views updated May 14 2018

O, o [Called ‘oh’]. The 15th LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It originated as the Phoenician consonant symbol 'ain, representing a pharyngeal plosive (or ‘glottal catch’). It had a roughly circular form and meant ‘eye’. The Greeks adopted it as a vowel symbol, at first for both long and short values. Later, a letter omega (Ω) (that is O-mega, ‘big O’) was created for the long value, with O, known as omicron (that is, O-micron, ‘little o’), kept for the short value. LATIN took over only omicron, for both long and short values.

Sound values

In English, as well as long, short, and DIGRAPH values, o has some irregular values, often overlapping with values of u. In some words, the letter o has a different value in different accents. Native speakers differ as to whether log and dog rhyme, whether bother has the vowel of father, whether horse and hoarse are HOMOPHONES, and whether your is pronounced like yore or as ewer. The sound values are listed in the following paragraphs as short O, word-final long O, pre-consonantal long O, O with the value of U, O and the inflections of DO, and O with doubled consonants.

Short O

(1) In monosyllables before consonants, but not before h, r, v, w, y: mob, lock, botch, odd, soft, log, dodge, doll, on, top, Oz. The biblical name Job, however, has long o. (2) In polysyllables such as pocket, soccer, biography, geometry. (3) Before consonant plus e in gone, shone, in one pronunciation of scone (contrast tone), and before ugh, representing /f/, in cough, trough. (4) In RP and related accents, a lengthened variant of short o occurs before word-final r (or, nor), medially as in corn, adornment, and before final silent e as in ignore. The same value occurs as oa uniquely in broad, as ou in ought, thought, etc., and is sometimes heard (as it commonly was in old-fashioned RP) instead of short o in off, often, lost, sometimes facetiously or mockingly rendered as aw in ‘crawss’ (cross), ‘Gawd’ (God); the poet John Keats, a Londoner, rhymed crosses and horses. This value is also spelt au, aw, as seen in the sets sauce/source, fraught/fought/fort. (5) In other accents, this distinction does not occur: in most Scottish accents, for example, the same vowel is heard in cot, caught, ought, and sauce does not rhyme with source. (6) In RP and related accents, the vowel sound in word, work, world, whorl is the same as that in were, and the set whirled, whorled, world is homophonous.

Word-final long O

(1) Standard long o occurs word-finally spelt simply as -o in the monosyllables fro, go, so, and in polysyllabic loans (hero, piano, potato, radio, tomato, zero), but in lasso final o usually has the value of long u. There is often uncertainty whether such loans form their plurals with -s (armadillos) or -es (potatoes) or optionally either (lassos, lassoes). Those ending in vowel plus o add s: cameos, radios, duos. Syllable-final long o is found in coaxial, cloaca, oasis (compare coax, cloak, oats), poet, coerce, coeval, etc. (2) The same sound occurs word-finally as -oe in the monosyllables doe, foe, floe, hoe, sloe, throe, woe and in some polysyllables (aloe, felloe, oboe), but shoe, canoe give -oe the value of long u. (3) Long o occurs as -oh in oh, doh, soh, as -ough in dough, though (but not other -ough words), and as -ow as in some 14 words: how, blow, crow, know, low, mow, row, show, slow, snow, sow, stow, tow, throw. Of these, the forms bow, row, sow have different meanings (that is, are different words) when they rhyme with how. (4) The long -o value of the -ow ending occurs in disyllables of mainly vernacular origin, after d (meadow, shadow, widow), after ll (gallows, swallow; bellow, yellow; billow, willow; follow, hollow), after nn (minnow, winnow), and after rr (arrow, barrow; borrow, sorrow; burrow, furrow); and also in window (from a Scandinavian compound of wind + eye) and bungalow (from Hindi). (5) The diphthong value of final -ow (now, vow) is rare in polysyllables: allow, endow. (6) Some FRENCH loans have a final silent consonant after long o: apropos, depot. (7) Final long o may become i in the plural of ITALIAN loans: libretto/libretti, virtuoso/virtuosi.

