Fricatives and affricates english pronunciation

This section of the English Phonetics Academy designed to provide guidance and practice in English pronunciation through the use of phonetics. The exercises and drills included will aid in reducing accents and improving overall speech sound production. These lessons are particularly beneficial for non-native speakers looking to improve their English-speaking skills.

11. Fricatives and affricates

The articulation of a fricative involves the formation of a narrowing at some point in the speech tract such that friction is produced when the airstream is forced through the narrow opening, to produce a hissing or hushing kind of sound.

An affricate can be described as a sound that begins as a stop and ends as a fricative; it is a stop whose release is slowed down, such that considerable friction is heard.

11.1 Fricatives and Voice

Fricatives are fully voiced when their articulation is accompanied by vocal cord vibration throughout the duration of the articulatory contact.

Devoiced fricatives are produced when there is vocal cord vibration during part of the duration of the narrowing only.

Voiceless fricatives are produced with a wide-open glottis, except for [h], for which glottal friction is produced by a narrowing in the glottis.

11.1.1 AN Fricatives and Voice

While the fortis fricatives are always realized as voiceless fricatives, the lenis ones may lose their friction (i.e. be approximants) or may be devoiced.

A small minority of AN speakers has the full set of AN fricatives: voiced /v,z,ʒ/, voiceless /f,s,ʃ,x/, and /h/, which has breathy voice. Southern speakers tend to have all of these plus /ɣ/, a voiced velar fricative, alongside /x/, a voiceless velar fricative.

The opposition /x/-/ɣ/ is more likely to be maintained intervocalically, as in lachen-vlaggen (/ˈlɑxə/-/ˈvlɑɣə/), than initially, as in chloor-gloor (/xloˑr/-/ɣloˑr/, or /xloˑr/ for both). In the West of the country AN /x/ is pronounced [χ], a uvular voiceless fricative.

That the absence of /z/ is somewhat of a social marker appears from relatively frequent hypercorrections like /ˈzoeykər, ˈzɔkə/ for suiker, sokken. Those Western speakers who do use /v/, increasingly do so in conformity with the spelling, as appears from pronunciations like /ˈveˑrtəx, ˈvɛiftəx/, which traditionally have initial /f/.

Marginal /ʒ/ is also frequently absent, in which case it is replaced with /ʃ/, so that college and feestje rhyme in non-standard Western accents, /ʃ/ in final position is replaced with /s/ in loanwords like douche, creche. Finally, large numbers of non-standard speakers in the West palatalize /s/ and devoiced /z/, so that /s/, /z/, /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ merge, as in Pasen, Pa z’n, pasje, page – all pronounced ˈpaˑʃə/. Their fricative system consists of /f,ʃ,x,h/ only.

GA /v,ð,z/ contrast in all positions with GA /f,θ,s/. The lenis counterpart of /ʃ/, GA /ʒ/, is absent initially and rare finally (cf beige),


but comparatively frequent in medial position (cf measure, leisure, seizure, Asian).





11.1.2 Grooved and Slit Fricatives

A major distinction within the category of GA fricatives is that between the sibilants or grooved fricatives /s,z,ʃ,ʒ/ and the non-sibilants or slit fricatives /f,v,θ,ð/.

For the former, the air is channeled through a groove in the surface of the tongue, while for the latter, the air escapes over a larger area of the tongue or lower lip, producing less intense and lower-pitched friction. In fact, the friction for /f,v/ and especially /θ,ð/ may be so weak as to be almost inaudible.

11.1.3 Lenis Fricatives: Final Devoicing

Lenis /v,ð,z,ʒ/ are more weakly articulated than fortis /f,θ,s,ʃ/.

Full voicing is the rule in the onset (including ambisyllabic position), as in ever, leather, easy, leisure,





as well as in these, zone, violent, bizarre, revile.





By contrast, they will be devoiced when they occur in the coda before voicelessness, though they remain weakly articulated. This is the case in Chinese tea [z̥tʰ], beige coat [ʒ̥kʰ], love Susie [v̥s], Look at your shoes! [z̥], Tom Lehrer Live! [v̥].


