Have you left native speakers confused at times with your English pronunciation?
Here’s a tip to sound more like a native English speaker: learn to pronounce the V sound correctly.
Improving the way you pronounce sounds in English can improve comprehension for those listening to you and drastically enhance your fluency overall. Because everyone knows good English speakers have already conquered the basic sounds!
Depending on your native language, the English V sound is a tricky one. Native speakers of Spanish, German, Indo-Aryan, and Japanese often have difficulty pronouncing it correctly as they have similar sounds in their languages.
If you natively speak Spanish, German, Indo-Aryan, or Japanese, you’ve probably noticed issues pronouncing the V sound correctly in English. German speakers often have trouble with why vs. vie, and Spanish speakers with very vs. berry. They’re just so similar! You may even be having trouble with the F sound too. And that’s because the V and F sounds both rely on the same mouth movements.
They’re also consonant fricatives, which means the sounds are made by stopping airflow for a moment and forcing it out to create a friction sound.
In this article, you’ll learn how to pronounce the English V sound fluently as well as recognizing the differences between the V sound and B, F, W.
Consonant Fricatives Explained: a Lifesaver.
By now, you probably have a good understanding of what consonants are: any sound that isn’t A, E, I, O, U and relies on partly obstructing the breath. Consonants combine with vowels to form syllables, and fricatives are by far the largest group of consonants.
You make a fricative consonant by squeezing air through a small gap in your mouth to make a friction sound. These kinds of fricatives are called sibilants.
There are nine fricative consonants in English, and they are both voiced and voiceless, meaning they either make a vibration in the vocal cords or not. The voiceless fricatives are [s], [ʃ], [f], and [θ], and its voiced fricatives are [z], [ʒ], [v], and [ð]
All of the fricative sounds except /h/ are made by partially obstructing air through the mouth.
Fricative examples with common words:
Other examples of fricatives in English are s as in “sitter,” z as in “zebra,” and the two th sounds as in “think,” “this,” and “thought.”
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The course dives deep into every aspect of English pronunciation so you gain the in-depth knowledge of every sound you need to enhance your fluency. There’s even an entire video episode on how to pronounce the letter V! Click here to get started today.
Why is the V Sound Such a Source of Trouble Across Cultures?
Not only were french fries and vermouth not on the ancient menu, but we also lacked the jaw structure to even pronounce the names. Evolutionarily speaking, the V sound is relatively new to our mouths.
It’s now well-known that our jaws play an essential role in influencing vowel height. Still, the ability to make labiodental sounds—when you put your lower lip on your upper teeth, like F and V sounds—only came about after agriculture had evolved to introduce softer foods into our diets. Before then, the human jaw didn’t have the overlap, called overjet, that we’re used to today.
Human jaws were more equally aligned in the Paleolithic period when our rough hunter-gatherer diets demanded more chewing force from the teeth.
So, perhaps we just haven’t gotten used to it yet, and that’s why many cultures have so many variations and interpretations of the V sound.
How to Pronounce the V Sound Correctly
It’s easier than you think to pronounce the V sound correctly, and here we’ll learn exactly how to while avoiding common pronunciation mistakes a lot of English learners make.
As we’ve seen, the V sound relies on touching your bottom lip to your upper teeth and forcing air out of your mouth. Depending on your native language, you may need to exaggerate this lip-to-teeth movement in the beginning until it becomes natural—especially if your native language is Spanish, where the Vs and Bs are almost identical!
You’ll find the V sound at the beginning, middle, and end of words, and it’s often after a prefix, like adventure, that it becomes a problem for some learners. But the good news is that the pronunciation of V never varies. It always sounds the same and always relies on the same mouth movement.
Here’s how you can make the V sound correctly: lightly press your bottom lip against your top teeth and push the sound out while vibrating your vocal cords. Imagine a bee trying to push through the closed space.
If you’re having trouble with it, or think you might not be doing it right, try an exaggeration exercise. Try holding the V sound for a few seconds and making a humming noise like a bee. You should feel the vibration on your bottom lip.
If you’re still unsure, you may benefit from practicing a sound with a similar vibration and then switching to the V. The Z sound produces a vibration from the throat much in the same way that the V sound does.
Try holding a few seconds of Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Then, remember the vibration in your throat from that, but put your upper teeth to your lips for a Vvvvvvvvvvvv sound. It may feel strange or silly, but the vibration is essential to proper pronunciation.
And remember, don’t put your lips together, or you will get /b/ sound, like bowel instead of vowel.
Once you’ve mastered the vibration, you can practice the V sound in other applications. At some point, you’re going to come across irregular plurals, which are nouns that do not become plural by adding -s or -es. These irregular plurals often use the V sound instead of F.
When making plurals of words ending in the F sound, you change the F to V and add ES. But, if the word ends in FE, simply add an S (no E). Both result in plurals that end in VES. This spelling exists because it’s awkward to pronounce F and S together, and it will sound like V anyway.
- life – lives
- scarf – scarves
- thief – thieves
- yourself – yourselves
The voiceless F sound is also troublesome for some English learners. The F is pronounced lightly as a /v/ sound. Like in the title Lord of the rings, the preposition of is an example of F taking the V sound, and it’s one of the most frequently used words in English.
Some examples of the preposition of:
- Could I please have a glass of water?
- Of course! I’d love to help.
- There are appointments available in the first week of November.
You can easily avoid mispronouncing V as F, W, or B by remembering the mouth movements for each sound. The V sound is the only sound that has a vibration from the throat. None of the sounds that are commonly confused with V make any vibration.
Try this practice sentence with all the V, W, F, and B sounds:
I’m very excited about my weekend adventure with my brother in February. If the weather is good, we’re going to visit a volcano!
Putting it to Work: Guided Practice
You’ve already made the first step to better V pronunciation; great job! But, simply reading isn’t enough, and it’s essential to practice so you retain more of the information you read. We’ve discussed the importance of repetition to remember what you don’t want to forget, but you should space it out.
Many eager English learners force themselves to regularly repeat lists of words and grammar rules and end up confused as to why they still don’t remember much of it.
They should have tried spaced repetition.
Studies have shown that mass repetition—repeating something to yourself over and over without a break—is only slightly better than not repeating at all.
Generally, spaced repetition works because the harder it is to retrieve newly acquired information, the more likely you’ll remember it long-term.
So, take these practice words and sentences below and use them to remember the correct pronunciation and how to shift between sounds. Refer to them often, but with few days in between. After a couple of sessions, you’ll probably remember it for good!
|Target sound /V/||W, F, B words|
Starting today and learning to pronounce V correctly will have a huge impact on your overall English. While it may not seem like much now, proper pronunciation undoubtedly improves comprehension, leading to better connections with people and their cultures.
Before you know it, you’ll be confidently speaking phrases like “the whale created a wave over the vast, wide ocean space.” without hesitation.
Remember to regularly practice the vibration sound and mouth movements we discussed in this article, and you’ll quickly learn to avoid confusing the V sound with W, F, or B. And don’t forget to check out our free worksheets!