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The below list of word pairs are phonetically similar -

  • Water - vaater
  • World - Vorld
  • Win - Vin
  • Worn - Vorn

It seems like every W vord can be replaced by a corresponding V word. Is there a word where it can't be replaced by V? If there is none, why isn't it removed from the English registers?


People asked me if I speak Indian English. Yes, I do.

I don't know why I'm unable to comment through phone.

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2 Answers 2

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This is a simple question. The simplest answer one can give here, without going into technical phonetic and linguistic terminology that may be difficult for some people to understand, is that V and W sound different. When you say the V sound, your upper teeth meet your lower lip (harsh sound). When you say the W sound, you use both lips and no teeth (soft sound). It's similar to T and D.

So, in a lot of words, replacing the W with V would change the meaning of the word entirely e.g. vent and went, vest and west, vow and wow.

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Unlike some languages, like Hindi and German, /w/ and /v/ are different phonemes in English, and you cannot replace one with the other (except if you're speaking 19th century Cockney, the way Charles Dickens has some of his characters speak, where they were indeed merged). Nearly all native speakers of English in the U.S. and the U.K. pronounce them differently.

For example, you wouldn't want the bride to wear a whale (rather than a veil) at a wedding.

And if you asked for veggies, you probably wouldn't be happy if somebody gave you wedgies instead.

There are several other pairs of words which are distinguished by the /v/-/w/ pair; for example, vain and wain, vest and west, vine and wine, vent and went, vile and wile, vow and wow.

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    In Indian Englishes there is often only one phoneme for /v/ and /w/. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 13:43
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    @Araucaria; and in Chinese Englishes /ð/ and /θ/ merge into /d/, /f/, /s/, and /z/; in Japanese, /r/ and /l/ are interchangeable. Those aren't "Englishes". To the extent they try to pretend, like OP, that these distinctions 'don't exist' or 'are part of our idiolect', it's just a patois or pidgin, not a dialect of English. There are good arguments for removing letters like x and q; these phonemes, though, are distinctive and important in English.
    – lly
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 14:03
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    @Ily Not so. Any one who speaks any variety of English is likely to think that the phonemic contrasts that exist in their variety (rather pompously) are very important. However, these contrasts simply often don't exist in other varieties, often ones which are indubitably proper Englishes in their own right. Take for example the contrast between /ð/ and /d/ which does not exist for many speakers of Hiberno Englishes. In relation to your Chinese and Japanese Englishes comment, these are not well established varieties of English with their own vocabulary, and in neither of these ... Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 14:39
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    @ily: In California, people don't distinguish between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ (which is really irritating for some people), but as far as I can tell, nobody has ever argued that this means that what they're speaking isn't English. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 15:00
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    Leaving aside questions of naming, I (native Brit) have worked with many people from the Indian subcontinent, and their confusion of ‘v’ with ‘w’ is one of the things that makes it hard for me to understand them (even now). Rightly or wrongly, if you want to be understood in the UK, that's a distinction worth acquiring.
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:50

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