Pure vowel 3: /u/

The next Spanish pure vowel is /u/.

How it sounds

This sound is similar to the “ou” sound in “you”, but the tongue is brought back slightly further in the mouth:


Mouth position

The lips are rounded tightly, and the tongue is placed back and up in the mouth:


What to avoid

This sound is similar to our English “u” sound, but sounds different due to the tongue being placed slightly further back in the mouth. We need to be careful to learn the Spanish variation, and use that rather than falling back on our English “u”. English speakers also have a tendency to add a “w” sound to the end of the vowel sound, which we need to avoid. Here’s how that sounds:


Also, we need to be careful to avoid adding the consonant /j/ to the start of the vowel (remember, this is the “y” from “yoghurt”, confusingly…), which we may do if the /u/ sound starts the word:





Compare the following pronunciations of “Uruguay”. Which uses the correct pronunciation?


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The first recording is the correct pronunciation. The second introduces the sound /ju/, which is incorrect.

Finally, consider the pronunciation of “u” in English in the word “umbrella”:


We want to avoid this “darker” sound from umbrella, as it doesn’t exist in Spanish. Compare these two pronunciations of the Spanish word “último”, meaning “last”:







Listen to the following words. Some of them use the Spanish pure /e/ sound, whereas others use the “ey” (represented by /ei/) sound that we described above. Choose which of the sounds the words use: