Last updated

W w
(See below)
W cursiva.gif
Writing system Latin script
Type Alphabetic and Logographic
Phonetic usage[ w ]
[ v ]
[ β ]
[ u ]
[ ]
[ ʊ ]
[ ɔ ]
[ ʋ ]
[ ʕʷ ]
[ ʙ ]
[ ◌ʷ ]
Unicode valueU+0057, U+0077
Alphabetical position23
Time period~600 to present
Descendants  ʍ
  ɯ ɰ
Sisters F



Variations(See below)
Other letters commonly used with w(x)

W (named double-u, [note 1] plural double-ues) [1] [2] is the 23rd letter of the modern English and ISO basic Latin alphabets.

Letter (alphabet) grapheme in an alphabetic system of writing

A letter is a segmental symbol of a phonemic writing system. The inventory of all letters forms the alphabet. Letters broadly correspond to phonemes in the spoken form of the language, although there is rarely a consistent, exact correspondence between letters and phonemes.

English alphabet Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters, each having an uppercase and a lowercase form

The modern English alphabet is a Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters, each having an upper- and lower-case form. It originated around the 7th century from the Latin script. Since then, letters have been added or removed to give the current Modern English alphabet of 26 letters :

The ISO basic Latin alphabet is a Latin-script alphabet and consists of two sets of 26 letters, codified in various national and international standards and used widely in international communication. They are the same letters that comprise the English alphabet.



A 1693 book printing that uses the "double u" alongside the modern letter WondersoftheInvisibleWorld-1693.jpg
A 1693 book printing that uses the "double u" alongside the modern letter

The sounds /w/ (spelled V) and /b/ (spelled B) of Classical Latin developed into a bilabial fricative /β/ between vowels in Early Medieval Latin. Therefore, V no longer adequately represented the labial-velar approximant sound /w/ of Germanic phonology.

The voiced bilabial stop is a type of consonantal sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨b⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is b. The voiced bilabial stop occurs in English, and it is the sound denoted by the letter ⟨b⟩ in obey.

Classical Latin High-prestige style, register and form of the Latin Language of the Roman Republic and Empire

Classical Latin is the form of Latin language recognized as a standard by writers of the late Roman Republic and Roman Empire. In some later periods, it was regarded as "good"/"proper" Latin, with later versions viewed as debased, degenerate, "vulgar", or corrupted. The word Latin is now taken by default to mean "Classical Latin". For example, modern Latin textbooks almost exclusively teach Classical Latin. Marcus Tullius Cicero and his contemporaries of the late republic used lingua latina and sermo latinus versions of the Latin language. Conversely, the Greeks used Vulgar Latin in their vernacular, written as latinitas, or "Latinity" when combined. It was also called sermo familiaris, sermo urbanus, and in rare cases sermo nobilis. Besides latinitas, it was mainly called latine, or latinius.

Voiced bilabial fricative consonantal sound

The voiced bilabial fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨β⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is B. The symbol ⟨β⟩ is the Greek letter beta.

The Germanic /w/ phoneme was therefore written as VV or uu ( u and v becoming distinct only by the Early Modern period) by the earliest writers of Old English and Old High German, in the 7th or 8th centuries. [3] Gothic (not Latin-based), by contrast, had simply used a letter based on the Greek Υ for the same sound in the 4th century. The digraph VV/uu was also used in Medieval Latin to represent Germanic names, including Gothic ones like Wamba.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

U Letter in the Latin alphabet

U is the 21st letter and the fifth vowel in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is preceded by T, and is followed by V.

Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, as during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.

It is from this uu digraph that the modern name "double U" derives. The digraph was commonly used in the spelling of Old High German, but only in the earliest texts in Old English, where the /w/ sound soon came to be represented by the runic Ƿ wynn . In early Middle English, following the 11th-century Norman Conquest, uu gained popularity again and by 1300 it had taken wynn's place in common use.

Digraph (orthography) pair of characters used to write one phoneme

A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used in the orthography of a language to write either a single phoneme, or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined.

Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound.

Middle English Stage of the English language from about the 12th through 15th centuries

Middle English was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th century. English underwent distinct variations and developments following the Old English period. Scholarly opinion varies, but the Oxford English Dictionary specifies the period when Middle English was spoken as being from 1150 to 1500. This stage of the development of the English language roughly followed the High to the Late Middle Ages.

