In English orthography, ⟨l⟩ usually represents the phoneme , which can have several sound values, depending on the speaker's accent, and whether it occurs before or after a vowel. The alveolar lateral approximant (the sound represented in IPA by lowercase [l]) occurs before a vowel, as in lip or blend, while the velarized alveolar lateral approximant (IPA [?]) occurs in bell and milk. This velarization does not occur in many European languages that use ⟨l⟩; it is also a factor making the pronunciation of ⟨l⟩ difficult for users of languages that lack ⟨l⟩ or have different values for it, such as Japanese or some southern dialects of Chinese. A medical condition or speech impediment restricting the pronunciation of ⟨l⟩ is known as lambdacism.
In English orthography, ⟨l⟩ is often silent in such words as walk or could (though its presence can modify the preceding vowel letter's sound), and it is usually silent in such words as palm and psalm; however, there is some regional variation.
Common digraphs include ⟨ll⟩, which has a value identical to ⟨l⟩ in English, but has the separate value voiceless alveolar lateral fricative (IPA [?]) in Welsh, where it can appear in an initial position. In Spanish, ⟨ll⟩ represents [?], [j], [?], , or [?], depending on dialect.
In Washo, lower-case ⟨l⟩ represents a typical el sound, while upper-case ⟨L⟩ represents a voiceless el sound, a bit like double ⟨ll⟩ in Welsh.
The capital letter L is used as the currency sign for the Albanian lek and the Honduran lempira. It was often used, especially in handwriting, as the currency sign for the Italian lira. It is also infrequently used as a substitute for the pound sign (£), which is based on it.
In some sans-serif fonts (i.e., typefaces), the lowercase letter ell ⟨l⟩ may be difficult to distinguish from the uppercase letter eye ⟨I⟩ or the digit one ⟨1⟩. To avoid such confusion, some newer fonts have a finial, a curve to the right at the bottom of the lowercase letter ell.
Another means of reducing such confusion, increasingly common on European road signs and in advertisements, uses a cursive, handwriting-style lowercase letter ell ⟨l⟩. A special letter-like symbol ⟨l⟩ is sometimes used for this purpose in mathematics and elsewhere. In Unicode, this symbol is ℓSCRIPT SMALL L with HTMLnumeric character referenceℓ. In Japan, for example, this is the symbol for the liter. However, the International System of Units recommends using Unicode symbols lLOWERCASE L or LUPPERCASE L for the liter.
Another solution, sometimes seen in Web typography, uses a serif font for the lowercase letter ell, such as ⟨l⟩, in otherwise sans-serif text.
Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet