Master the pronunciation of the voiced bilabial–velar approximant [w] consonantal glide semivowel

[w] – Wet, liquid, cow Wet, wonder, world wide web. Frequent, liquid, language, require. “How now brown cow?”

[wɛt], [ˈwʌndər], [wɜrld waɪd wɛb], [ˈfrikwənt], [ˈlɪkwəd], [ˈlæŋgwəʤ], [ˌriˈkwaɪər], [“haʊ naʊ braʊn kaʊ?”]

Relax and imitate the coach. Let your body and posture adjust so that you can make the sounds and pronounce the words comfortably.

Technical description: [w] is a pulmonic voiced bilabial-velar approximant central oral glide semivowel consonant sound.

Pulmonic means that you articulate the sound by pushing air with your intercostal (rib) muscles and diaphragm.

Voiced means that you vibrate the vocal cords in your larynx.

Bilabial means that you use both lips to make the sound.

Velar means that, to make the proper phonation chamber, you typically raise the back of your tongue towards your soft palate (the velum), however, you can vary your tongue position and still make an understandable [w] sound.

Approximant means that the sound is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to generate audible turbulence (like with sibilants like [s] or fricatives like [f] or [v]). In the case of [w], you narrow your lips into an “”o”” shape and guide your vibrating breath through an almost plosive-like movement with your lips. [w] is one of the most fun sounds to make in the English language!

Central means that you guide the stream of your breath along the center of your tongue and not the sides.

Oral means that breath escapes through your mouth while making the sound, and if you close your nose with your fingers, you can still make the [w] sound! 🙂

Glide means that [w] actually helps you glide from an [u]-like sound, through the [w] sound, and you glide right on through to the following vowel. You can say [wi:], [we:], [wa:], [wo:], [wʊ:]…[əˈweɪ] (away), to practice.

Semivowel means that even though the sound is “vocalic,” it’s not “syllabic,” meaning that while the [w] sound is a part of syllables, it is never the “nucleus” of a syllable. The nucleus of a syllable is usually a vowel or combination of vowels. For example, in the word “”mat”” [m] is the onset of the syllable, [æ] is the nucleus, and [t] is the coda.


Open your mouth and make an “o” shape with your lips. Vibrate your vocal cords making an “oooo” sound [u:]. An excellent [w] can be found right in between making the [u:] sound and the schwa [ə]. If you say

[u:] – [ə] [u:] – [ə] [u:] – [ə]

many people will automatically make a wonderful [w] sound in the middle 🙂


You can also think of sucking in a beverage with a straw. That is the exact position your lips make while making a correct [w] sound.

Putting this consonant together, you make the “O” shape with your lips, vibrate your vocal cords to make a short [u:] sound, and then let your lips kind of “”bounce”” away from your vibrating breath while you then change your phonation chamber to whatever sound comes next.

Some words, like [ˈkaʊˌbɔɪ] (cowboy) only contain the beginning part of the [w] sound, and are transcribed with an [ʊ].

[w] really is a wonderful sound! It’s bouncy and pleasurable and fairly unique to the English language.

Mispronounciation of [w] can definitely lead to misunderstanding, and in some language regions, the teachers teach the sound incorrectly. Rest assured, you are being taught correctly here.

Warning: For beginners, it is best to just imitate and relax. While raising conscious awareness of lip, tongue, and larynx function, if you are not careful, you can experience fatigue or cramps. Hydrate properly, take breaks when tired, and remember to enjoy yourself!


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