Final U in English Words

By Maeve Maddox

The aphorism “English words don’t end in u,” is frequently invoked by spelling teachers as an aid in spelling such common words as, blue, clue, cue, due, flue, glue, hue, and true. The silent final e also rescues the following words from the onus of ending in u: construe, continue, ensue, imbue, and issue.

The only two native English words that end in u are the pronouns thou and you, but they probably shouldn’t count because they really end in ou.

There remain 50 or so “English” words that do end in u. I put English in quotation marks because most of these u-words obviously came undigested from some other language, most from French. I’ve arranged them in three groups. I won’t provide definitions for the first group because they are fairly common.

1. U-words you may have come across, depending on your age and reading habits
bayou
beau
bureau
caribou
chapeau
chateau
froufrou
gnu
guru
haiku
impromptu
jujitsu
kudzu
lieu
lulu
manitou
menu
milieu
muumuu
nouveau
parvenu
plateau
portmanteau
sou
tableau
tiramisu
tofu
trousseau
tutu

2. U-words with special applications
acajou: A tree related to the cashew.
bateau: a flat-bottomed boat used in the bayous.
bijou This French word for “jewel” was popular as a name for movie theaters.
eau:This French word for “water” appears on bottles of eau-de-cologne.
ecru: the color of unbleached linen.
Jehu: a fast driver. In some old novels it’s used as a generic name for a coachman. The reference is to Kings 9:20: “And the watchman told, saying, He came even unto them, and cometh not again: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.”
kinkajou: a fruit-eating quadruped of Central and South America, allied to the raccoon.
landau: A four-wheeled carriage, the top of which, being made in two parts, may be closed or thrown open. Aficionados of period novels will be familiar with this word.
ormolu: gilded bronze or a gold-colored alloy of copper, zinc, and tin used to decorate furniture, make ornaments, etc.
pilau: a dish, partly of Middle Eastern, partly and ultimately of South Asian origin.
poilu: a soldier in the French army, especially one who fought in World War I.
rondeau: a short poem of medieval French origin.
rouleau: A length or tube of rolled fabric used as a trimming on a garment.
sadhu: In India: a holy man, a sage. I may have learned this one by reading Kim.
tonneau: The rounded rear body of a motor-car (originally with the door at the back); the rear part of a car with front and rear compartments or of an open car.
vermoulu: worm-eaten.

3. U-words that are clippings or slang
flu: from influenza
snafu: I’ll let you look this one up.
thru: an alternative spelling of through that may or may not become standard some day.

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3 Responses to “Final U in English Words”

  • thebluebird11

    What a great post for a Scrabble/WWF aficionada! Thank you for the list!

  • venqax

    There remain 50 or so “English” words that do end in u. I put English in quotation marks because most of these u-words obviously came undigested from some other language.

    This is important to note all by itself. When referring to English spelling, I always mean the spelling of English words, i.e. native or completely assimilated words written in the English language. It is rather annoying when you try to make a simple point, like English words don’t end in U, and someone inevitably comes back with something like,”Oh yeah, what about haiku?”. OK. Yes. Some very old and venerable Anglo-Saxon words like “haiku” destroy the rule and the whole point. Dang.

  • AnWulf

    Venqax is right … In Old English, there were many words that ended in a ‘u’. The no u/v ending is an Old French rule which had the outcome of the fremless ‘e’ on words like love, have, give, distincitive … None of these e’s need to be ther.

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