Basic Latin alphabet
Aa Bb Cc Dd    
Ee Ff Gg Hh
Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn
Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt
Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

W (play /ˈdʌbəljuː/, /ˈdʌbəjuː/, /ˈdʌbəjə/, or /ˈdʌbjə/; named double-u, plural double-ues)[1][2] is the 23rd letter in the basic modern Latin alphabet.

In other Germanic languages, including German, its pronunciation is similar or identical to that of English V.[3] In Spanish, it is doble ve or uve doble,[4][note 1] and in French double vé, both literally "double vee".



A 1693 book printing that uses the "double u" alongside the modern letter

The sounds /w/ (spelled with ‹V›) and /b/ (spelled ‹B›) of Classical Latin developed into a bilabial fricative /β/ between vowels in Early Medieval Latin. Therefore, ‹V› no longer represented adequately the labial-velar approximant sound /w/ of Germanic phonology.

The Germanic /w/ phoneme was therefore written as ‹vv› or ‹uu› (‹u› and ‹v› becoming distinct only by the Early Modern period) by the 7th or 8th century by the earliest writers of Old English and Old High German.[5] Gothic, by contrast, simply used a letter based on the Greek Υ for the same sound.

It is from this ‹uu› digraph that the modern name "double U" derives. The digraph was commonly used in the spelling of Old High German, but only sporadically in Old English, where the /w/ sound was usually represented by the runic wynn (‹Ƿ›). In early Middle English, following the 11th-century Norman Conquest, ‹uu› gained popularity and by 1300 it had taken wynn's place in common use.

Modern English orthography has thus remained historically consistent with the early scribal orthography of the Brythonic languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton) ultimately derived from Latin, and distinct from its near continental neighbours, such as French and German where the 'double vee' is used.

Scribal realization of the digraph could look like a pair of Vs whose branches crossed in the middle. An obsolete, cursive form found in the nineteenth century in both English and German was in the form of an "n" whose rightmost branch curved around as in a cursive "v".[citation needed] The shift from the ligature ‹vv› to the distinct letter ‹w› is thus gradual, and is only apparent in abecedaria, explicit listings of all individual letters. It was probably considered a separate letter by the 14th century in both Middle English and Middle German orthography, although it remained an outsider not really considered part of the Latin alphabet proper, as expressed by Valentin Ickelsamer in the 16th century, who complained that

"Poor w is so infamous and unknown that many barely know either its name or its shape, not those who aspire to being Latinists, as they have no need of it, nor do the Germans, not even the schoolmasters, know what to do with it or how to call it; some call it we, [... others] call it uu, [...] the Swabians call it auwawau"[6]

In Middle High German (and possibly already in late Old High German), the West Germanic phoneme /w/ became realized as [v]; this is why the German ‹w› today represents that sound. There is no phonological distinction between [w] and [v] in German and the [w] sound remains heard allophonically for ‹w›, especially in the cluster ‹schw›, besides [kw] for ‹qu›.

Though modern German dialects generally have only [v] for West Germanic [w], some Bavarian dialects preserve a "light" initial [w] in words like wuoz, Standard German weiß [vaɪs] '[I] know' (cf. English wit). The Classical Latin [β] is heard in the Southern German greeting Servus ('hello' or 'goodbye').

In Dutch it became a labiodental approximant /ʋ/ (with the exception of words with -‹eeuw›, which have /eːβ/, or other diphthongs containing -‹uw›). Dialectally, in many Dutch speaking areas, such as Flanders and Suriname, the /β/ pronunciation is used at all times.


In Europe, there are only a few languages that use W in native words and all are located in a central-western European zone between Cornwall and Poland. English, German, Low German, Dutch, Frisian, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Walloon, Polish, Kashubian, Sorbian and Resian use W in native words. English uses W to represent /w/, German, Polish and Kashubian use it for the voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (with Polish and related Kashubian using Ł for /w/), and Dutch uses it for /w/ or /ʋ/. Unlike its use in other languages, the letter is used in Welsh and Cornish to represent the vowel /u/ as well as the related approximant consonant /w/. English also contains a number of words beginning with a W that is silent in most dialects before a (pronounced) R, remaining from usage in Anglo-Saxon in which the W was pronounced: wreak, wrap, wreck, wrench, wroth, wrinkle, etc. (Certain dialects of Scottish English still distinguish this digraph.)

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, /w/ is used for the voiced labial-velar approximant, probably based on English.

In Finnish, ‹W› is seen as a variant of ‹V› and not a separate letter. It is however recognised and maintained in the spelling of some old names, reflecting an earlier German spelling standard, and in some modern loan words. In all cases it is pronounced /v/.

