Have you ever looked at words like this and been unsure about how to pronounce them? Or maybe you’ve learned through listening to English speakers how to say them, but asked yourself why we say these words this way considering the spelling looks NOTHING like the pronunciation? Well, sadly these are things that are oftentimes not taught in school, so let’s break it down a bit and practice together with my simple trick to say these words more naturally.
So what is going on with these words? This can be described by what is called “yod-coalescence”, which basically means the sounds /t, d, s, and z/ change before a “yod”.
The word “yod” is a fancy linguistics term for the first sound in words like “yes” and “use”. In pronunciation dictionaries, this is often written with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol /j/.
If you watched our Canadian vs. American English video, you may remember us mentioning that some people in Canada say words like “student” and “Tuesday” with a /j/ sound. This is what we mean by “yod”, and it was carried over from British English.
We mention this because the spelling of words like “nature”, “schedule”, “pressure”, and “measure” is based on older English pronunciations, where they USED to say them closer to how they are spelled (something like nate-yer, sche-dyul, press-yer, and mez-yer).
For some words, you can still hear these more old-fashioned pronunciations from people like the Queen of England! As you probably have guessed, though, the vast majority of English speakers do NOT say these words that way anymore!
HOW DO WE SAY THESE SOUNDS BEFORE “YOD” in America?
So… what do we tend to do in American English instead? We tend to go one of two ways. We either:
1) drop the yod altogether, and rather than styudent and Tyuesday with /ju/ sounds, we say student and Tuesday just the /u/ sound alone. Alternatively, we:
2) change the sounds through yod coalescence, where we change the /t, d, s, and z/ sounds to /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, and /ʒ/ sounds. Let’s go through each one!
“TU” BECOMES /tʃ/
First up, we have “tu” becoming a /tʃ/ sound. /tʃ/ is usually spelled with a “ch”, like in “cheese” and “Chinese”. But in many words where you have “tu”, the letter “t” is not pronounced as a true /t/ sound, but the /tʃ/. Almost all English speakers say the following words with the /tʃ/ sound rather than a true /t/. In fact, if you do use a true /t/, it can sometimes sound a bit snobby. Try these words out with the “ch” sound!
“DU” BECOMES /dʒ/
Next up, we have “du” becoming a /dʒ/ sound. /dʒ/ is often spelled in English with the letter “j” at the beginning of words, or “dge” at the ends of words, like in words like “judge”. However, we also use this /dʒ/ sound in many words where we have a “d” before a “u”.
We don’t say “edyucate”, we say something more like “edjucate”. Try it with the following words:
Some words that we don’t do this though, are “due”, not Jew, and reduce, not rejuice. Some speakers will say “dyu” and “redyuce”, but more commonly it’s said as a regular /u/ sound, where “due” and “do” are pronounced exactly the same.
“SSU” BECOMES /ʃ/
For #3, we have “ssu” becoming a /ʃ/ sound. ʃ is often written with “sh” like in “she” and “shoes”, but also in many words with “ssu”. Consider these words:
- sure (even though only one “s”, we still pronounce with a “sh” sound).
However, you’ll notice we often will not do this for words like “assume” rather than “ashoom”. Words like “assume” are most commonly pronounced with a regular /u/ sound by North American English speakers.
“ZU” OR “SU” BECOMES /ʒ/
Finally, for #4 we have “zu” or “su” becoming a /ʒ/. We don’t have this /ʒ/ sound in too many words in American English outside of these cases as well as words that we borrowed from French, like “massage“, but this sound is used in plenty of other languages around the world, including French, Portuguese, and Russian, among others.
In older English pronunciation, they pronounced these words with one “s” before “u” as a /z/ sound and two “ss” before “u” as a /s/ sound, which is a spelling pattern that they borrowed from French spelling rules. This is why we pronounce words with two ss’s before “u” differently to words with one “s” before “u”.
The following words are spelled with one “s”, and are therefore pronounced with a /ʒ/ sound.
Alright, let’s test how you all did. Can you figure out which sound (/tʃ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ is used in the following words?
Great work practicing these sounds! Even small improvements in American English pronunciation can make a BIG difference in your confidence in speaking!
If you enjoyed this lesson then you will want to check out this one HERE about pronouncing the R sound.
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