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Writing D'Nealian cursive forms of W as used in the US

W (named double-u,[note 1] plural double-ues)[1][2] is the 23rd letter of the modern English and ISO basic Latin alphabets.



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

The sounds /w/ (spelled ⟨V⟩) and /b/ (spelled ⟨B⟩) of Classical Latin developed into a bilabial fricative /β/ between vowels in Early Medieval Latin. Therefore, ⟨V⟩ no longer adequately represented 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, the earliest writers of Old English and Old High German.[3] Gothic (not Latin-based), by contrast, simply used a letter based on the Greek Υ for the same sound. The digraph ⟨VV⟩/⟨uu⟩ was also used in Medieval Latin to represent Germanic names, including Gothic ones like Wamba.

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 ⟨Ƿ⟩ wynn. 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.

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 digraph ⟨VV⟩ to the distinct ligature ⟨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 Ickelshamer 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[4]

In Middle High German (and possibly already in late Old High German), the West Germanic phoneme /w/ became realized as [v]; this is why, today, the German ⟨w⟩ represents that sound. There is no phonological distinction between [w] and [v] in contemporary German.

Use in writing systemsEdit


English uses ⟨w⟩ to represent /w/. There are also a number of words beginning with a written ⟨w⟩ that is silent in most dialects before a (pronounced) ⟨r⟩, remaining from usage in Old English in which the ⟨w⟩ was pronounced: wreak, wrap, wreck, wrench, wroth, wrinkle, etc. Certain dialects of Scottish English still distinguish this digraph.

Other languagesEdit

In Europe, there are only a few languages with ⟨w⟩ in native words, all in a central-western European zone between Cornwall and Poland: English, German, Low German, Dutch, Frisian, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Walloon, Polish, Kashubian, Sorbian, wymysorys, Resian and Scandinavian dialects. German, Polish, wymysorys and Kashubian use it for the voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (with Polish, Wymysorys and related Kashubian using Ł for /w/), and Dutch uses it for /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/.

Modern German dialects generally have only [v] or [ʋ] for West Germanic /w/, but [w] or [β̞] is still heard allophonically for ⟨w⟩, especially in the clusters ⟨schw⟩, ⟨zw⟩, and ⟨qu⟩. Some Bavarian dialects preserve a "light" initial [w], such as in wuoz (Standard German weiß [vaɪs] '[I] know'). The Classical Latin [β] is heard in the Southern German greeting Servus ('hello' or 'goodbye').

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

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 /ʋ/.

In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, ⟨w⟩ 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.) It is usually pronounced /v/, but in some words of English origin it may be pronounced /w/.[5][6] 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 had been 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. WC being pronounced as VC, www as VVV, WHO as VHO, etc.) The two letters were sorted as equals before ⟨w⟩ was officially recognized, and that practice 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.

Multiple dialects of Swedish and Danish use the sound however. In Denmark notably in Jutland, where the northern half use it extensively in traditional dialect, and multiple places in Sweden. It is used in southern Swedish, for example in Halland where the words "wesp" (wisp) and "wann" (water) are traditionally used.[9] In northern and western Sweden there are also dialects with /w/. Elfdalian is a good example, which is one of many dialects where the Old Norse difference between v (/w/) and f (/v/ or /f/) is preserved. Thus "warg" from Old Norse "vargr", but "åvå" from Old Norse "hafa".

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). The digraph ⟨ou⟩ is used for /w/ in native French words; ⟨oi⟩ is /wa/ or /wɑ/. In Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, [w] is a non-syllabic variant of /u/, spelled ⟨u⟩.

The Japanese language uses "W", pronounced /daburu/, as an ideogram meaning "double".[10] It is also a short form of an Internet slang term for "www", used to denote laughter, which is derived from the word warau (笑う, meaning "to laugh").

In Italian, while the letter ⟨w⟩ is not considered part of the standard Italian alphabet, the character is often used in place of Viva (hooray for...), while the same symbol written upside down indicates abbasso (down with...).

in the Kokborok language, ⟨w⟩ represents the open-mid back rounded vowel /ɔ/.

In Vietnamese, ⟨w⟩ is called vê đúp, from the French double vé. It is not included in the standard Vietnamese alphabet, but it is often used as a substitute for qu- in literary dialect and very informal writing.[11][12] It's also commonly used for abbreviating Ư in formal documents, for example Trung Ương is abbreviated as TW[13][14] even in official documents and document ID number[15]

"W" is the 24th letter in the Modern Filipino Alphabet and is pronounced as it is in English. However, in the old Filipino alphabet, Abakada, it was the 19th letter and was pronounced "wah"; there was an equivalent letter in the old Baybayin script of the Philippines.[16]

Other systemsEdit

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, ⟨w⟩ is used for the voiced labial-velar approximant.

