The Letter 'U' Vowel Sound (Pronunciation) - Podcast Episode 23

Welcome to episode 23 of The English Sessions. Vowel Sounds (Pronunciation, THE LETTER ‘U’). I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.

You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode.

Listen for these words today:

“Phonetic” - ‘phonetic’ means “relating to speech sounds”. It is about how the word sounds when you say it. Some languages are very ‘phonetic’, meaning when you read the word, then you know how to say it. Unfortunately, English is NOT VERY phonetic. So, sometimes when you read a word in English, how to say it, how to pronounce it, is not clear.

Glue - another word for ‘glue’ is ‘adhesive’. You use it to makes two things stick together. For example, I used a ‘wood glue’ to put my wooden chair back together. It was falling apart.

Glue in use

 Oven - an ‘oven’ heats up and cooks food. You put food in an oven. Go to the website for pictures of some of today’s words.


Still - ‘still’ has many definitions in English. In today’s context, ‘still’ means ‘without movement’. Things that don’t move, or are not moving, are ‘still’.

Hat - a ‘hat’ is what you wear on your head. There are many types of hat. A ‘baseball cap’ is a common hat in my country. What is a common hat in your country?

She has on a hat!

Putt - ‘putt’ P-U-T-T is a golf term. When you putt, you hit the ball gently. It is the action you take once you are close to the hole, on a golf course, and you are trying to get your ball in the hole.


Ashes - ‘ashes’ are what remains after you put something into fire. For example, cigarette ashes. If you smoke a cigarette, then you introduce fire to one end, and then it creates ash. Cigarette ashes.


Before we begin today, I am going to sing for you!! I am going to sing the Alphabet Song that I learned as a child. Yes, I know most of my learners are not children. I understand. But, I also know that it is very easy to forget how to say a letter in the English alphabet. It is important to know how to pronounce every individual letter. You might need to spell something in English one day. Here we go. You may recognize the melody.

— Song — Applause —

So, what were those vowel sounds? A - E - I - O - U. But, as you know these letters are not always pronounced that way in English.

English has many different ways to pronounce sounds. It is hard to look at a word in English and know how to pronounce it! Even I have to look at phonetic spellings of English words sometimes, to know how to pronounce them. A “phonetic spelling” is a way to see a word in English that is spelled in a way that makes it easier to pronounce. Some phonetic spellings are very basic, and some use special symbols. There are plenty of special phonetic symbols you can learn to perfect your English. Email me if you want me to help you.

And one more thing to remember before we start. I have an American accent. More specifically, I grew up in Western, New York, and that influences my accent too. The way that I am going to pronounce these words are not the only way to pronounce these words. Go to the website for a link to a fantastic video series from the BBC on pronunciation in a more British way:

Let’s look at an example from has very simple phonetic spellings. I am going to spell a word, then, I want you to pronounce it. How do you pronounce this word? C-U-T-E. Did you say “KOO-tee?” (INCORRECT). Did you say “koo-TAY”? (INCORRECT). Did you say… “KYOOT”? (CORRECT!!!). The correct pronunciation is ‘kyoot’. If you are learning English, you can go to a site like and look at the phonetic spelling of this word. Let’s do that now… the phonetic spelling is spelled “kyoot”. Notice, the ‘e’ is silent, and the ‘u’ sound looks more like ‘yoo’. KYOOT/CUTE.

Let’s start with that sound. ‘U’ (YOO). The letter ‘U’ often looks like ‘YOO’ in a phonetic spelling. (— Yoohoo— drink picture!). This sound is in many words. Cute (kyoot); beautiful (BYOO-tuh-fuhl); computer (kuh m-PYOO-ter). These phonetic spellings will be on the website. Repeat after me: CUTE - BEAUTIFUL - COMPUTER
Shake it like a Polaroid picture

Okay, so the letter ‘u’ is like that sound “YOO” right? Just like in the alphabet song. Only sometimes. Sometimes it’s not. So, remember, cute? and Computer? And it’s related verb, ‘compute’? Okay, so the ‘U-T-E’ ending of a word is pronounced, ‘YOOT’ right? NO! No no no, that would make things simple, and we can’t have that. Let’s listen to a sound. Do you recognize that instrument? In English, this word is spelled ‘F-L-U-T-E’. So, ‘F-L-U-T-E, how do you pronounce that? FLUTE. That’s right, now the letter ‘U’ is pronounced ‘oo’. Again, correct pronunciation is ‘FLOOT’. It’s hard to make the ‘YOO’ sound after the letter ‘L’ in English. Here are other examples of the ‘oo’ sound: Flu (FLU); GLUE; BLUE

Alright, we are done with the letter ‘u’ right? Nope. We have more. That’s right, we are still just on the letter ‘u’. But but but but, “BUT”. But! B-U-T. This makes an ‘uh’ sound. That’s right! Another common sound that the letter ‘u’ makes. UH. Listen carefully. BUT; SHUT; CUT; … for the learners who are interested in those special phonetic symbols I was talking about, this sound is the phonetic symbol called ‘schwa’ (ə). The symbol looks like an upside-down ‘e’. (ə). Repeat after me: but; shut; cut; putt. BUT; SHUT; CUT; PUTT

