The American English OO /u Vowel
The OO vowel is in the words too, coupon, and shampoo. OO.
This vowel is somewhat common in other languages, so it may be in your native language. But there are a few things that make the OO vowel different in American English.
How to make the OO /u/ vowel
Let’s first talk about how to make the OO vowel.
Even though the OO vowel is a monophthong, which means there is only one vowel sound, native speakers pronounce this vowel with two lip positions. At the beginning of the vowel, the lips are more relaxed. Then as you progress through the vowel, the lips round into a tight circle. So you can think of the OO vowel as having movement in the lip placement. The lips begin as more relaxed, and then the lips move into a tightly rounded position.
Now let’s see the OO vowel in a word like too. Notice how the lips are more neutral at the beginning of the vowel, and then they round into a tight circle at the end of the vowel.
When the OO vowel comes at the end of a word, native English speakers will hold out the vowel, just a bit longer, and the voice will glide down. OO. Too. It’s not OO with a short, flat voice. It’s OO, with an elongated vowel that glides down at the end. OO. Too.
This is called gliding, as the vowel glides down in pitch when it occurs at the end of a word. This might be different than how the OO vowel is pronounced in your native language. For example, in Spanish, the word tú is said with a shorter OO vowel. Tú. But in English, the word too has a longer OO vowel that glides down in pitch at the end. Too.
Stressed OO /u/ vs. unstressed OO /u/
When the OO vowel is in a stressed syllable, the pitch of the voice glides up and then down. OO. Too. But when OO is in an unstressed syllable, the pitch of the voice may be flatter, and the vowel may be said faster and at a lower pitch. OO. The OO vowel is unstressed in a word like duet.
On the left is the stressed OO vowel in the word too, and on the right is the unstressed OO vowel in the word duet. Notice how the lip position is identical - both vowels are made with tightly rounded lips. But the unstressed vowel may still sound different from the stressed vowel because the unstressed vowel will be said at a lower pitch and volume, and may also be said faster than the stressed vowel.
Stressed OO. Too. OO. Unstressed OO. Duet. OO.
Practice words and sentences
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Shoes. OO. Shoes.
Put your shoes on, please.
Zoo. OO. Zoo.
The San Diego Zoo is the best!
Igloo. OO. Igloo.
I’ve never slept in an igloo.
Cashews. OO. Cashews.
I love to eat cashews.
Blue. OO. Blue.
The blue sky is beautiful today.
Canoe. OO. Canoe.
Let’s take the canoe out onto the lake!
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