U at Wikimedia Commons
  • 16x16px The dictionary definition of U at Wiktionary
  • 16x16px The dictionary definition of u at Wiktionary