John Larrysson's Column: The Long U Digraphs

In the last article I looked at magic e and the long U sound. This time I will look at the long U digraphs EW and UE. Many words use -EW, as a digraph (two letters to write one sound), at the end of the word. Examples include: few, pew and nephew. The -EW digraph can rarely be found in the middle of a root word. Examples include: lewd and pewter. The -EW digraph is very rarely found at the beginning of a word, as in ewe (a female sheep from the Old English eowu) and ewer (a tall jug from the Norman French ewiere).

[audio 1]

The double vowel rule usually only uses the -UE digraph to mark a long U. (When a word is spelled with a double vowel, such as the oa in boat, the first vowel is pronounced long and the second is silent. There are a great many exceptions.) Long U examples include: argue, barbecue, cue, fuel, hue, rescue and value. Less often some other double vowels are pronounced with a long U. For example, double U is pronounced with a long U as in vacuum and continuum. (pronounced: and ).

[audio 2]

The -UE digraph is usually at the end of a word, sometimes in the middle, but not at the beginning of the word. The few words beginning with -UE are rare, such as the surname Uecker. Some words only appear to have an -EW or -UE digraph. Combinations such as typewriter do not count since it is a compound word that does not use EW as a digraph. The GUE and QUE patterns are trigraphs that make G, NG, K or KW sounds as in fatigue (G), meringue (NG) and unique (K).

[audio 3]

This article selects all long U examples, but as with magic e, the digraphs EW and UE can be either a long U or long OO (as in flew and crew or as in glue and due). Later I will explain a method of sorting out which sound should be used. Next time I will look at the pronunciation spelling patterns for initial U.

[audio 4]

Other Phonics Articles:

Magic E and the Long U Sound

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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