THE 21st letter and 5th vowel of the English alphabet. It is not found in the Semitic languages, which have no distinct letters for vowels proper, and was probably originally wanting in the Greek, in which its modern equivalent is ov; in the Hebrew its place is supplied by the letter vav and in the Armenian by hiun, both of which are pronounced sometimes as vowels and sometimes as consonants. In the Latin also it frequently had the force of a consonant, as in the words uaco, uelox, silua, now written vaco, velox, silva. It was in fact constantly confounded with V, and for some time a distinction was made between U vowel and U consonant, the latter name being applied to the character V; and till near the close of the 16th century they were used interchangeably in printing, V sometimes only as the capital and sometimes as the initial letter in all cases, and u as the small letter in all cases or only in the interior of words. In the Gothic alphabets the distinction was made much earlier than in the Latin. In the socalled long sound peculiar to the English u, as in dupe, there is an intimate junction of the sounds of e and oo, exactly represented by ew in few; it is expressed in Italian and Spanish by iu, as in flume and Ciudad, and in French by iou, as in Sioux. In u initial, as in unite, the e is replaced by its liquid equivalent y, the pronunciation becoming yoonite.
In an unaccented syllable, the union of a preceding d, b, z, or t with the y element of u produces the sound of j, sh, zh, or ch, as in verdure, tonsure, measure, azure, virtue. This effect also appears under accentuation in sure and its derivatives and sugar, and vulgarly in sumach. The short sound of u in sup is peculiar to the English and Dutch, being nearly equivalent to short o in most other languages, and to eu in French and ö in German. The normal sound of u in Italian, German, and most other European languages is oo, long and short. The latter is heard in the English lull, full, pulpit, etc. The former (as in loot) is commonly said to be the sound of u after r, as in rule; but the great majority of educated speakers, at least in the United States, seem to make this nearly identical with the u in dupe. In French the letter has a sound of its own (that of e modified in the direction of oo), which cannot be represented in our tongue, and resembling the German ü. In some cases in English, and in many more in other languages, u when followed by another vowel has the sound of English w, as after q.
In English and French it is silent between g and a vowel, while in Spanish it is pronounced before a; in the latter again (as usually also in French) it is silent after q, for which c is substituted when the u is to be pronounced, as in cuestion. In Italian and German u is never silent. - U is interchangeable with a, as in the Arabic definite article, which is rendered ul and al, or in Ger. Hut, Eng. hat; with i, as Lat. maxumus and maximus; with o, as Lat. dulcis, It. dolce; with the diphthongs oe and oi, as Lat. cura, old form coira or coera; with au, as Lat. mus, Ger. Maus; with e, as Lat. Siculus, Gr. "LiKeldg, Lat. tabula, Ger. Tafel, Ger. Ulme, Eng. elm; with I, as Eng. stout, Ger. stolz, Fr. autel, Eng. altar. U never occurs in ancient Latin inscriptions, V being used instead.