Voiced labio-velar approximant

The voiced labio-velar approximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in certain spoken languages, including English. It is the sound denoted by the letter w in the English alphabet;[1] likewise, the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is w, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is w. In most languages it is a labialized velar approximant [ɰʷ], and the semivocalic counterpart of the close back rounded vowel [u] - i.e. the non-syllabic close back rounded vowel. In inventory charts of languages with other labialized velar consonants, /w/ will be placed in the same column as those consonants. When consonant charts have only labial and velar columns, /w/ may be placed in the velar column, (bi)labial column, or both. The placement may have more to do with phonological criteria than phonetic ones.[2]

Voiced labio-velar approximant
IPA Number170
Entity (decimal)w
Unicode (hex)U+0077
Audio sample
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Compressed labio-velar approximant

Some languages have the voiced labio-prevelar approximant,[3] which is articulated slightly more front compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical voiced labio-prevelar approximant, though not as front as the prototypical labialized palatal approximant.


Features of the voiced labialized velar approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream. The type of approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of /w/ from the /u/ vowel position to a following vowel position. The term semivowel emphasizes that, although the sound is vocalic in nature, it is not 'syllabic' (it does not form the nucleus of a syllable).
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.


Abkhazауаҩы[awaˈɥə]'human'See Abkhaz phonology
Adygheоды[wadə] 'thin'
ArabicModern Standard[4]وَرْد[ward]'rose'See Arabic phonology
Assyrian Neo-Aramaicktawa[kta:wa]'book'Most speakers. [v] and [ʋ] are used in the Urmia dialects.
Belarusianвоўк[vɔwk]'wolf'See Belarusian phonology
Bengaliওয়াদা[wada]'promise'See Bengali phonology
Berber ⴰⵍ [æwæl] 'speech'
Catalan[5]creuar[kɾəˈwa]'to cross'See Catalan phonology
ChineseCantonese/waat[wɑːt̚˧]'dig'See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin/wā[wa̠˥]See Mandarin phonology
DutchColloquialkouwe[ˈkʌu̯wə]'cold'Lenited allophone of /d/ after /ʌu̯/. See Dutch phonology
Standard Surinamesewelp[wɛɫp]'cub'Corresponds to [ʋ] in the Netherlands and to [β̞] in Belgium. See Dutch phonology
Englishweep[wiːp]'weep'See English phonology
Esperantoaŭto['awto]'car'See Esperanto phonology
French[6]oui[wi]'yes'See French phonology
Hawaiian[7]wikiwiki[wikiwiki]'fast'May also be realized as [v]. See Hawaiian phonology
HebrewOrientalכּוֹחַ[ˈkowaħ]'power'See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani[8]विश्वास[vɪʃwaːs]'believe'See Hindustani phonology
Irishvóta[ˈwoːt̪ˠə]'vote'See Irish phonology
Italian[9]uomo[ˈwɔːmo]'man'See Italian phonology
Japaneseわたし/watashi[ɰᵝataɕi]'I'Pronounced with lip compression. See Japanese phonology
Kabardianуэ[wa] 'you'
Korean왜가리/waegari[wɛɡɐɾi]'heron'See Korean phonology
Luxembourgish[10]zwee[t͡swe̝ː]'two'Allophone of /v/ after /k, t͡s, ʃ/.[11] See Luxembourgish phonology
Mayan Yucatec witz [wit͡s] 'mountain'
Pashtoﻭﺍﺭ[wɑr]'one time'
Polish[12]łaska[ˈwäskä] 'grace'See Polish phonology. Corresponds to [ɫ] in older pronunciation and eastern dialects
Portuguese[13]Most dialectsquando[ˈkwɐ̃du]'when'Post-lexically after /k/ and /ɡ/. See Portuguese phonology
boa[ˈbow.wɐ]'good' (f.)Epenthetic glide or allophone of /u/, following a stressed rounded vowel and preceding an unrounded one.[14]
General Brazilianqual[ˈkwaw]'which'Allophone of /l/ in coda position for most Brazilian dialects.[15]
Romaniandulău[duˈləw]'mastiff'See Romanian phonology
Serbo-CroatianCroatian[16]vuk[wûːk]'wolf'Allophone of /ʋ/ before /u/.[16] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Sericmiique[ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ]'person'Allophone of /m/
Slovene[17][18]cerkev[ˈt͡sèːrkəw]'church'Allophone of /ʋ/ in the syllable coda.[17][18] Voiceless [ʍ] before voiceless consonants. See Slovene phonology
Sothosewa[ˈsewa]'epidemic'See Sesotho phonology
Spanish[19]cuanto[ˈkwãn̪t̪o̞]'as much'See Spanish phonology
Tagalogaraw[ɐˈɾaw]'day'See Tagalog phonology
Thaiแห /waen[wɛn˩˩˦]'ring'
Ukrainianлюбов[lʲuˈbɔw] 'love'See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese[20]tuần[t̪wən˨˩]'week'See Vietnamese phonology
Welshgwae[ɡwaɨ]'woe'See Welsh phonology
West Frisianskowe[skoːwə]'to shove'