Scribal realization of the digraph could look like a pair of Vs whose branches crossed in the middle. An obsolete, cursive form found in the nineteenth century in both English and German was in the form of an n whose rightmost branch curved around as in a cursive v.[ citation needed ]

The shift from the digraph VV to the distinct ligature W is thus gradual, and is only apparent in abecedaria, explicit listings of all individual letters. It was probably considered a separate letter by the 14th century in both Middle English and Middle German orthography, although it remained an outsider, not really considered part of the Latin alphabet proper, as expressed by Valentin Ickelshamer in the 16th century, who complained that:

Abecedarium archaeological inscription consisting of the letters of an alphabet, almost always listed in order

An abecedarium is an inscription consisting of the letters of an alphabet, almost always listed in order. Typically, abecedaria are practice exercises.

Middle Low German Developmental stage of Low German

Middle Low German or Middle Saxon is a developmental stage of Low German. It developed from the Old Saxon language in the Middle Ages and has been documented in writing since about 1225/34 (Sachsenspiegel). During the Hanseatic period, Middle Low German was the leading written language in the north of Central Europe and served as a lingua franca in the northern half of Europe. It was used parallel to medieval Latin also for purposes of diplomacy and for deeds.

Valentin Ickelsamer or Valentinus Ickelschamer was a German grammarian.

Poor w is so infamous and unknown that many barely know either its name or its shape, not those who aspire to being Latinists, as they have no need of it, nor do the Germans, not even the schoolmasters, know what to do with it or how to call it; some call it we, [... others] call it uu, [...] the Swabians call it auwawau [4]

In Middle High German (and possibly already in late Old High German), the West Germanic phoneme /w/ became realized as [ v ]; this is why, today, the German w represents that sound. There is no phonological distinction between [w] and [v] in contemporary German.

Use in writing systems


English uses w to represent /w/. There are also a number of words beginning with a written w that is silent in most dialects before a (pronounced) r, remaining from usage in Old English in which the w was pronounced: wreak, wrap, wreck, wrench, wroth, wrinkle, etc. Certain dialects of Scottish English still distinguish this digraph. In the Welsh loanword cwm it retains the Welsh pronunciation, /ʊ/.

Other languages

In Europe, there are only a few languages with w in native words, all in a central-western European zone between Cornwall and Poland: English, German, Low German, Dutch, Frisian, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Walloon, Polish, Kashubian, Sorbian, Wymysorys, Resian and Scandinavian dialects. German, Polish, Wymysorys and Kashubian use it for the voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (with Polish, related Kashubian and Wymysorys using Ł for /w/), and Dutch uses it for /ʋ/. Unlike its use in other languages, the letter is used in Welsh and Cornish to represent the vowel /u/ as well as the related approximant consonant /w/.

The following languages historically used w for /v/ in native words, but later replaced it by v: Swedish, Finnish, Czech, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Belarusian Łacinka. In Swedish and Finnish, traces of this old usage may still be found in proper names.

Modern German dialects generally have only [v] or [ʋ] for West Germanic /w/, but [w] or [β̞] is still heard allophonically for w, especially in the clusters schw, zw, and qu. Some Bavarian dialects preserve a "light" initial [w], such as in wuoz (Standard German weiß[vaɪs] '[I] know'). The Classical Latin [β] is heard in the Southern German greeting Servus ('hello' or 'goodbye').

In Dutch, w became a labiodental approximant /ʋ/ (with the exception of words with -eeuw, which have /eːβ/, or other diphthongs containing -uw). In many Dutch-speaking areas, such as Flanders and Suriname, the /β/ pronunciation is used at all times.

In Finnish, w is seen as a variant of v and not a separate letter. It is, however, recognized and maintained in the spelling of some old names, reflecting an earlier German spelling standard, and in some modern loan words. In all cases, it is pronounced /ʋ/.

