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Letter O as in ‘cup’? | Better pronunciation

Letter O: Special Pronunciation

Perhaps you wonder what the dozen colourful sponges in the picture above has to do with pronunciation.

Well, keep reading or listening to find out. As always, you can practise your pronunciation at the end of this post, and download a free PDF. O_PDF

You can listen to Part 1 here.

There are some really frequent, essential words in English that share a common feature: They all contain the letter O, usually in the stressed syllable. 

However, in these words the letter O must be pronounced /Λ/ as in cup, not /ɒ/ as in stop. 

Many learners of English are not aware of this, and are surprised when they find out. Of course it is tempting to say /ɒ/ whenever you see the letter O, and to pronounce come as /kɒm/, Monday as /’mɒndeɪ/, cover as /ˈkɒvə/, and so on.

But don’t let your eyes trick you! After all, English pronunciation is all about sounds, not so much about letters. (For an even better accent, I recommend that you practise the letter O as a diphthong in this other post.)

There are roughly 65 English words that come with this feature, and, as I said, many of them are in fact among the most frequent English words. What’s more, they are multiplied by prefixes and suffixes, through different verb forms, expressions, collocations and phrasal verbs.

Here are some areas where these words appear:

  • irregular verbs
  • family and home
  • feelings
  • time, amounts and finance
  • conversation
  • business

I have grouped them by topic on the PDF.

So, given the high frequency of these words, your pronunciation mistakes will start to accumulate very quickly. Don’t let this happen! Instead, boost your competence as an English speaker, and start correcting this area.

Next time you listen to a native or native-like speaker, or while watching a film or series, pay attention. You’ll be surprised how many of these words you will hear in a short time.

What words do I have to be aware of?

Let’s look at three basic words that we literally use all the time: come, some and other. If you pronounce those right, then you’ll already have secured the correct pronunciation of a large portion of your vocabulary. Why? Well, let me show you how the use of these words is multiplied:

  • come: coming, become, income, come from, come here, come back, come on, and many others.
  • some: sometimes, something, somebody, someone, somewhere, somehow, and so on.
  • other: another, others, otherwise, the other, one another, each other, among others, etc.

And here are some more high-frequency words. Yes, they are all pronounced with an /Λ/ sound. Do you realise how often we use these in everyday conversation and business?

colour – company – done – in front of – love – Monday – money – month – nothing – son – wonderful – worry

Wouldn’t you agree it is worth taking action in order to get rid of those repetitive mistakes? I know it’s not easy – habits are difficutl to change. But if you are mindful of how you speak, you will make steady progress. Listen to others and to yourself; be aware of your pronunciation; and try to correct yourself as much as possible.

Now listen to the second part of this recording and practise your pronunciation.

Listen to Part 2 here.


Now it’s your turn to practise. Listen, repeat and get your mouth and head around the pronunciation of these words. It may sound and feel strange at first, but don’t give up!

  1. To clean the oven you’ll need a sponge and a pair of rubber gloves.
  2. I sometimes wonder why you keep the honey and the onions in the fridge.
  3. We discovered dozens of monkeys among the trees.
  4. – Is he your brother? – No, he’s my son. I’m his mother!
  5. Are you coming home with us? Otherwise you’ll have to get a taxi.
  6. I had a wonderful time in London and made a ton of new friends.
  7. I love this book. I read it from cover to cover in just two days.
  8. English isn’t my mother tongue.
  9. She made herself comfortable in front of the fireplace.
  10. This other dress is a lovely colour.
  11. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with your stomach.
  12. We might need a compass for the expedition. And can someone bring a shovel?
  13. Thanks to thorough investigation the police made another discovery last month.
  14. The governor won the elections on Monday.
  15. We were confronted with a thoroughly uncomfortable situation at the frontier.
  16. What has the government done to overcome the crisis?
  17. If you need money, I can lend you some.
  18. Sorry, but my income is none of your business.
  19. I write monthly reports for my company.
  20. Above all, we want to accomplish our goal of becoming environmentally friendly.

Remember, practise makes perfect. I’d love to hear what words you have managed to pronounce better. And don’t miss my post on the pronunciation of the letter O as a diphthong.



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