In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, ‹W› is always pronounced as /v/, and as such, it is named double-v and not double-u. In these languages, the letter only exists in old names, loanwords and foreign words. (Foreign words are distinguished from loanwords by having a significantly lower level of integration in the language.) The letter was officially introduced in the Danish and Swedish alphabets as late as 1980 and 2006, respectively, despite having been in use for much longer. It was recognized since the conception of modern Norwegian, with the earliest official orthography rules of 1907.[7] ‹W› was earlier seen as a variant of ‹V›, and ‹W› as a letter (double-v) is still commonly replaced by ‹V› in speech (e.g. www being pronounced as vvv, WHO as VHO, etc.) The two letters were sorted as equals before ‹W› was officially recognized, and that practice that is still recommended when sorting names in Sweden.[8] In modern slang, some native speakers may pronounce ‹W› more closely to the origin of the loanword than the official /v/ pronunciation.

In the alphabets of most modern Romance languages (excepting far northern French and Walloon), W is used mostly in foreign names and words recently borrowed (le week-end, il watt, el kiwi). When a spelling for /w/ in a native word is needed, a spelling from the native alphabet, such as V, U, or OU, can be used instead.

In the Cyrillic alphabet used for the Belarusian language, ‹Ў› is pronounced like English /w/.

The Japanese language uses "W", pronounced /daburu/, as an ideogram meaning "double".[9]

In Arabic, "W" is transliterated using the penultimate letter of the alphabet, و (waw).

W is also the symbol for the chemical element tungsten, after its German name, Wolfram.


"Double U" is the only English letter name with more than one syllable, except for the occasionally used, though somewhat archaic, "œ" (its name is pronounced similar to "ethel"), and the archaic pronunciation of Z izzard. The initialism www for the World Wide Web thus, perhaps ironically, has three times as many syllables as the full name.

Some[who?] speakers therefore shorten the name "double u" into "dub" only; for example, University of Washington, University of Wyoming and University of Western Australia are all known colloquially as "U Dub", and the automobile company Volkswagen, abbreviated VW, is sometimes pronounced "V-Dub".[10] The fact that many website URLs still require a "www." prefix has likewise given rise to a shortened version of the original, three-syllable pronunciation. W and H are also the only English letters whose names are not pronounced with any of the sounds that the letter typically makes. Many others, however, prefer to pronounce the w as dub-u, reducing it to two syllables. For example, www would be six syllables rather than nine, being pronounced dub-u dub-u dub-u. The common[says who?] method of pronouncing dub-u would almost be unmistakably double-u.

George W. Bush has been given the nickname "Dubya", after the colloquial pronunciation of W in Texas.

Computing codes

character W w
character encoding decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 87 0057 119 0077
UTF-8 87 57 119 77
Numeric character reference W W w w
EBCDIC family 230 E6 166 A6
ASCII 1 87 57 119 77

1 and all encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representations

See also


  1. ^ In American Spanish, it is doble ve, similar regional variations exist in other Spanish-speaking countries


  1. ^ "W" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993)
  2. ^ Brown & Kiddle (1870) The institutes of grammar, p 19.
    Double-ues is the plural of the name of the letter; the plural of the letter itself is written W's, Ws, w's, or ws.
  3. ^ W: German on Wiktionary
  4. ^ "Real Academia Española elimina la Ch y ll del alfabeto". Taringa!. 2010-11-05. http://www.taringa.net/posts/noticias/7792488/Real-Academia-Espanola-elimina-la-Ch-y-ll-del-alfabeto.html. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  5. ^ "Why is 'w' pronounced 'double u' rather than 'double v'? : Oxford Dictionaries Online". Oxforddictionaries.com. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/page/pronunciationofw. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  6. ^ "arm w ist so unmer und unbekannt, dasz man schier weder seinen namen noch sein gestalt waiszt, die Lateiner wöllen sein nit, wie sy dann auch sein nit bedürffen, so wissen die Teütschen sonderlich die schlmaister noch nitt was sy mit im machen oder wie sy in nennen sollen, an ettlichen enden nennet man in we, die aber ein wenig latein haben gesehen, die nennen in mit zwaien unterschidlichen lauten u auff ainander, also uu ... die Schwaben nennen in auwawau, wiewol ich disen kauderwelschen namen also versteh, das es drey u sein, auff grob schwäbisch au genennet." cited after Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch.
  7. ^ Aars, Jonathan; Hofgaard, Simon Wright (1907) (in Norwegian). Norske retskrivnings-regler med alfabetiske ordlister. W. C. Fabritius & Sønner. pp. 19, 84. NBN 2006081600014. http://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2006081600014#&struct=DIVP19. Retrieved September 18, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Veckans språkråd 2006" (in Swedish). July 5, 2007. http://www.spraknamnden.se/fragor/arkiv_sprakrad.htm#w. Retrieved September 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Let the pretending to be injured begin". No-sword.jp. 2006-06-10. http://no-sword.jp/blog/2006/06/let-pretending-to-be-injured-begin.html. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  10. ^ Volkswagon. "VW Unpimp - Drop it like its hot". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgEvy60bZYI. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 

External links

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Letter W with diacritics
Ẃẃ Ẁẁ Ŵŵ Ẅẅ Ẇẇ Ẉẉ W̊ẘ Ⱳⱳ

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