Chinese tea

beige coat

Final devoicing may be complete. As a result, pairs like raise and race differ mainly in the duration and quality of the diphthong, which is longer and more truly diphthongal before /z/ in the first word. The final [z] in raise is voiceless but weakly articulated and considerably shorter than the equally voiceless but strongly articulated [s] in race.




By contrast, pairs like Sue and zoo differ exclusively in the voicing of the initial fricative.





The non-sibilants /v,ð/ are frequently realized as voiced approximants, i.e. with a weak contact of the articulators which does not give rise to friction. This is particularly common in the onset, i.e. before vowels, as in very, never, there, other.

Advice :

Some learners should concentrate on pronouncing fully voiced /v,ð,z,ʒ/ in initial and medial positions and pronouncing brief and weakly articulated devoiced in final positions, i.e. before silence or voiceless sounds. Here are some pairs to practice the contrast between /f,s,ʃ/ and /v,z,ʒ/ in initial and medial positions.

/f – v/ feel – veal; fine – vine; rifle – rival; leafing – leaving




/s – z/ sip – zip; C – Z; looser – loser; hussy – fuzzy



/ʃ – ʒ/ pressure – pleasure; mission – vision; position – decision; pollution – confusion



11.2 Fricatives and Place of Articulation

We will look at the place of articulation of labio-dental, alveolar and palato-alveolar, and dental fricatives respectively.

11.2.1 Labio-Dental Fricatives: /f,v/

The place of articulation of GA /f,v/ is basically the same as that of AN /f,v/. In emphatic styles or in the pronunciation of citation forms, GA frequently uses a complete closure so that a voiceless or voiced labio-dental stop is produced.

Since initial and medial GA /v/ frequently has little or no friction it is often identical with AN /ʋ/.. A good approach to initial GA /v/ as in vest may therefore be to start from AN /ʋ/, which is a voiced labiodental approximant. Note that the absence of friction and the presence of voice in the approximant realization of GA /v/ may sometimes cause listeners to hear /b/ rather than /v/, so that a word like vanished may be heard as banished. Practice the following contrasts:

[f] – [v] file – vile; fix – Vic’s; fast – vast; few – view



[f] – [v] surfing – serving; safer – savor; stiffer – liver; rifle – rival



[f] – [v] safe – save; proof – prove; surf – serve; strife – strive



11.2.2 Alveolar and Palato-Alveolar Fricatives: /s,z,ʃ,ʒ/

GA /s,z/ are grooved fricatives: the blade of the tongue articulates with the teeth ridge, allowing the air to escape through a narrow tube-like groove running from front to back along the center of the tip and blade. The tip is raised in the direction of the teeth ridge. If you pronounce an ingressive [s], with the tongue in the position for [s], you can feel the cold air rushing in through the groove. Some speakers allow the tip to touch the lower teeth: the result is a much less sharp and piercing sound. This type of articulation is the rule in popular New York City speech. Other speakers allow the tip to touch the upper teeth, producing a co-articulated [sθ] or [0] for /s/ and [zð] or [ð] for /z/. The incidence of this kind of articulation, technically known as a lisp, is surprisingly high among younger speakers of GA.

For GA /ʃ,ʒ/, friction is produced between the blade of the tongue and the rear edge of the alveolar ridge, while the front of the tongue is raised in the direction of the soft palate. Again, the tip is near the alveolar ridge or touches it, but may touch the lower teeth in the pronunciation of those who also have a low-tip [s]. The air escapes along a much wider and less shallow groove along the mid-line of the tongue than for /s,z/.

The difference in articulation between GA /s,z/ and /ʃ,ʒ/ causes GA /s,z/ to be high-pitched hissing sounds and GA /ʃ,ʒ/ to be low-pitched, ‘dull’ sounds.

