The Fifth Sound Of the Phonogram OU

Like many other systematic phonics programs, Logic of English originally taught four sounds of the phonogram OU. Now we teach five.

When we published the first half of our new and expanded edition of Essentials in 2016, we included a fifth sound of this phonogram, /ü/ as in could. We now include this sound in our Basic Phonogram Flash Cards and other reference materials, as well as Whistling Whales: Beyond the Sounds of ABC, and we will add it to our other curriculum materials as they go back to press.

Why add a fifth sound?

The key question in considering whether or not something should be taught as a basic phonogram is whether it is used in either a large number of words or words that are used with great frequency. This is what determines whether taking the time to learn a particular sound as something a particular written phonogram can say will be beneficial to students' development as readers and spellers.

OU says /ü/ in only three words: would, should, and could. It says its other sounds, /ow/ as in house, /ō/ as in soul, /ö/ as in group, and /ŭ/ as in country, in far more words. For this reason, we at Logic of English and many other systematic phonics programs have taught these four sounds as the sounds of this phonogram. This left would, should, and could as exceptions.

However, these are extremely common words! When considered in light of the second criterion, how often words using the spelling occur in English speech and writing, OU saying /ü/ is not rare at all. And a few other basic phonograms have sounds used in only a handful of words as well. We concluded that it would be most accurate and most helpful for students to teach /ü/ as one of OU's regular sounds.

Want to print an updated OU card for your Basic Phonogram Flash Cards set?

Download a PDF Phonogram OU Card

In case you're wondering... fun facts about would, should, and could

These words are also unusual in that they contain a silent L. Some English speakers do actually position their tongues as if they were going to say /l/ in these words, but the sound is not actually pronounced. When teaching these words, we find it helpful to make a connection to other words that contain a broad sound before an L, such as walk and chalk, as well as words where the L is heard, like almost and fall.

The L in would and should have a clear etymological reason to be there: they draw the connection to the present tense forms of these verbs, will and shall. However, could does not: there is no L in can! The spelling could is more recent (only about 500 years old), and language scholars believe that the L may have been added to the word at some point because it was found in would and should.

About Logic of English

The phonograms and spelling rules that explain the spelling of 98% of English words are taught in Logic of English curriculum and in Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy.