John Larrysson's Column: Magic E and the Long U Sound

There are several common spelling patterns for the long U sound.1 In this article I will cover what is called magic e. (Or as we might tell kids, a silent e at the end of a word makes the vowel inside say it’s name.)

The English long U sound /ju/ (or /ju:/) is a 2-sound vowel with a Y-consonant sound followed by a long OO sound /u/ (or /u:/). This is most easily demonstrated by the word you, which is only a long U sound. (The name of the letter U is its long vowel sound.)

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The most common spelling pattern for long U is magic e. Magic e is a silent e at the end of a word, but it marks the preceding vowel as being long. (previous article: The Magic-e) Long U examples of this common spelling pattern include: cube, cute, fume, muse, perfume, puke and Yule. If the silent e is dropped from some of these words the vowel becomes a short U and it produces a different word, such as cub and cut.2

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It is important to understand that not all words ending with U, a consonant and a silent e make a long U sound. Magic e is not an unbreakable rule. For example, many words ending with -URE often have a schwa sound (previous article: The Schwa Sound) and do not have a long U sound.3

Magic e is just a useful pattern that appeared by accident in English's history.4 Later a few more words got misspelled to match the pattern. Finally when English spelling was standardised, the spelling of some long U words were changed to make English spelling more regular, adding to the magic e rule.

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Unfortunately the spelling patterns for long U sometimes represent a long OO sound instead, with the Y-consonant sound dropped. To make things even more difficult native speakers do not always agree on when long U or long OO should be used. Using this magic e pattern spells a long U, but sometimes a long OO sound is used, such as in crude and June.

There are four common spelling patterns for the long U sound. This time I covered magic e. In the following articles I will cover the digraphs EW, UE, and initial U. After that I will uncover a spelling pattern to separate long U and long OO.

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1. The reason we have multiple spellings of these sounds is that English is spelt the way it was pronounced 400 years ago and the pronunciation, especially of long vowels, has changed.

2. Most of the time dropping the final e just produces a spelling mistake.

3. For example: future and culture have a ch-sound / schwa sound / R-sound ending.

4. English's history is the history of the language and how words changed; very few kings or queens would be worth a mention. English history involves kings and a few queens, battles fought, what happened afterwards and how people lived in England.

Other Phonics Articles:

Hard And Soft G Spelling Patterns

Common G Spelling Patterns

How We Got Hard And Soft G

-ING Endings


PH in Suffixes and Prefixes

The F sound: FF & GH

The F Sound

The Oi/Oy Sound

Silent D Is Not Always Silent




Stranger Pronunciations of C


The Letter C is Useless

The letter B

The aw-sound

The Schwa Sound

The Magic-e

The Letter A a


by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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