f / v

/f/ and /v/ share manner and place of articulation and differ in voicing (/f/ is voiceless and /v/ is voiced). So, the only difference between them is that, when we produce a /v/, the vocal folds vibrate, while in the case of /f/ they don’t. However, the difficulty these two phonemes present to Spanish speakers is completely different. Whereas /f/ causes absolutely no trouble, /v/ is a challenging sound because it doesn’t exist in Spanish, where the letters v and b sound exactly the same.

Let’s start by listening to these minimal pairs:

sound_loud_speaker fine – vine

sound_loud_speaker fault – vault

sound_loud_speaker few – view

sound_loud_speaker ferry – very

sound_loud_speaker surface – service

Now repeat the pairs and notice how they are produced in the same way, that is, your lower lip touches your upper teeth and you let the air pass. The only difference resides in the voicing, something you can easily feel by placing your fingers against your throat. However, if you find the /v/ difficult, don’t worry. Keep reading and I’ll teach you how to do it.

(labio-dental, fricative, voiceless)

Spelling: f (face, four), ff (affair), ph (phone, philosophy), gh (rough, laughter)


The phoneme /f/ is pronounced like in Spanish, so it poses no problems, as you can see here:

sound_loud_speaker family    sound_loud_speaker familia

The only thing you have to remember is that it can be spelled as ph and gh too.

sound_loud_speaker phone  sound_loud_speaker philosophy   sound_loud_speaker rough   sound_loud_speaker laughter

Regarding those spellings, it is interesting to know that, apart from  the notable exception of shepherd sound_loud_speakerph is almost always pronounced as /f/ (phase, pheasant, phonetics, etc.). The digraph gh, on the other hand, can also be said as /g/ (ghost) or be silent (high).

v (labio-dental, fricative, voiced)

Spellings: v (verb, vain), ve (have). Exceptional spellings: f (of), ph (Stephen).

Unlike /f/, the sound /v/ is often troublesome for Spanish speakers. The root of the problem is that the phoneme /v/ doesn’t exist in Spanish, where the letters b and v are pronounced in the same way. So, the tendency is for Spanish speakers to reproduce their own pattern, which causes a strong foreign accent and can lead to misunderstanding.

/v/ and /b/  have very little in common, though. They are produced in a different place (labio-dental vs. bilabial) and in a different manner (fricative vs. plosive). Listen to the following minimal pairs and try to notice the difference.

sound_loud_speaker vow            sound_loud_speaker  bowbough

sound_loud_speaker vanish        sound_loud_speaker banish

sound_loud_speaker very            sound_loud_speaker berry

sound_loud_speaker vowel         sound_loud_speaker bowel

sound_loud_speaker vest            sound_loud_speaker best

To learn how to produce the /v/, you can start by doing an /f/ and then add the voicing. Like this : sound_loud_speaker

Now, have a look at the following examples. As you can see, /v/ and /b/ are placed very close together in the sentence, so that the contrast becomes clear. They are recorded at different speeds in order to allow you to grasp and internalize both sounds. Listen and repeat trying to reproduce the/v/ and /b/ sounds accurately.

Slow                                                                 Medium                                            Normal

sound_loud_speaker Have a biscuit.                                     sound_loud_speaker Have a biscuit.                           sound_loud_speaker Have a biscuit.

sound_loud_speaker It’s very beautiful.                             sound_loud_speaker It’s very beautiful.                    sound_loud_speaker It’s very beautiful.

sound_loud_speaker To move abroad.                                sound_loud_speaker To move abroad.                       sound_loud_speaker To move abroad.


This is the type of work I do with my students in my one-to-one classes. I make them practise these processes with exercises until they improve their comprehension of native speakers and are capable of speaking like that themselves. If you are interested in my classes, you can contact me here.


You can hear the difference between /b/ and /v/ in these recordings:

sound_loud_speaker That scene is absolutely vital (Judy Dench, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker No, I do not believe you are innocent (Julian Barnes, Kusp).


And here are some other recordings where native speakers pronounce the /f/ and the /v/. Notice how different the latter is from the sound we make in Spanish.

sound_loud_speaker Sometimes is very close to the surface and very visible (Ben Kingsley, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker I think it’s a very, very interesting play (Jeremy Irons, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker The English, the official English, do not like noise, they think it vulgar (Julian Barnes, Kusp).

sound_loud_speaker And the view he has from Firefly is one of the most extraordinary views (Rupert Everett, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker Very fulfilled as a woman (Ben Kingsley, BBC4).


In these last examples you can appreciate a very interesting feature of English pronunciation: the preposition of  is not pronounced with an /f/, but with a /v/. Since of  is one of the most common words in English, this detail is worth remembering.

Also keep in mind that the vowel o is said as a schwa /ə/, which is a crucial fact when it comes to the difference between of  (/əv/  sound_loud_speaker) and off (/ɒf/  sound_loud_speaker.

sound_loud_speaker For me a script is a bit like the clues of a crossword (Jeremy Irons, BBC4). /ˈkluːz əv ə ˈkrɒswɜːd/

sound_loud_speaker It’s a tragic loss, actually, to all of us (Emma Thompson, BBC4). /tu ˈɔːl əv ʌs/

sound_loud_speaker Most of it has survived as far as we know (Eleanor Robinson, BBC4). /ˈməʊst əv ɪt/


And here you can look at all the features together:

sound_loud_speaker It’s the most divinely funny piece of acting. It’s absolute perfection (John Cleese, BBC4).


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