In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, w is named double-v and not double-u. In these languages, the letter only exists in old names, loanwords and foreign words. (Foreign words are distinguished from loanwords by having a significantly lower level of integration in the language.) It is usually pronounced /v/, but in some words of English origin it may be pronounced /w/. [5] [6] The letter was officially introduced in the Danish and Swedish alphabets as late as 1980 and 2006, respectively, despite having been in use for much longer. It had been recognized since the conception of modern Norwegian, with the earliest official orthography rules of 1907. [7] W was earlier seen as a variant of v, and w as a letter (double-v) is still commonly replaced by v in speech (e.g. WC being pronounced as VC, www as VVV, WHO as VHO, etc.) The two letters were sorted as equals before w was officially recognized, and that practice is still recommended when sorting names in Sweden. [8] In modern slang, some native speakers may pronounce w more closely to the origin of the loanword than the official /v/ pronunciation.

Multiple dialects of Swedish and Danish use the sound however. In Denmark notably in Jutland, where the northern half use it extensively in traditional dialect, and multiple places in Sweden. It is used in southern Swedish, for example in Halland where the words "wesp" (wisp) and "wann" (water) are traditionally used. [9] In northern and western Sweden there are also dialects with /w/. Elfdalian is a good example, which is one of many dialects where the Old Norse difference between v (/w/) and f (/v/ or /f/) is preserved. Thus "warg" from Old Norse "vargr", but "åvå" from Old Norse "hafa".

In the alphabets of most modern Romance languages (excepting far northern French and Walloon), w is used mostly in foreign names and words recently borrowed (le week-end, il watt, el kiwi). The digraph ou is used for /w/ in native French words; oi is /wa/ or /wɑ/. In Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, [w] is a non-syllabic variant of /u/, spelled u.

The Japanese language uses "W", pronounced /daburu/, as an ideogram meaning "double". [10] It is also a short form of an Internet slang term for "www", used to denote laughter, which is derived from the word warau (笑う, meaning "to laugh"). Variations of this slang include kusa (草, meaning "grass"), which have originated from how "www" looks.

In Italian, while the letter w is not considered part of the standard Italian alphabet, the character is often used in place of Viva (hooray for...), generally in the form in which the branches of the Vs cross in the middle, at least in handwriting (in fact it could be considered a monogram). [11] The same symbol written upside down indicates abbasso (down with...).

in the Kokborok language, w represents the open-mid back rounded vowel /ɔ/.

In Vietnamese, w is called vê đúp, from the French double vé. It is not included in the standard Vietnamese alphabet, but it is often used as a substitute for qu- in literary dialect and very informal writing. [12] [13] It's also commonly used for abbreviating Ư in formal documents, for example Trung Ương is abbreviated as TW [14] even in official documents and document ID number [15]

"W" is the 24th letter in the Modern Filipino Alphabet and has its English name. However, in the old Filipino alphabet, Abakada, it was the 19th letter and had the name "wah".[ is that 'h' a glottal stop? ] [16]

In Washo, lower-case w represents a typical /w/ sound, while upper-case W represents a voiceless w sound, like the difference between English weather and whether for those who maintain the distinction.

Other systems

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, w is used for the voiced labial-velar approximant.

Other uses

W is the symbol for the chemical element tungsten, after its German (and alternative English) name, Wolfram. [17] It is also the SI symbol for the watt, the standard unit of power.


Double-u, whose name reflects stages in the letter's evolution when it was considered two of the same letter, a double U, is the only modern English letter whose name has more than one syllable. [note 2] It is also the only English letter whose name is not pronounced with any of the sounds that the letter typically makes in words, with the exception of H for some speakers.

Some speakers shorten the name "double u" into "dub-u" or just "dub"; for example, University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, University of Wyoming, University of Waterloo, University of the Western Cape and University of Western Australia are all known colloquially as "U Dub", and the automobile company Volkswagen, abbreviated "VW", is sometimes pronounced "V-Dub". [18] The fact that many website URLs require a "www." prefix has been influential in promoting these shortened pronunciations, as many speakers find the phrase "double-u double-u double-u" inconveniently long.

In other Germanic languages, including German (but not Dutch, in which it is pronounced wé), its name is similar to that of English V. In many languages, its name literally means "double v": Portuguese duplo vê, [note 3] Spanish doble ve (though it can be spelled uve doble), [19] [note 4] French double vé, Icelandic tvöfalt vaff, Czech dvojité vé, Finnish kaksois-vee, etc.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush was given the nickname "Dubya" after the colloquial pronunciation of his middle initial in Texas, where he spent much of his childhood.