Okay, are we done with the letter ‘u’, Mike? Well, let’s see… hmmm, we discussed: cute, flute, cut… those are the three most important sounds to remember when you see the vowel ‘u’ by itself. Sometimes you see two vowels together in a word, and that is a whole different episode, some time in the future. These three sounds, ‘yoo’, ‘oo’, and ‘uh’, are important to remember. Again, here is our list of words:

YOO: cute; computer; compute; beautiful
OO: flute; glue; flu; blue

After the break, I will talk about some less common ways that the letter ‘u’ is pronounced, and I will make a little story with all of these words. You don’t want to miss it.

___ BREAK ____

Next, let’s look at ‘bury’. B-U-R-Y. Do you hear that? Er-er-er, bury. (BER-ee). Yes, this has the same pronunciation as ‘berry’ BERRY, which is a type of fruit. Bury BURY has a very different meaning though. When a person or an animal that we love very much dies, sometimes we ‘bury’ the body. So, in other words, place the body beneath the ground. We ‘bury’ bodies in graveyards/cemeteries. BURY.

URN/BURN/FUR: This next sound is ‘UR’; ur ur ur ur. Many animals have ‘fur’, ur ur ur, ‘fur’ is like hair on animals. Dogs have ‘fur’, my dog has ‘fur’. He sometimes makes the ‘ur’ sound, urrrrrrr. FUR. F-U-R. FUR. Two more common words have this sound. Urn and Burn. U-R-N, and B-U-R-N. Remember the word BURY? Some people don’t bury bodies. Instead, they burn them. You put fire to the body. You burn the body, with fire. This is called ‘cremation’. When you burn the body with fire, it’s called cremation. B-U-R-N. Burn. What do you do with the ashes after cremation? Well, then they go into an ‘URN’ U-R-N. URN. The urn holds the ashes of a body, after you burn it. FUR; BURN; URN.
Urn of Anna Pavlova

Okay, and the last one is PUT. P-U-T. I have already used this word today. PUT rhymes with “FOOT”, but is spelled with the letter ‘u’. I put my foot on ground. PUT. This is an interesting vowel sound. Do you remember the word ‘putt’? P-U-T-T. Remember? It is a word used in golfing. PUTT. That extra letter ’t’ changed the vowel sound! Let’s use ‘put’ and ‘putt’ in the same sentence. It is time to putt, and I want to put my ball in the hole. PUTT / PUT

Now it’s time for you to repeat after me. One more time.

1. YOO - cute; beautiful; computer; compute
2. OO - flute; glue; flu; blue
3. UH - but; cut; shut; putt
4. “A” - bury
5. U - URN/BURN/FUR (similar to #3, but notice the phonetic difference at Some sources do not differentiate #3 and #5 sounds. I hear a difference, personally).
6. PUT (Other words, lure, and pure, sure, but this depends on the speaker/accent. Record your voice saying the words: lure, pure, and sure! Send it to the podcast).

Okay, it’s time for a story. I will try to use all of these words in the same story.

When I was a child I had a beautiful dog named Timber. Everyday, I would open the door to let him outside, and then shut the door when I let him back in. We had more fun than that though. I remember one time, I played the sound of a flute, from my computer. He loved the sound, or he hated it, but either way, he sang along to the sound. He went ‘oooohohohoooh’ to the fluuuuuuute sound. It was very cute. One time I glued my hat to his head. Just kidding. I would never do that to an animal. I remember, once he burned himself because he got too close to the oven. One time I had the flu; my face turned blue! Timber was right by my side the whole time. He cared a lot about me. One time he cut himself, so I put a bandage on his cut, which is hard to do on a dog because they don’t like to stay still, and they have a lot of fur, so bandages fall off easily. My brother and I tried to build a golf course once. It was great, but Timber chased the golf ball every time I tried to putt.

I grew up, and moved away, but Timber lived on. He lived to be 18 years old. I know, right?! He was an amazing dog. One day, Timber died, and when he died, I was not there next to him. I was living in a different city. Even though I was not there next to him, by his side, I cried anyway, because I loved that dog so much. I don’t remember if my parents buried him. Maybe his ashes are now in an urn. It doesn’t matter though, because what’s most important is that he lives on in my memory.

Now it’s your turn. Record a message on the podcast. Let’s hear your ‘u’ sounds. Do you think I’m missing any ‘u’ sounds? Let’s discuss it. Write in to the podcast, or leave me a message.

Any questions? Write to me at . Leave a message for me on the website, and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit for more content. Please rate and review The English Sessions on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on social media. Twitter @theEsessions; Instagram @englishsessionswithmike; Search for The English Sessions on Facebook. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.


  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for your podcast. I listen to it almost every day and I like it very much.

    Warm regards from Indonesia.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for your podcast. I listen to it almost every day and I like it very much.

    Warm regards from Indonesia.

    By the way, my name is Rengky.


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