In Latin, a stemless variant shape of the upsilon was borrowed in early times as V—either directly from the Western Greek alphabet or from the Etruscan alphabet as an intermediary—to represent the same /u/ sound, as well as the consonantal /w/. Thus, 'num' — originally spelled 'NVM' — was pronounced /num/ and 'via' was pronounced [ˈwia]. From the first century AD on, depending on Vulgar Latin dialect, consonantal /w/ developed into /β/ (kept in Spanish), then later to /v/.
During the Late Middle Ages, two forms of 'v' developed, which were both used for its ancestor /u/ and modern /v/. The pointed form 'v' was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form 'u' was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas 'valour' and 'excuse' appeared as in modern printing, 'have' and 'upon' were printed as 'haue' and 'vpon'. The first distinction between the letters 'u' and 'v' is recorded in a Gothic script from 1386, where 'v' preceded 'u'. By the mid-16th century, the 'v' form was used to represent the consonant and 'u' the vowel sound, giving us the modern letter 'u'. Capital 'U' wasn't accepted as a distinct letter until a large number of years later.
In English, V is unusual in that it hasn't traditionally been doubled to indicate a short vowel, the way for example P is doubled to indicate the difference between 'super' and 'supper'. Notwithstanding that's changing with newly coined words, such as 'divvy up' and 'skivvies'. Like J, K, Q, X, and Z, V isn't used quite frequently in English. It is the sixth least common letter in the English language, with a frequency of about 1.03% in words. V is the only letter that can't be used to form an English two-letter word in the Australian version of the game of Scrabble. C additionally can't be used in the American version.
Name in additional languages
- Catalan: ve, pronounced [ˈve]; in dialects that lack contrast between /v/ and /b/, the letter is called ve baixa [ˈbe ˈbajʃə] "low B/V".
- Czech: vé ['vɛː]
- French: vé ['ve]
- German: Vau [ˈfaʊ]
- Italian: vi [ˈvi] or vu [ˈvu]
- Portuguese: vê [ˈve]
- Spanish: uve [ˈuβe] is recommended, but ve [ˈbe] is traditional. If V is pronounced in the second way, it would have the same pronunciation as the letter B in Spanish (i.e. [ˈbe] after pause or nasal sound, otherwise [ˈβe]); thus further terms are needed to distinguish ve from be. In a few countries it is called ve corta, ve baja, ve pequeña, ve chica or ve labiodental.
In Japanese, V is often called "bui" (ブイ), an approximation of the English name which substitutes the voiced bilabial plosive for the voiced labiodental fricative (which doesn't exist in native Japanese phonology) and differentiates it from "bī" (ビー), the Japanese name of the letter B. Some words are more often spelled with the b equivalent character instead of vu due to the long-time use of the word without it (e.g. "violin" is more often found as baiorin (バイオリン) than as vaiorin (ヴァイオリン)).
Use in writing systems
In most languages which use the Latin alphabet, ⟨v⟩ has a voiced bilabial or labiodental sound. In English, it is a voiced labiodental fricative. In most dialects of Spanish, it is pronounced the same as ⟨b⟩, that is, [b] or [β̞]. In Corsican, it is pronounced [b], [v], [β] or [w], depending on the position in the word and the sentence. In German and Dutch it can be either [v] or [f].
In Irish, the letter ⟨v⟩ is mostly used in loanwords, such as veidhlín from English violin. However the sound [v] appears naturally in Irish when /b/ (or /m/) is lenited or "softened", represented in the orthography by ⟨bh⟩ (or "mh"), so that bhí is pronounced [vʲiː], an bhean (the woman) is pronounced [ən̪ˠ ˈvʲan̪ˠ], etc. For more information, see Irish phonology.
In the nineteenth century, ⟨v⟩ was at times used to transcribe a palatal click, /ǂ/, a function after partly taken over by ⟨ç⟩.
- U u : Latin letter U, originally the same letter as V
- W w : Latin letter W, descended from V/U
- V with diacritics: Ṽ ṽ Ṿ ṿ Ʋ ʋ Ꝟ ꝟ
- IPA-specific symbols related to V: ⱱ ʋ
- Ʌ ʌ : Turned v
- ⱴ : V with curl
Ancestors and siblings in additional alphabets
- ?: Semitic letter Waw, from which the following symbols originally derive
- Υ υ : Greek letter Upsilon, from which V derives
Ligatures and abbreviations
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER V||LATIN SMALL LETTER V|
|Numeric character reference||V||V||v||v|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.