Do you know why we pronounce one and once with a 'w'?

One and once are problem words because they’re pronounced with a /w/ but the other words with the letter pattern 'on' aren’t.

one – once – only – none – alone - lonely

one and once

Notice how these words are all related to 'one' in some way - a word family.

Seeing and knowing these ‘word families’ with the same letter pattern and related meaning can help your spelling by developing your knowledge and confidence in spelling. Check out another word family in my video on number two - click here

But why do we pronounce one and once with a 'w'?

Let's have a history lesson:
The vowel sound in one went through quite a few changes to get to "wun"

  • It was originally pronounced like own in only, and in dialects 'un' - good 'un, young 'un.
  • The /w/ sound was added to one and once in popular speech somewhere in the late Middle Ages between 1150 - 1476 (Middle English period) and first recorded in 1400.
  • It became standard in the 17th Century.
  • Many academics didn’t like this /w/ pronunciation and one academic, in particular, Christopher Cooper called the pronunciation ‘barbarous’.


  • As I've said before pronunciation has changed over the centuries especially the vowel sounds while the spelling remained fixed.

    It's always great to know why words and spellings are the way they are and taking an interest in these is a great way to improve spelling. Check out my ebook on Why English Spelling is so Weird and Wonderful - it's full of interesting facts about spelling.

    If you want to learn more about letter patterns and word families then check out my lesson on it - click here