Ancestors, descendants and siblings

Ligatures and abbreviations

Computing codes

Unicode 87U+0057119U+0077
UTF-8 875711977
Numeric character reference WWww
EBCDIC family230E6166A6
ASCII 1875711977
1Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

NATO phonetic Morse code
Whiskey ·––
ICS Whiskey.svg Semaphore Whiskey.svg Sign language W.svg Braille W.svg
Signal flag Flag semaphore American manual alphabet (ASL fingerspelling) Braille

See also

Related Research Articles

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Informational notes

  1. Pronounced /ˈdʌbəl.j, ˈdʌb(ə)j, -jə/
  2. However, "Izzard" was formerly a two-syllable pronunciation of the letter Z .
  3. In Brazilian Portuguese, it is dáblio , which is a loanword from the English double-u.
  4. In Latin American Spanish, it is doble ve, similar regional variations exist in other Spanish-speaking countries.


  1. "W", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); 'W", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993) Merriam Webster
  2. Brown & Kiddle (1870) The institutes of grammar, p. 19.
    Double-ues is the plural of the name of the letter; the plural of the letter itself is written W's, Ws, w's, or ws.
  3. "Why is 'w' pronounced 'double u' rather than 'double v'? : Oxford Dictionaries Online". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
  4. "Arm w ist so unmer und unbekannt, dasz man schier weder seinen namen noch sein gestalt waiszt, die Lateiner wöllen sein nit, wie sy dann auch sein nit bedürffen, so wissen die Teütschen sonderlich die schülmaister noch nitt was sy mit im machen oder wie sy in nennen sollen, an ettlichen enden nennet man in we, die aber ein wenig latein haben gesehen, die nennen in mit zwaien unterschidlichen lauten u auff ainander, also uu ... die Schwaben nennen in auwawau, wiewol ich disen kauderwelschen namen also versteh, das es drey u sein, auff grob schwäbisch au genennet." cited after Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch .
  5. "W, w - Gyldendal - Den Store Danske". Denstoredanske.dk. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 24, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2015.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), page 1098
  7. Aars, Jonathan; Hofgaard, Simon Wright (1907). Norske retskrivnings-regler med alfabetiske ordlister (in Norwegian). W. C. Fabritius & Sønner. pp. 19, 84. NBN 2006081600014. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  8. "Veckans språkråd 2006" (in Swedish). July 5, 2007. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  9. Peter, von Möller (1858). Ordbok öfver Halländska landskapsmålet. Lund: Berlingska boktryckeriet. p. 17.
  10. "Let the pretending to be injured begin". No-sword.jp. June 10, 2006. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved November 4, 2011.Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  11. Zingarelli, Nicola (1945). Vocabolario della lingua italiana (7 ed.). Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli. p. 1713.
  12. Nhật My (May 19, 2009). "Ngôn ngữ thời @ của teen". VnExpress (in Vietnamese). FPT Group. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  13. Trần Tư Bình (November 30, 2013). "Viết tắt chữ Việt trong ngôn ngữ @". Chim Việt Cành Nam (in Vietnamese) (53).
  14. "Từ viết tắt: Trung ương". wcag.dongnai.gov.vn. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  15. VIỆT NAM, ĐẢNG CỘNG SẢN. "Hệ thống văn bản". dangcongsan.vn (in Vietnamese). Archived from the original on July 3, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2017.Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  16. "W, w, pronounced: wah". English, Leo James Tagalog-English Dictionary. 1990., page 1556.
  17. Bureau, Commodity Research (September 14, 2006). "The CRB Commodity Yearbook 2006 with CD-ROM". John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved November 7, 2017 via Google Books.
  18. Volkswagen. "VW Unpimp – Drop it like its hot". Youtube.com. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
  19. "Real Academia Española elimina la Ch y ll del alfabeto". Taringa!. November 5, 2010. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
  20. Everson, Michael (July 26, 2017). "L2/17-238: Proposal to add LATIN LETTER ANGLICANA W to the UCS" (PDF).
  21. Everson, Michael; et al. (March 20, 2002). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF). Unicode.org.
  22. Anderson, Deborah; Everson, Michael (June 7, 2004). "L2/04-191: Proposal to encode six Indo-Europeanist phonetic characters in the UCS" (PDF). Unicode.org.