Advice for learners:

Although there is considerable variation, the vast majority of speakers tend to produce sibilants whose resonance is the reverse of that of the GA sibilants. This is due to the difference in articulation between /s,z,ʃ,ʒ/ and their GA counterparts. The tip is held down and usually touches the lower teeth. As a result, /s,z/ tend to be low-pitched sounds. For AN /ʃ,ʒ/, tip and blade are held down and friction is produced between the forward parts of the front of the tongue and the hard palate, the overall tongue shape being rather similar to that for the vowel [i]. The difference in resonance between the GA and AN sibilants can be summarized as follows:

high-pitched low-pitched

hissing, hushing or dull,

i-resonance u-resonance

GA /s,z/ GA /ʃ,ʒ/

AN /ʃ,ʒ/ AN /s,z/

GA /s/ and, to a lesser extent, /z/ will strike listeners as particularly sharp and piercing sounds. By comparison, /s,z/, which are frequently palatalized and may even merge with /ʃ/, sound decidedly ‘sloppy’. GA-like realizations of /ʃ,ʒ/ may be heard in Mary Dresselhuis-type accents in words. Similar realizations occur in the pronunciation from Flanders, and in French.

Speakers who merge /s,z/ and /ʃ/ may need to pay special attention to the following contrasts:

/s – ʃ/ see – she; sin – shin; pussy – pushy; rust – rushed



/s – z – ʃ/ sip – zip – ship; C – Z – she; miss – whizz – wish; ass – as – ash




11.2.3 Dental Fricatives: /θ, ð/

GA /θ/ is a voiceless dental fricative: the tip of the tongue forms a light contact with the inner edge of the upper front teeth while resting on the cutting edge of the lower front teeth. There is a firmer contact between the rims of the tongue and the upper side teeth and gums. Since /θ/ is a slit fricative, the blade and tip of the tongue are flat and are shaped so as to leave a narrow passage with the upper front teeth through which the air escapes with weak friction. The soft palate is raised and the glottis is wide open.

GA /ð/ is a voiced dental approximant: the tip of the tongue makes a light contact with the inner edges of the upper and lower front teeth. The vocal cords are vibrating and the soft palate is raised. The dental contact is light and brief so that little or no friction occurs. The diacritic [ ̞] indicates a frictionless pronunciation: [ð̞].

In more formal and/or deliberate styles of speech and in singing, /ð/ may be realized as a voiced fricative. The tongue tip is held as for GA /θ/: It forms a narrowing with the upper front teeth while resting on the cutting edges of the lower front teeth, with the body of the tongue held relatively flat. The contact between the tip and the teeth will be weaker, though, than for [θ].

An interdental fricative is produced when the tip of the tongue is allowed to protrude between the teeth. This type of realization is not unusual in emphatic styles and in singing.

Advice for learners:

Interdental [θ] is usually the easiest realization to learn, so try pronouncing initial and final /θ/ in words like thin and myth by putting the tip of the tongue between the teeth, at the same time allowing the air from the lungs to escape gently between the tip and the front teeth. It is also a good idea to try holding this sound [θθθθ] to familiarize yourself with the feel of the dental articulation. Once you can pronounce interdental dental [θ] with confidence, you should try to pronounce the more common post-dental variety. Always make sure that the tongue is flat, to avoid [s]-like sounds, and not too tense, to avoid a complete obstruction of the airstream.

GA /ð/ is usually an approximant and should therefore be approached as such. Try to pronounce words like the, though by making a very light tap with the tip of the tongue against the insides of the upper and lower front teeth. The fricative realization should be used in relatively careful styles only. It is similar to that of /θ/, but the contact is even weaker. Note that in sequences like in the, at the, all the, alveolar /n,t,l/ will be dental and /ð/ will generally be very weak and pronounced without friction: In an attempt to pronounce a (post-)dental /θ/, non-native speakers may pronounce [f͜θ], a co-articulated labio-dental and dental fricative. Although the sound that is produced in this way is usually quite acceptable, the articulation is unnecessarily cumbersome. It also looks a lot like TH-fronting, which is socially marked because of its association with the speech of children and non-standard speakers, and therefore better avoided. Native speakers may use [f͜θ], as the realization of /fθ/ in fifth and twelfth, which are more frequently pronounced with elision of /f/: /fɪθ, twɛlθ/. If you find you do use [f͜θ], try to relax the lower lip to stop it touching the upper teeth, if necessary by holding it in place with a pencil.