Pre-consonantal long O

(1) Simple o before ld (bold, cold), 1st (bolster, holster), It (bolt, molten), ll (stroll, troll), lk (folk, yolk). Sometimes also before final st, th (ghost, most, past; both, sloth, but contrast short o in lost, cloth, etc.). The anomalous long o in only contrasts with the related forms one, alone, lonely, which all have following e; however, a parallel may be seen in nobly. (2) Before a single consonant, with a following a or a magic e after the consonant: soap, choke. (3) Digraphs ou and ow often before l or n (boulder, poultry, shoulder, smoulder; bowl, own, sown), but contrast the diphthong value in howl, down and the more usual vowel spellings in foal, sole, loan, tone. Before r in RP, this value becomes that of or in course, court, source. (4) Uniquely as oo in brooch (contrast broach).

O with the value of U

(1) The letter o often has one of the values of u, phonetically central and short as in but, close and short as in put, or close and long as in truth. (2) The short u-value is common in monosyllables, especially before n (son, front, monk, month, sponge, ton, tongue, won), and in some words with silent e (some, come, done, none, love, dove). One, once contain the further anomaly of an unspelt initial /w/. The short u-value is heard before nasals, l, r, th, v, and z in such polysyllabic words as above, accomplish, among, BrE borough, brother, colour, comfort, conjure, cover, dozen, dromedary, frontier, govern, Monday, money, mongrel, monkey, mother, nothing, onion, other, shovel, slovenly, smother, somersault, stomach, wonder. Pronunciation varies, however: Coventry, constable occur in BrE with both short o and u values. This use of o for short u has been explained as a graphic device in MIDDLE ENGLISH to reduce the confusing succession of vertical strokes (minims) that would otherwise arise in manuscript in a word such as money. (3) Longer (close) values of u, as in put or truth, occur: with simple o, in do, to, two, who, lasso; with o before a consonant plus e, in lose, whose, move, prove (contrast choose, booze, use, hose, drove); with oe in shoe, canoe; in such special cases as bosom, Domesday, tomb, whom, wolf, woman (but o with the value of short i in the plural women), womb.

O and the inflections of DO

The forms of do are highly anomalous: the long-u value of o in do, the short-u value in does (contrast the plural of doe), and the long-o value of don't, matching won't.

O with doubled consonants

When followed by doubled consonants, o often has a short value, but before double l, whether final or medial, both values occur: doll, loll, but poll, roll; dolly, follow, but swollen, wholly. Doubled l in holly distinguishes its short o from the long o in holy. Many words are pronounced with a short o preceding a single consonant, despite parallels with doubled consonants (body/shoddy, proper/copper) or with long vowels (honey/phoney, hover/rover). Other examples of single consonants after short o include colour, holiday, honour, honest, money. On the other hand, doubled r distinguishes short o in sorry, lorry from longer o in story, gory, though not in historical.


O is the first element in the following digraphs:


The digraph oa has the values of: (1) Long o as in no (soap, cloak). (2) The open aw-sound before r in RP and related accents (coarse, hoarse).


The digraph oe has the value of long o as in no (woe, woeful), or of ee in such Greek-derived forms as BrE amoeba, foetus, or of the first o in colonel in such German names as Goethe and Goebbels.

OI and OY

(1) The digraphs oi and (usually as a word- or syllable-final variant) oy are diphthongs: short o preceding short i, as in boil, boy. They are common in monosyllables and incorporate a glide before a vowel at a syllable boundary: join, noise, voice, oyster, royal, voyage, buoyant. (2) Rare final oi occurs in borzoi (from Russian) and envoi (Anglicized from French). (3) Special occurrences include: porpoise, tortoise with oi often reduced to schwa; a unique use in choir (rhyming with friar and wire and respelt from quire); in recent French loans, the value of /wa/ (boudoir, reservoir). (4) The oi combination is not always a digraph: compare coin/coincide.


