ふ - what the ふ。。。?!

Hi, I’m a bit confused about how to pronounce 「ふ」。

I was always under the impression it was almost ‘fu’, but the more I’m hearing it, it sounds a lot more like ‘hu’ to me with no real ‘f’ sound. Does this vary between words? If I pronounced it as a strong ‘fu’, would Japanese people understand me? Likewise, if I pronounced without the ‘f’ at all - ‘hu’ - would that be understood?

I know that realistically it’s somewhere in the middle of those sounds, but until I manage to master that, what am I better going with?




As I understand it, at least, it’s in between. With fu (in English), you make the sound by touching your top teeth to your bottom lip and blowing some air through. For ふ, instead, you just bring both lips loosely together. I kind of picture it a little like a tired/stressed exhale, if that makes sense. Hu and fu are probably similar enough—and there isn’t another sound in Japanese they could be mistaken for—that I don’t think you’d be misunderstood if you pronounced it like one of those.


“ふ” is pronounced almost like blowing out a match/candle, you’re not really saying anything, at least that’s how it sounds to me, but contrary ‘bu’ & ‘pu’ when pronounced don’t sound anything like “ふ”.


Not really but it does vary between speakers. Some are closer to the hu sound and some are closer to the fu sound. But even those variations are all pretty far from the standard fu.

If anything, erring towards the hu sound is probably a good compromise until you can get the sound down properly. It’s in the は row after all.


You’re right - the typical pronunciation doesn’t use an Englishy f sound. The linguistic term is a ‘bilabial fricative’ - you bring both lips close together instead of bring your upper teeth to the bottom lip. Pronunciation varies between /hu/ ~ /Φu/. Probably the pronunciation to use until you can get the bilabial sound down is hu.


Actually the consonant isn’t the hard part. はひへほ and even ふ all use the same H sound (production method) as English. Okay maybe English has a dozen sounds for any given letter but I mean the basic horrible hat hating Huns. The difference is that う doesn’t quite exist in any native English dialect. う keeps the lips relatively close together throughout the entire mora, for every mora that uses that vowel. So producing that H sound with that vowel naturally pushes air through that narrowish opening, creating that harsh friction sound which results in a sound that’s perceptibly closer to the English ‘f’ than ‘h’ even though the production method is much more like ‘hう’.

Basically where English fails to replicate Japanese, ‘fu’ is the alphabet attempting to mimic the sound, but ‘hu’ is the alphabet attempting to hint more faithfully at the the production method. Both are officially accepted romanizations and neither are fully accurate. Actually all of the mora that are grouped together by consonant, (たちてとつ, or さしそせす, etc.) are grouped like that because the entire set shares a consonant production method. The apparent exceptions like tsu (tu), chi (ti) and shi (si) are a natural result of combining their respective consonant with a particular vowel into one sound as a mora. (Mora really are one indivisible sound, not one proceeding another like in English.) They don’t really feel like exceptions unless you’re listening for an approximation based in another language or, God forbid, attempting to transcribe them into an incompatible writing system.


So if ち and と have the same consonant, how does ちょ work, or say, ティ (I think I saw something like that once)?

Most of the い mora are palatalised (kinda adding a y sound) so you can kind of think of ち as tyi, し as syi, and ちょ as tyo.
ティ cancels the palatisation to get ti.

(I made this thing which covers the sounds in Japanese pretty comprehensively, so if you can parse the jargon, then you might find it useful).


Ah, well the combo kana sounds really are 2 different sounds smashed together one after the other, but quickly so the full duration is the same as surrounding mora in the word or sentence. That’s why they’re written using 2 separate kana. Thinking of it from the perspective of an alphabetic structure, it will more or less feel like it takes on the perceived consonant of the first kana, and the vowel of the second kana. Just like hughesgeorgem said, ちょ is like tiyo, though it sounds like cho or chyo. しょ will sound like shyo, ちゃ like chya, etc.

ティ is weird. It’s not a Japanese sound. It’s the romaji problem in reverse. This is a case of the Japanese script and phonetic inventory attempting to recreate a foreign sound from another language. The sound it’s attempting to transcribe is the ‘te’ from tea or teeth. As for how a native may actually read that, that’s not something I would know. ¯\ _ (ツ) _ /¯ It’s so uncommon and awkwardly defined that it’s probably best not to think about it Morty, at least not until much later.


It’s at least things like this, that sticked from my Japanese courses 10 years ago :smiley:

That one’s become ubiquitous enough that it’s fairly close to the te sound given the popularity of things like スーパーマリオパーティ

There’s still a bit of vestigial ch sound but it’s pretty close although it can often just be the ち sound.

Another interesting example is トゥハンドソード two handed sword

The トゥ is pretty close to how “two” is pronounced although you’ll often hear people just say つう like with ち above.


Somehow for me to remember this better remembering it as a girl in a hulu skirt helped, even though I still type it as fu.
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be written romaji style as fu or hu though.
Anyways hope that helps someone somehow.

Also if you didn’t ever see this article check them out under each consonant category.

It’s under “combination katakana” category at the almost bottom of the page as well as the datuken sections in general for this article and the hiragana one.
I hope this helps in some way.

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