Here are some words to practice the articulation of /θ/ and /ð/:

Initial /θ/ thin, thick, thumb, thorn



Final /θ/ myth, smith, math, both



Medial /θ/ method, author, ether, Cathy



Initial /[ð̞] this, these, though, then



Final [ð̞] seethe, breathe, loathe, smooth



Medial [ð̞] worthy, leather, either, breathing



Note that the approximant realization of (final) /ð/ is not subject to final devoicing. Compare the following pairs with a final voiceless dental fricative versus a final voiced dental approximant. As always, the burden of the opposition is carried by the duration of the vowel or diphthong preceding the final obstruent.

final [θ] final /ð/

truth smooth



oath clothe



heath breathe



faith lathe



11.2.4 TH-Fronting

In the pronunciation of non-standard speakers of American English /θ/ and /ð/ may be fronted, i.e. realized as the labio-dental fricatives [f] and [v] rather than as dental fricatives.

Medial and final /θ/, as in Cathy, month, are frequently realized as [f] by speakers of popular Black English and in lower-class Southern speech generally. Speakers of these accents will also use [v] for medial and final /ð/, as in mother, breathe, smooth.

Th-fronting is also common in the speech of young children in many parts of the English-speaking world, as well as in Cockney, the popular London accent.

11.2.5 TH-Stopping

In non-standard accents, initial /ð/, as in them, there, those, is frequently realized as a voiced dental stop, [d̪]. the tip forms a complete closure with the inside of the upper front teeth, behind which the air is compressed so that it explodes outward when the closure is released.

Alternatively, the closure may be released so that a narrowing is created through which the pent-up air can escape with friction. If the air escapes with friction, a dental affricate is produced: [d̪͜ð]. The symbols for the corresponding voiceless dental stop and voiceless dental affricate are [t̪] and [t̪͜θ].

TH-stopping is common in the local speech of New York City. In fact, /θ/ and /ð/ are classic examples of what have come to be known as social markers in speech. In New York City, the realization of these phonemes varies with the formality of the speech style as well as the socioeconomic background of the speaker.

Fricative realizations are more frequent when the speech style is more formal, and in the speech of speakers in the higher socioeconomic groups. Also, fricative realizations are more common in the speech of women than of men.

Outside New York City, stop realizations of initial /ð/ are common in popular Black English. In medial and final positions, /t/ may occur for /θ/ in uneducated Black and Southern English, as in nothing, with, which may be pronounced [nʌʔn̩], [wɪt].

11.2.6 Dental /t,d,n,l/

When they occur immediately before of after the dentals /θ,ð/, otherwise alveolar /t,d,n,l/ are realized as dental consonants. Before GA /θ,ð/, the tip of the tongue forms a complete or partial closure with the inner edge of the upper teeth rather than with the alveolar ridge, to facilitate the pronunciation of the following dental fricative or approximant. Here are some examples of dental /t,d,n,l/ before /θ,ð/:

eighth [eɪt̪ʔθ] width [wɪd̪θ] right there [raɪt̪ʔ ðɛr] tenth [tɛ᷈n̪θ]



right there


When /t,d,n,l/ follow GA /θ,ð/, the dental contact is prolonged but changes from a narrowing for /θ/ or a light contact for /ð/ into a complete closure for [t̪,d̪,n̪] or a partial closure for [l̪]; at the same time the blade of the tongue may be raised to touch the alveolar ridge. Here are some examples:

both times  [ˈb̥oʊθ ˈt̪ʰaɪmz̥]

birthday [ˈb̥ɜrθd̪eɪ]

breathe deep  [b̥riːð d̪iːp͜ʔ]

ethnic [ˈɛθn̪ɪk͜ʔ]

athlete [ˈæθl̪iːt͜ʔ]

with luck [wɪð ˈl̪ʌk͜ʔ]

both times


breathe deep



with luck

Advice for learners:

Concentrate on the dental articulation of /t,d,n,l/ before /θ,ð/, as in eighth, wealthy, health, enthusiasm, at the time, good things etc. In a rapid pronunciation of /d,n,l/+/ð/ sequences you can actually omit /ð/, especially in unaccented syllables, provided you pronounce a dental /t,d/ or /l/. Thus, in there, said that, all those may be pronounced [ɪn̪ɛr, sɛd̪ət, ɑːl̪oʊz], in anything but the most careful styles. The pronunciation of dental /t,d,n,l/ after /θ,ð/ is not usually particularly difficult, once /θ/ and /ð/ are pronounced correctly.