(1) The digraph oo is generally considered to have the value of long u as in rule (booty, choose), but with variation depending on accent. Exceptionally, it has the value of short u in blood, flood. (2) In RP and related accents, oo in some words is long u as in truth (food, soon), but elsewhere has the shorter u of put (good, hood) especially before k (book, cook, look). In room, both values occur in free variation. Similar variations occur before r: door, floor, moor, poor. (3) The form too developed in the 16c as a stressed variant of to; GERMAN has zu for both senses. (4) Occasionally, oo corresponds to French ou (contrast cognate troop/troupe), and -oon to French -on (balloon/ballon). (5) A few oo words are exotic: bamboo (probably Malay), typhoon (Chinese), taboo (Tongan). The digraph formerly occurred in Hindoo, now Hindu, and the alternative tabu exists for taboo. (6) Zoo is a clipping of zoological garden, but uniquely in zoology the second o functions simultaneously as part of the oo digraph and as a normal short o. (7) Oo becomes ee in the plural of foot, goose, tooth: feet, geese, teeth.

OU and OW

(1) The digraphs ou and (usually its word-final variant) ow can represent a diphthong, as in cow, cloud, flour, flower. Word-final ou occurs exceptionally in archaic thou, but ow is sometimes used medially. It is contrastive in foul/fowl, and is an alternative spelling in to lour/lower and formerly in flour/flower. (2) Ou has other values, as in soul (rhyming with pole), sought (with bought), source (with course), soup (with loop), scourge (with urge), and touch (with hutch and much). See U. (3) Final -ow as long o in know occurs in some 50 words as compared to some 15 with final -ow as in bow, brow, cow, dhow, how, now, AmE plow, prow, row, sow, vow, wow, allow, endow. (4) On its own, the form wound is ambiguous: the past tense of to wind has the standard diphthong value, but the noun has the value of ou in soup. (5) Exceptionally, ow has the value of short o in knowledge, acknowledge. (6) Ou becomes plural i in the plurals of such pairs as louse/lice, mouse/mice.


(1) Some -ough spellings have the standard value of ou (bough, drought, BrE plough). Variants are AmE plow and archaic enow, which was an alternative pronunciation of enough. (2) Other -ough spellings give o different values: short o in cough, trough; in RP, the aw sound in ought, bought; long o in though; schwa in thorough, borough in BrE, sometimes long o in AmE; and silent o in tough, rough, through.

O and schwa

(1) Unstressed o may be more or less reduced to the value of SCHWA, or elided altogether. In pronunciations of the word police, the full range can be heard, from long o, through short o and schwa, to zero value with initial consonants as in please. (2) There is also often variation between AmE, in which the o in omit, cocaine, testimony, territory, phenomenon (second o) may have one of its full values, and BrE where it is normally reduced. (3) Most typically, o (like other vowel letters) has the value of schwa after the main stress in polysyllables, especially in words ending in l (petrol, symbol), m (fathom, bottom), n (cotton; cushion, fashion; ration, and -ation words generally), r (error, doctor). (4) Homophones sometimes occur as a result of such reduction: baron/barren, gambol/gamble, petrol/petrel, lesson/lessen, minor/miner.

O and stress shift

In polysyllabic derivatives, the value of o may shift between long, short, and schwa (in unstressed position), as the spoken structure of the word changes: (1) Atom has schwa for its o, but in atomic has the short-o value. (2) Colony has the short-o value for its first o, schwa for its second, but colonial has schwa for its first o and the long-o value for its second. Such effects occur before suffixes like -(i)al, -ic(al), -y, -ety, as in colony/colonial; atom/atomic; economy/economic(al); symbol/symbolic; tone/tonic; geology/geological; photograph/photographer/photographic; proper/propriety; social/society. See SUFFIX.

Agentive -or/-er

The suffix -or is mostly used with Latin roots (doctor, professor), especially after verbs ending in -ate (dictator, perpetrator). It is normally pronounced with schwa, although occasionally the full value of -or is heard: actor, vendor. However, -or varies with -er in a number of patterns. BrE legal spelling may use -or where lay writing has -er: grantor/granter. A technical device may be distinguished by -or from a human agent with -er: adaptor/adapter, conveyor/conveyer. In other cases, -or and -er are in free variation: advisor/adviser, impostor/imposter, investor/invester. Caster/castor sometimes differ in meaning, and censor/censer always do.

Silent O

(1) In jeopardy, Leonard, leopard, people, but the o in yeoman has long value and the e is silent. (2) The second o in colonel.

