Listen here to part 1
/V/ as in Valentine’s Day
… or /v/ as in lavender, or /v/ as in love …
Pronunciation of the letter V never varies. Nevertheless, the /v/ sound can be challenging for speakers of several languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, German, Russian or Spanish.
Moreover, as you may have noticed, /v/ is a relatively frequent sound in English and appears in many everyday words. Just think how often we use the words have and of, for example. To help you notice them better, I have marked all /v/ sounds in this text in red.
This post explains how (and how not) to pronounce the sound /v/. Of course you can practise at the end, and there is a free PDF providing lots of examples.
The /v/ sound at the beginning, in the middle or at the end
Here are a few examples to get you started:
- At the beginning: valley – victory – violin – volume
- In the middle: eleven – every – heavy – November
- At the end: achieve – five – have – improve
- This also includes adjectives and nouns ending in -ive:
attractive – effective – narrative – productive
✓ It is often after prefixes that /v/ seems to pose problems to learners.
available, adventure, convince, device, evaluate, involve, prevent, provide, review, etc.
✓ Many names and places also often contain a /v/ sound. To just a name a few (and I apologize in advance for how English treats their original versions):
Victor, Stephen, Eve; Vivaldi, Vincent van Gogh
Venezuela, Vietnam; Vancouver, Havana; Venus, Vesuvius
✓ In some irregular plurals the final f in the singular changes to –ves /vz/ in the plural. For example:
life – lives; scarf – scarves; thief – thieves; yourself – yourselves.
Game /əv/ Thrones, The Lord /əv/ the Rings
The f in the preposition of is pronounced softly, as a /v/ sound, and of is reduced to /əv/. As in most languages, it is one of the most frequently used words.
✓ We use of in dates, for example:
2 April – “the second of April”; 10 October – “the tenth of October”
✓ And it is used in a vast array of phrases:
a glass of water – of course – in front of you – in spite of it – instead of me – think of it – a lot of work, etc.
Make sure you check out the PDF for more examples. v_Wordlist
Now on to the technical part.
Spelling: What letters make the sound /v/?
The sound /v/ is almost exclusively represented by the letter V. At the end of the word /v/ is usually spelt –ve. There are just two exceptions:
- In the name /ˈstiːv(ə)n/, the /v/ sound can be spelt v or ph. Steven and Stephen sound exactly the same.
- As mentioned above, the f in the preposition ‘of‘ is pronounced as a /v/ sound.
How to pronounce /v/
- Keep your lips just slightly apart and your jaws nearly closed.
- Next, bring the inside of your bottom lip against your upper teeth. Leave it there!
- Let the air flow through the gap between your teeth and lower lip. This will produce “fff”.
- Now add your voice: “fffvvvvv”. You should notice a slight vibration in your throat and inside your lower lip.
And there’s your /v/ sound!
Dos and don’ts – and their consequences
Changing the /v/ sound, especially at the beginning of a word, can change the meaning of that word. This can make communication difficult or even lead to misunderstandings. People will get confused or distracted from your message because they suddenly hear unexpected things. Let me show you how.
- Use your voice, or else you will say /f/: very – ferry
If you say “ferry relephant” instead of very relevant, people might wonder why you just mentioned an elephant on a boat…
- Do not put your lips together, or you will get /b/: vowel – bowel
Our bowels are part of our body’s digestive system. It could get embarrassing – or entertaining, depending on the situation – if you talk about “bowel sounds” instead of vowel sounds.
- Do not round your lips, as this will produce /w/: veil – whale
Anyone can lift a veil, but to be honest I would love to see somebody “lift a whale”!
So remember: For the /v/ sound, keep your lips slightly apart, bring the inside of your lower lip into contact with your upper teeth, and add your voice. And now, over to you in the second part.
Listen to part 2 and practise
Time to practise
Most likely you already pronounce a lot of words with this sound correctly, but take advantage and see if you can improve some others.
- Valentine‘s Day is celebrated every 14 February.
- Ludwig van Beethoven lived in Vienna for over thirty-five years.
- Voldemort from Harry Potter and Darth Vader from Star Wars are two iconic villains.
- Let’s play volleyball instead of watching TV all evening.
- Vanilla isn’t my favourite ice cream flavour.
- This travel visa is valid for twelve months.
- The thieves took a valuable set of silver knives and forks.
- Advanced level vocabulary includes a wide variety of phrasal verbs.
- One advantage of living in a village is that you can save quite a lot of money.
- We’ve made a video of our adventure trip to the Victoria Falls.
- Have you ever visited Vancouver in November?
- Developing effective drugs is expensive.
- Virtual reality can improve people’s lives.
- I’m afraid Ms Stevens is out of the office for most of the day.
- My previous job involved advertising and event management.
- Invoices will be paid after delivery has been received.
- In order to control your nerves at a job interview, make sure you arrive well in advance.
- Avoiding sugar and eating more vegetables helps prevent cavities.
- Please help yourselves to a cup of tea or coffee, and have a piece of this lovely cake.
- Visitors to the Safari Park are advised not to leave their vehicles at any time.
Let me know which of these words you still need to work on. And keep practising! As Napoleon said,
Victory belongs to the most persevering.