Decoding exercises: "ss"

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In English, both in Received Pronunciation and in General American, "ss" normally corresponds to the IPA phonetic symbol /s/ in words like "class" or "possible". In a few words "ss" is pronounced /z/, as in "dessert" or "scissors". In combination with a vowel "ss" is often pronounced /ʃ/ as in "issue" or "discussion".

As /s/[edit]

  • In final position: access - across - address - business - class - cross - discuss - dress - express - guess - less - loss - miss - pass - press - process - success
  • In middle position: asset - assessment - associate - assume - essential - impossible - lesson - message - necessary - passenger - possible - professor - successful

As /z/[edit]

This list is fairly complete (obvious derivatives are not included).

  • In middle position: AussieBrE - brassiere - dessert - dissolve - hussar (a soldier) - Missouri - possess - possession - scissors - Tassie (from Tasmania, also spelled Tazzie)

As /ʃ/[edit]

  • "ssi": commission - depression - discussion - expression - impression - mission - passion - possession - professional - Russia - session
  • "ssu": assure - issue - pressure - tissue

Commonly confused words[edit]

  • dessert (sweet food) /dɪˈzɜːrt/ - desert (abandon) /dɪˈzɜːrt/ - desert (dry place) /ˈdezərt/

Two different syllables[edit]


  • disservice, dyssomnia, misspeak, misspell

/z.s/ or /s.s/

  • transsexual

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit]

Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following section aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.


Beginner Spanish speakers may pronounce "ssi" as /sj/. For example "discussion" can be pronounced */dɪˈskʌsjən/, which is similar to Spanish [diskuˈsjon].

See also[edit]