11.2.7 /θ,ð/ and Other Fricatives

The blade alveolar /s,z/ are not assimilated by a following dental consonant. In sequences like this thing, kiss them, his theory, his thumbs, the tip of the tongue, which is not actively involved in the articulation of /s,z/, is raised to touch the inside of the upper front teeth for /θ,ð/, while at the same time the blade-alveolar contact is released. Sequences like /ʃθ/, /nð/ and /d͡ʒð/ as in smash things, own them and change them are articulated in a similar fashion.

this thing

kiss them

his theory

Lenis /ð/, however, is itself frequently assimilated by a preceding or following /z/, as in who’s that /huːzzæt/, is there /ɪzzɛr/, and final /θ/ by a following /s/, as in both sides /boʊssaɪdz/, faiths /feɪs/, at least in informal styles.

who’s that

both sides

There is no /ð/ in clothes /kloʊz/; months and tenths are /mʌnts, tɛnts/.




Advice for learners:

To practice the transition of /s,z,ʃ,ʒ/ to /θ,ð/ start with /s/-sequences. Pronounce a long [ssss]; then lift the tip of the tongue until you can feel the inner edge of the upper front teeth, and slowly lower the blade (and front) of the tongue from the alveolar ridge and/or hard palate.

The idea is that you learn to turn a blade-alveolar or palato-alveolar contact into a dental contact without moving the body of the tongue, and avoid pronouncing the sequence by making two separate articulatory gestures.

Since dental fricatives do not occur in many languages other than English and most non-native speakers find them difficult to learn, these sounds frequently become a source of considerable anxiety for the learner of English.

More advanced learners of English often exhibit signs of th-phobia in the form of an extremely selfconscious and unnecessarily precise articulation of these sounds. A fairly common but deplorable practice is to insert a pause before and after initial and final /θ/ or /ð/, a tendency which may even be observed in the pronunciation of some non- native teachers of English. Remember that pronunciations like Fourth … Street or nineteenth … century are extremely unnatural and can be very irritating if they are at all frequent.

So in /sθ/- or /θs/-sequences, always concentrate on the /s/: while pronunciations like nineteen(s) century would probably pass unnoticed in anything but the more formal end of the style range, pronunciations like nineteenth thentury or nineteenth … century are always inadequate.

11.3 The Glottal Fricative: /h/

For GA /h/, some friction is created in the glottis, as a result of a slight constriction of the vocal cords. However, additional friction is usually produced by the flow of air through the entire vocal tract, i.e. through the pharyngeal and oral cavity. Since the shape of the vocal tract for /h/ will vary with the quality of the following vowel, the quality of the cavity friction that is produced will vary accordingly.

From a purely phonetic point of view, therefore, there are as many [h]-sounds as there are vowels. Cavity friction is strongest for close vowels like /iː/ and /uː/, and weakest for open vowels like /ɑː/, and is thus inversely proportional to the width of the vocal tract, which is obviously greater for open vowels than for close vowels.

Between voiced sounds, as in behind, /h/ may be partly voiced ([ɦ]). This is the usual pronunciation of AN/h/, as in huis, behang.


When GA /h/ is followed by /j/, as in hue, Houston, the two sounds tend to coalesce into a rounded voiceless paiatal fricative, [ç], whose quality is similar to that of the fricative in German ich, nicht. Some speakers omit /h/ in these words.



Advice for learners:

/h/ is usually voiced, and the transition to the following vowel is quite smooth. Try to pronounce GA /h/ with somewhat stronger cavity friction, and a relatively abrupt transition to the vowel.

11.4 Affricates

An affricate can be described as a sound that begins as a stop and ends as a fricative; it is a stop whose release is slowed down, such that considerable friction is heard. Two such sequences have phonemic status in GA: /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/. The sequences /tr/ and /dr/ are also discussed here. Note that they are not seen as single phonemes.

11.4.1 Affricates and Voice

Like other lenis obstruents, affricates are subject to initial and final devoicing.

Devoicing is usually partial in the sense that either the stop or the fricative is devoiced depending on which of these is adjacent to the voiceless segment, or to silence. We would therefore expect [d̥ʒ] and [d̥ɹ] in gin and drum, and [dʒ̥] in claims.


bass drum

wage claims

Fortis /t͡ʃ/ and /tr/ are completely voiceless.