American and British differences

(1) The once widespread unstressed ending -our (as in emperour) has since the early 19c been increasingly rewritten -or: universally in emperor, governor, horror, terror, and in AmE in such forms as ardor, behavior, candor, dolor, endeavor, favor, harbor, labor, odor, parlor, rigor, savior, vapor. Glamour and saviour are, however, still widely written with -our in AmE. AmE has o in all derivatives, while BrE has o alone in many (honorary, vaporise, vigorous), but not all (behaviourism, favourite, honourable, colourist). In many rarer forms, such as torpor and stupor, -or is universal. (2) AmE writes BrE amoeba, foetus, oesophagus, moustache without the o and manoeuvre as maneuver (but note the common spellings onomatopoeia, subpoena). (3) Contrast AmE mold, molt, smolder, BrE mould, moult, smoulder. (4) AmE has plow for BrE plough.


views updated Jun 11 2018

O1 / ō/ (also o) • n. (pl. Os or O's / ōz/ ) 1. the fifteenth letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the next after N in a set of items, categories, etc. ∎  a human blood type (in the ABO system) lacking both the A and B antigens. In blood transfusion, a person with blood of this group is a potential universal donor.2. (also oh) zero (in a sequence of numerals, esp. when spoken).3. a shape like that of a capital O; a circle.O2 • abbr. ∎  Ocean. ∎  (in prescriptions) a pint. ∎  octavo. ∎  October. ∎  Ohio. ∎  old. ∎  Ontario. ∎  Oregon.• symb. the chemical element oxygen.O3 • interj. 1. archaic spelling of oh1 .2. archaic used before a name in direct address, as in prayers and poetry: give peace in our time, O Lord.


views updated May 21 2018

O ★★★ 2001 (R)

Apparently Hollywood has discovered that this Shakespeare fella can do some writin'. An exclusive South Carolina high school serves as background for this updated teen “Othello,” which substitutes basketball for battle. Odin (Phifer) is the sole black student at Palmetto Grove Academy due to his hoops prowess. He has an intimate relationship with Desi (Stiles, in her third Bard adaptation in as many years), the daughter of the school's dean. Hugo (Hartnett), the envious son of the basketball coach (Sheen), plots Odin's disgrace and destruction by poisoning his mind against Desi. Although blasted by some critics as full of skimpy plot devices, there's not much that's not taken straight from the source material. Filmed in 1999, it was pulled by skittish studio bigwigs following the Columbine shootings and not released until 2001. 94m/C VHS, DVD . US Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Elden (Ratliff) Henson, Andrew Keegan, Rain Phoenix, John Heard, A.J. (Anthony) Johnson, Martin Sheen; D: Tim Blake Nelson; W: Brad Kaaya; C: Russell Fine; M: Jeff Danna.


views updated May 14 2018

o • abbr. ∎  pint. ∎  octavo. ∎  off. ∎  old. ∎  only. ∎  order. ∎ Baseball out; outs.


views updated May 09 2018

O 15th letter of the English alphabet and a letter employed in the alphabets of all other w European languages. It is derived originally from the Phoenician alphabet. It entered the Greek alphabet as omicron, “short o”, and passed unchanged through the Roman alphabet into the various languages in which it is used today. In English o is a vowel and may be pronounced with a “short” sound, as in not, or a “long” sound, as in note. An different long sound is represented by a double o (as in boot). Combined with a, the long o sound is preserved (coat); with other vowels diphthongs are represented (hoist and rout). In the word ”people” the o is “silent”.


views updated May 29 2018

o' / ə; ō/ • prep. short for of, used to represent an informal pronunciation: a cup o' coffee.


views updated May 11 2018

o, o' (mostly arch. or dial.) reduced form of (i) ON, in ME. varying with a (cf. A-1) XII; (ii) OF (cf. A-2) surviving sparsely in gen. use, e.g. o'clock, cat-o'-nine-tails, man-o'-war, will-o'-the-wisp, John o' Groats.


views updated Jun 08 2018

o Computing, Maths., symbol for order (see under O)
• (ital.) Chem. ortho (as in o-cresol)


views updated Jun 08 2018

O' • prefix in Irish patronymic names such as O'Neill.


views updated May 09 2018

O the fifteenth letter of the modern English alphabet and the fourteenth of the ancient Roman one, corresponding to Greek o, representing the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician and ancient Semitic alphabet.