Other usesEdit

W is the symbol for the chemical element tungsten, after its German (and alternative English) name, Wolfram. It is also the SI symbol for the watt, the standard unit of power.


Double-u, whose name reflects stages in the letter's evolution when it was considered two of the same letter, a double U, is the only modern English letter whose name has more than one syllable.[note 2] It is also the only English letter whose name is not pronounced with any of the sounds that the letter typically makes in words, with the exception of H for some speakers.

Note: Symbols considered part of the English alphabet at some periods of the past include the following:
  • The ligature œ (whose name was pronounced similarly to the human name Ethel)
  • &, at some stages a ligature for the word "et" in Latin (and in some other languages that adopted its use); it has in some periods been treated as part of the alphabet, and is still is named ampersand, but generally pronounced "and" except when setting type.

Some speakers shorten the name "double u" into "dub-u" or just "dub"; for example, University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, University of Wyoming, University of Waterloo, University of the Western Cape and University of Western Australia are all known colloquially as "U Dub", and the automobile company Volkswagen, abbreviated "VW", is sometimes pronounced "V-Dub".[17] The fact that many website URLs require a "www." prefix has been influential in promoting these shortened pronunciations, as many speakers find the phrase "double-u double-u double-u" inconveniently long.

In other Germanic languages, including German (but not Dutch, in which it is pronounced wé), its name is similar to that of English V . In many languages, its name literally means "double v": Portuguese duplo vê,[note 3] Spanish doble ve (though it can be spelled uve doble),[18][note 4] French double vé, Icelandic tvöfalt vaff, Czech dvojité vé, Finnish kaksois-vee, etc.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush was given the nickname "Dubya" after the colloquial pronunciation of his middle initial in Texas, where he spent much of his childhood.

Related charactersEdit

Ancestors, descendants and siblingsEdit

Ligatures and abbreviationsEdit

  • ₩ : Won sign, capital letter W with double stroke

Computing codesEdit

Character W w
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 87 U+0057 119 U+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 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.

Other representationsEdit

See alsoEdit


Informational notes

  1. ^ Pronounced /ˈdʌbəl.juː/, /ˈdʌbəj/, /ˈdʌbj/, /ˈdʌbəjə/, or /ˈdʌbjə/
  2. ^ However, "Izzard" was formerly a two-syllable pronunciation of the letter Z.
  3. ^ In Brazilian Portuguese, it is dáblio, which is a loanword from the English double-u.
  4. ^ In Latin 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. ^ "Why is 'w' pronounced 'double u' rather than 'double v'? : Oxford Dictionaries Online". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  4. ^ "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 schülmaister 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.
  5. ^ W, w | Gyldendal - Den Store Danske
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 24, 2012. Retrieved 2015-01-29. , page 1098
  7. ^ Aars, Jonathan; Hofgaard, Simon Wright (1907). Norske retskrivnings-regler med alfabetiske ordlister (in Norwegian). W. C. Fabritius & Sønner. pp. 19, 84. NBN 2006081600014. Retrieved September 18, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Veckans språkråd 2006" (in Swedish). July 5, 2007. Retrieved September 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ Peter, von Möller (1858). Ordbok öfver Halländska landskapsmålet. Lund: Berlingska boktryckeriet. p. 17. 
  10. ^ "Let the pretending to be injured begin". June 10, 2006. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  11. ^ Nhật My (May 19, 2009). "Ngôn ngữ thời @ của teen" [Language in the teens' age of @]. VnExpress (in Vietnamese). FPT Group. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ Trần Tư Bình (November 30, 2013). "Viết tắt chữ Việt trong ngôn ngữ @" [Vietnamese abbreviations in @ language]. Chim Việt Cành Nam (in Vietnamese) (53). 
  13. ^ "Từ viết tắt: Trung ương". Retrieved 2017-07-04. 
  14. ^ "TW (định hướng)". Wikipedia tiếng Việt (in Vietnamese). 2013-03-25. 
  15. ^ VIỆT NAM, ĐẢNG CỘNG SẢN. "Hệ thống văn bản". (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2017-07-04. 
  16. ^ "W, w, pronounced: wah". English, Leo James Tagalog-English Dictionary. 1990., page 1556.
  17. ^ Volkswagen. "VW Unpimp – Drop it like its hot". Retrieved November 3, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Real Academia Española elimina la Ch y ll del alfabeto". Taringa!. November 5, 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  19. ^ Everson, Michael; et al. (2002-03-20). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF). 
  20. ^ Anderson, Deborah; Everson, Michael (2004-06-07). "L2/04-191: Proposal to encode six Indo-Europeanist phonetic characters in the UCS" (PDF). 

External linksEdit

  •   The dictionary definition of W at Wiktionary
  •   The dictionary definition of w at Wiktionary