11.4.2 Affricates and Place of Articulation

Palato-alveolar affricates: /t͡ʃ,d͡ʒ/

For GA /t͡ʃ,d͡ʒ/ a closure is formed between a large area of the tongue, including the tip, the blade and a part of the front, and the alveolar ridge as well as the forward part of the hard palate. A combination of plosion and friction is produced by the abrupt release of the tip of the tongue and a slow release of the closure between the blade and the front of the hard palate. Liprounding and lip protrusion are common, irrespective of the nature of the following vowel.

Advice for learners:

Some speakers tend to replace initial GA /t͡ʃ,d͡ʒ/ with /ʃ,ʒ/ and final /t͡ʃ,d͡ʒ/ with /t͡ʃ/ or /ts/, as in chips, John, match, bridge (i.e. /ʃɪps, ʒɔn, mɛt͡ʃ (mɛts), brɪt͡ʃ (brɪts)/). More advanced speakers may use AN /tj,dj/, which are realized as the palatal stops [c] and [ɟ], e.g. in chips, education ([ˈcɪps, ˈɛɟuˈkeˑʃən]). AN /t͡ʃ/, has a pre-palatal contact between the front of the tongue and the front of the hard palate, with the tip and blade hanging down. The fricative has [i]-resonance. Remember that GA /ʃ,ʒ/, also when combined with /t,d/, have [u]-resonance.

Try to involve the tip and blade in the articulation of GA affricates and bring the lower jaw forward to facilitate ‘open’ liprounding, i.e. liprounding with protrusion of the lips. Special practice may be required for sequences consisting of affricate + affricate or sibilant + affricate, as in the following examples:



such joy

such joy

large jars

large jars

watch Jane huge chests George jumped

fresh juice this judge his jokes

question his chin change jobs

11.4.3 Post-Alveolar Affricates: /tr,dr/

For GA /tr, dr/, the tip of the tongue points slightly backward and forms a complete closure with the rear edge of the alveolar ridge, the rims forming a complete closure with the side teeth and gums. The front of the tongue is somewhat hollowed and contracted. Friction arises as a result of a slow release of the tongue tip. The lips are typically rounded.

GA /tr/ is usually realized as a voiceless post-alveolar affricate, [t̠ɹ̥], except when /s/ precedes in the same syllable.

The lenis counterpart /dr/ is initially devoiced after voicelessness: [d̥̠ɹ]. Although usually a post-alveolar affricate, GA /dr/ may also be realized as followed by a (voiced) homorganic approximant, especially in unaccented syllables.

Note that /t,d,n,l/ preceding GA /tr,dr/ will also be post-alveolar. Examples occur in card trick, hundred, oildrum.

Advice for learners:

A possible approach is to start with a slightly retracted [t]. Try to curl the tip slightly backward. Press the sides of the tongue firmly against the side teeth and gums, and release the closure by moving the tip of the tongue slowly backward along the hard palate. This should create the required friction. A similar approach, using a retracted [d] can be used for /dr/.

(The auditory and articulatory similarity between /tr/ and /t͡ʃ/, and, to a lesser extent, /dr/ and /d͡ʒ/ is quite considerable. It also appears from the spelling used by young English-speaking children, who will occasionally write ch(r) for /tr/, as in as chray, chrie, chribls, and chac for ashtray, try, troubles, track (Read 1975)).

Note that for /tr,dr/ the tip is curled back slightly and the front of the tongue is hollowed, while for /t͡ʃ,d͡ʒ/ the front of the tongue is raised in the direction of the hard palate. Heterosyllabic /tr,dr/- sequences, as in ratrace, handrail are not pronounced as affricates. In both words, /r/ is approximant. Exceptionally, wardrobe and bedroom frequently have an onset cluster /dr/, and are therefore pronounced with affricate [d̠ɹ].

Here are some words to practice /tr/ and /dr/.

trip, try, train [t̠ɹ̥]


drip, dry, drain [d̠ɹ]


intrude, retrace, untrue [t̠ɹ̥]


adroit, redress, undress [d̠ɹ]