See also


  1. Guidelines for Transcription of English Consonants and Vowels (PDF); see the examples on the fifth page.
  2. Ohala & Lorentz (1977:577)
  3. Instead of "pre-velar", it can be called "advanced velar", "fronted velar", "front-velar", "palato-velar", "post-palatal", "retracted palatal" or "backed palatal".
  4. Watson (2002:13)
  5. Carbonell & Llisterri (1992:55)
  6. Fougeron & Smith (1993:75)
  7. Pukui & Elbert (1986:xvii)
  8. Ladefoged (2005:141)
  9. Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:117)
  10. Gilles & Trouvain (2013), pp. 67, 69.
  11. Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 69.
  12. Jassem (2003:103)
  13. Barbosa & Albano (2004:230)
  14. (in Portuguese) Delta: Documentation of studies on theoretical and applied Linguistics – Problems in the tense variant of carioca speech.
  15. Barbosa, Plínio A.; Albano, Eleonora C. (23 Dec 2004). "Brazilian Portuguese". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 34 (02): 227–232. doi:10.1017/S0025100304001756. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  16. Landau et al. (1999:68)
  17. Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:136)
  18. Greenberg (2006:18)
  19. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:256)
  20. Thompson (1959:458–461)


  • Barbosa, Plínio A.; Albano, Eleonora C. (2004), "Brazilian Portuguese", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (2): 227–232, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001756
  • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1992), "Catalan", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 22 (1–2): 53–56, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004618
  • Fougeron, Cecile; Smith, Caroline L. (1993), "French", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 23 (2): 73–76, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004874
  • Gilles, Peter; Trouvain, Jürgen (2013), "Luxembourgish" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 43 (1): 67–74, doi:10.1017/S0025100312000278
  • Greenberg, Mark L. (2006), A Short Reference Grammar of Standard Slovene, Kansas: University of Kansas
  • Jassem, Wiktor (2003), "Polish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 33 (1): 103–107, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001191
  • Landau, Ernestina; Lončarić, Mijo; Horga, Damir; Škarić, Ivo (1999), "Croatian", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 66–69, ISBN 0-521-65236-7
  • Martínez-Celdrán, Eugenio; Fernández-Planas, Ana Ma.; Carrera-Sabaté, Josefina (2003), "Castilian Spanish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 33 (2): 255–259, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001373
  • Ohala, John; Lorentz, James (1977), "Story of [w]: An exercise in the phonetic explanation for sound patterns" (PDF), Berkeley Linguistics Society annual meeting 3 proceedings, pp. 577–599
  • Pukui, Mary Kawena; Elbert, Samuel H. (1986), Hawaiian Dictionary, Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, ISBN 0-8248-0703-0
  • Rogers, Derek; d'Arcangeli, Luciana (2004), "Italian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (1): 117–121, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001628
  • Šuštaršič, Rastislav; Komar, Smiljana; Petek, Bojan (1999), "Slovene", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 135–139, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004874, ISBN 0-521-65236-7
  • Thompson, Laurence (1959), "Saigon phonemics", Language, 35 (3): 454–476, doi:10.2307/411232, JSTOR 411232
  • Watson, Janet (2002), The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic, New York: Oxford University Press
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