IPA phoneme /ʒ/

From Teflpedia


vision /ˈvɪʒən/

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

In English, both in Received Pronunciation and in General American, the IPA phonetic symbol /ʒ/ corresponds to the consonant sound spelled "s" in words like "pleasure", and "usually". There aren't actually many words which have this sound on its own. The related phoneme /dʒ/, as in "job", is far more common.

Very few English words begin with /ʒ/, and those few that do tend to be loanwords from French that are pronounced in a somewhat French manner, the most common being the word genre /ʒɒnrə/.

This sound doesn't have its own letter, and the digraph "zh" was invented to represent it in some foreign transliterations. For example Solzhenitsyn is pronounced in English as /soʊlʒəˈniːtsɪn/. Even in English "zh" has been used, in the slang term "the /ju:ʒ/" (the usual) spelled "the yoozh"[1] or "the uzhe".[2]

/ʒ/ is a voiced consonant; its unvoiced counterpart is IPA phoneme /ʃ/.

/ʒ/ is a fricative; its affricate counterpart is IPA phoneme /dʒ/.

Note that in Chinese "zh" stands for [tʂ], a sound similar to /ts/ or /tʃ/ according to Wikipedia[3] or to /dʒ/ according to the very well known linguist John Wells.[4]

Common words[edit]

Some common words which practice the pronunciation of /ʒ/ include the following:

  • equation - usually
  • ending in "sion": conclusion - confusion - decision - division - occasion - provision - television - vision
  • ending in "sual": usual - visual
  • ending in "sure": exposure - measure - pleasure

Less common words[edit]

Some less common words which practise the pronunciation of /ʒ/ include the following:

  • beginning with /ʒ/ - genre /ʒɒnrə/, gendarme (a French policeman) /ʒɒndɑ:m/, Georges /ʒɔ:ʒ/
  • amnesia - luxurious /lʌɡˈʒʊərɪəs/ - seizure
  • ending in "ge": beige - collage - massage - mirage - rouge - sabotage
  • ending in "sual": casual
  • ending in "sion": collision - exclusion - explosion - fusion - illusion - inclusion - invasion - lesion - persuasion - precision - revision (note: ʃ for "ssion": concussion - impression - mission)
  • ending in "sure": disclosure - enclosure - leisure /ˈleʒər,BrE ˈliːʒər/AmE - treasure (note: ʃ for "ssure": pressure - fissure)

Variant pronunciations[edit]

  • anaesthesia,BrE anesthesiaAmE /ˌænəsˈθiːziə,BrE ˌænəsˈθiːʒəAmE/
  • coercion /kəʊˈɜːrʃən,BrE kəʊˈɜːrʒənAmE/
  • garage /ˈɡærɑːʒ,BrE ˈɡærɑːdʒ,BrE ˈɡærɪdʒ,BrE ɡəˈrɑːʒ,AmE ɡəˈrɑːdʒAmE/
  • lingerie /ˈlænʒəri,BrE ˌlɑːndʒəˈreɪ,AmE ˌlɑːnʒəˈreɪAmE/
  • massage /ˈmæsɑːʒ,BrE məˈsɑːʒAmE/

See also Pronunciation exercises: /ʒ/ vs /ʃ/ § Variant pronunciations.

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 sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.


In Mandarin Chinese "r" actually stands for [ɻ ~ ʐ], two speech sounds similar to [ɹ ~ ʒ]. For many speakers of Chinese, it may be difficult to distinguish the differences between /ʒ/ and /r/. They have particular difficulty with the common word "usually", being pronounced rather like "urually".


Many teachers don't teach the phoneme /ʒ/ explicitly in the belief that students will imitate the teacher. However most Spanish speakers can't hear the difference between /ʒ/ and /ʃ/ and they are not aware that vision /ˈvɪʒən/ and mission /ˈmɪʃən/ don't rhyme.

Once they learn the sound, since it doesn't exist in Spanish, many Spanish speakers tend to pronounce it like /dʒ/.


  1. Urban Dictionary, yoozh
  2. The Economist, The abbrevs are my plezh, 23rd Jan 2012
  3. Wikipedia, Voiceless retroflex affricate
  4. John Wells’s phonetic blog, the digraph zh, 29 September 2010.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]