L Scrabble tile

Dark L and Light L: Learn the Difference and Pronunciation

It’s not obvious, but there are actually two kinds of L in English: the dark L and the light L.

L at the beginning of a word or syllable (or before a vowel) is the light L, such as in laugh .

L at the end of  a word or syllable (or after a vowel) is the dark L, such as in pillow .

This post will explain how to pronounce these two variations of the L sound, with plenty of examples and audio you can use to practice your pronunciation.


Light L Pronunciation

When to use it: At the start of a word or syllable—before a vowel or the letter Y

How to pronounce it:

  1. Put the tip of your tongue on the bony ridge behind your front teeth.
  2. Make a sound as you push with your tongue. If you hold this, you’re already saying the L sound as Lllllll!
  3. Lift your tongue off the ridge as you move on to the next vowel.

When you’re pronouncing the light L in everyday conversations, it’ll feel like a quick tap with your tongue. Remember to exert enough pressure, though, when you make the tap! A common mistake is tapping too lightly—the L sound has to be clearly heard.


Curated authentic video library for all levels
  • Thousands of learner friendly videos (especially beginners)
  • Handpicked, organized, and annotated by FluentU's experts
  • Integrated into courses for beginners
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU






The light L also appears in the middle of a word as long as it’s before a vowel.

Video player for learners like you
  • Interactive subtitles: click any word to see detailed examples and explanations
  • Slow down or loop the tricky parts
  • Show or hide subtitles
  • Review words with our powerful learning engine
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU





Try it out:

Larry left behind a long letter for his friend.

After my language class last evening, I was less nervous about speaking in English.

Master words through quizzes with context
  • Learn words in the context of sentences
  • Swipe left or right to see more examples from other videos
  • Go beyond just a superficial understanding
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

Dark L Pronunciation

When to use it: At the end of a word or syllable—after a vowel or the letter Y

How to pronounce it:

  1. Since it can be tricky to pronounce the dark L on its own, start by saying the vowel, first. With the word “ball,” the vowel would be A.
  2. For the actual dark L sound, move your tongue so the tip is reaching up and close to the bony ridge behind the front teeth but not touching.
  3. At the same time, the back of your tongue would be arching up a little towards your soft palate.


The easiest to spot placement of the dark L is at the end of words:




Stop memorizing words.
Start building sentences.
  • FluentU builds you up, so you can build sentences on your own
  • Start with multiple-choice questions and advance through sentence building to producing your own output
  • Go from understanding to speaking in a natural progression.
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU



You’ll also spot it in the middle of words as long as it’s after a vowel:




Accurate, detailed word explanations made for you
  • Images, examples, video examples, and tips
  • Covering all the tricky edge cases, eg.: phrases, idioms, collocations, and separable verbs
  • No reliance on volunteers or open source dictionaries
  • 100,000+ hours spent by FluentU's team to create and maintain
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU



If you see L after a TT or DD, that’s a dark L too! For example:




Hi, I'm Alan! I became obsessed with learning Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in 2001, and managed to get good enough to work professionally in those languages as a management consultant.

I started FluentU to build a new kind of language app.
Want to learn more about how FluentU got started?



This is because as you transition from the T or D to L, you have to make a quick uh sound, which counts as a vowel.

Try it out:

I’d rather send an email to the school instead of trying to call.

They’re having a pool party this fall to welcome new members. 

Tips for Pronouncing Dark L and Light L 

Ready to put what you’ve learned about the dark L and the light L into practice? Here’s how you can practice this pronunciation difference:

1. Pay attention to your tongue

It feels kind of strange to notice what your tongue is doing, but it really helps with this because the light L and dark L have differences in their mouth positioning.

  • The light L’s mouth positioning is pretty simple—just point your tongue to the bony ridge above your teeth.
  • For the dark L, you can imagine your tongue as forming a U shape that’s a bit flat and it’s further back in your mouth. 

2. Think of the dark L as being made up of two sounds

The dark L is made up of two sounds: uh followed by L. If you say the dark L in slow motion, the uh is produced as you raise the back of your tongue, then the L follows when you raise the tip.

3. Test out your dark L vs. light L skills by reading out loud

Once you feel like you’ve gotten a grasp of how to pronounce the light L and dark L separately, you can level up to reading full-on words and sentences.

Grab an English book or article (this blog post works, too!) and choose a paragraph. Then, start hunting for words with the letter L.

For each word, ask yourself: is the L here a light L or a dark L?

Remember the main rules for L sounds:

  • If the L is before a vowel, then it’s a light L.
  • If the L is after a vowel, that’s a dark L. 

4. Take advantage of videos and podcasts

It’s usually easier to think about your pronunciation when you’re reading because you can slow down. But here’s another challenge: bump it up by imitating native speakers in videos and podcasts, like FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

  FluentU Ad

5. Play around with L-sound tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are phrases or sentences that even native speakers struggle to pronounce, especially when they have to say the words faster and faster! These usually have similar-sounding words. For example, one popular tongue twister has the words “batter,” “bitter,” “butter” and “better” almost next to each other.

There are plenty of tongue twisters out there that feature the L sound, so you can have a bit of fun with them. Here’s one from Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks” that goes all in with that light L:

Luke Luck likes lakes.

Luke’s duck likes lakes.

Luke Luck licks lakes.

Luck’s duck licks lakes.

Duck takes licks in lakes Luke Luck likes.

Luke Luck takes licks in lakes duck likes.

This dark L tongue twister is shorter, but it’s still a challenge to say:  

Pale of ail aiding Al’s travails as frail sails flail.

For a mix of light L and dark L words, check out these two tongue twisters:

I slit the silk, the silk I slit, and on the slitted silk I fall lightly.

Seventeen sales slips slithered slowly southwards.


Now that you’ve learned all about the differences between the light L and the dark L, you won’t see the L sound in English the same way again.

You’ll spot 548 Ls in this post, so practicing both types of L will definitely come in handy—maybe as soon as your next English sentence!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe