SH and ZH Sounds

SH (shop, chef, special)

ZH (usual, massage, Asia)

English Pronunciation, Lesson 31

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In English, the SH and ZH sounds are often studied together because they are made in the same way. They are different because SH is an voiceless sound, and ZH is a voiced sound. What does that mean? Read on to find out.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

How to pronounce the SH and ZH sounds

The voiceless (unvoiced) SH sound (IPA symbol: ʃ ) can be found in English words such as shop, brush, sure, chef, station, special, precious, and pressure.

The voiced ZH sound (IPA symbol: ʒ) can be found in English words such as garage, decision, measure, visual, and Asia. 

Voiced and voiceless sounds

What are voiced and voiceless sounds? Let's review.

In the English language, we use many voiced sounds. That means that the vocal cords vibrate to make the sound.

These are a few of the voiced sounds in English:

When a sound is voiceless or unvoiced, the vocal cords do not vibrate when you make the sound. Instead, you release air out of your mouth to make the sound.

These are a few of the voiceless sounds in English:

To make the SH and ZH sounds, you pull in the sides of your mouth so your lips pucker. Your lips are shaped like a loose, open kiss.

The middle part of your tongue is up toward the top of your mouth, but it does not touch the roof of your mouth. The sides of your tongue are between your teeth. The front of your tongue should dip down a little bit, but it should not touch your teeth.

The SH and ZH sounds are made by forcing air through the groove in the middle of your tongue and the back of your front teeth. This makes the unvoiced SH sound. It is the same sound that you hear in the word English. It is like the shhhh sound we use when we want someone to be quiet.


When you add your voice, you make the voiced ZH sound. The ZH sound is one of the hardest sounds for children to learn, even as native English speakers. It is one of the last sounds they will develop. So, do not worry too much if you don't get it right away. Just keep practicing!

Let's practice these two sounds with Rachel from Rachel's English. Rachel will show you how to form these two sounds in your mouth.

(In this video, Rachel uses the letters DJ for the ZH sound. It is the same sound.)

The SH and DZ sounds are continuous consonants. This means you can hold the sounds for a few seconds. They are different from other sounds that are made with a quick puff of air like the CH and J sounds.

Watch this video to see the differences among the J sound, Z sound, and ZH sounds.

(In this video, the letters DG are used for the J sound. It is the same sound.)

Have you watched the videos? Good! Let's practice a few more words.

Let's practice!

Practice the voiceless SH sound:

Practice the voiceless SH sound by saying these words aloud. Remember, do not use your voice to make this sound. This is like the shhh sound that we use when we want someone to be quiet.

There are a few different spellings for the SH sound.

The sh spelling pattern is the most common spelling pattern for the SH sound.
  • shop

  • she

  • shirt

  • ship

  • shot

  • shy

  • shut

  • shareShhhh

  • shout

  • shift

  • push

  • wash

  • wish

  • fish

  • dish

  • eyelashes

  • mushroom

  • toothbrush

  • punish

  • ashame

  • Washington

There are a few words with the ch spelling that are pronounced with the SH sound. (Most of the time, the ch spelling is pronounced as the CH sound: chip, chat, rich.)
  • chef

  • machine

  • moustache

The SH sound is also sometimes found in these suffixes:

-tion / -sion

-cial / -tial

  • solution

  • addition

  • direction

  • passion

  • special

  • nutritious

  • cautious

Here are a few more words with the SH sound:
  • pressure

  • precious

  • sure

  • ocean

  • sugar

  • tissue

There are many rules for the spelling patterns that make the SH sound. The spelling patterns above don't always make the SH sound. It is important to learn how to correctly pronounce new vocabulary words. You can use a dictionary or online pronunciation guide to learn how to correctly pronounce each new word.

Practice the voiced ZH sound:

Now, let's practice the voiced ZH sound. Remember, use air and your voice to make this sound.

The ZH sound is not a very common sound in English. The words that are pronounced with the ZH sound are advanced vocabulary words. Many students find it easier to memorize words that have this sound rather than learn complicated spelling rules.

Remember, you should always use a dictionary or online pronunciation guide to learn the correct way to pronounce new words.

  • garage

  • beige

  • massage

  • sabotage

  • Asia

  • Persia

  • Caucasion

  • conclusion

  • collision

  • decision

  • division

  • version

  • measure

  • treasure

  • exposure

  • casual

  • visual

  • usual

  • genre

  • television

Now say these sentences out loud:


The voiceless SH sounds are in blue. Use only air to make these sounds.

The voiced ZH sounds are in green. Use air and your voice to make these buzzing sounds.

1) She showed Shelly her shirt.

2) I wish she would not shout at us in English.

3) The chef cooks fish in Washington.

4) Sure, you can shave his moustache.

5) Be cautious when you swim in the ocean.

6) Measure the beige door on the garage.

7) I usually watch television at night.

8) It was my decision to fly to Asia to seek the treasure.

9) The treasure is on the fishing ship in the ocean near Asia.

10) To finish the problem, she will measure and use addition and division.

Have you finished this lesson? Don't worry if you don't get it all right the first time. These sounds can be difficult to master. If you want to review this lesson, you can return to the top of the page.

good job


List of Lessons

Lesson 01: International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Lesson 02: Word Stress and Syllables

Lesson 03: Long E sound (meet, see)

Lesson 04: Short I Sound (sit, hit)

Lesson 05: UH Sound (put, foot)

Lesson 06: OO Sound (moon, blue)

Lesson 07: Short E sound (pen, bed)

Lesson 08: Schwa Sound (the, about)

Lesson 09: UR Sound (turn, learn)

Lesson 10: OH Sound (four, store)

Lesson 11: Short A Sound (cat, fat)

Lesson 12: UH Sound (but, luck)

Lesson 13: Soft A Sound (arm, father)

Lesson 14: Long O Sound (boat, know)

Lesson 15: Long A Sound (say, pain, make)

Lesson 16: Short O Sound (not, off, socks)

Lesson 17: Diphthong (a combination of two vowel sounds)

Lesson 18: P Sound (cup, punch, pull) and B sound (cub, bunch, bull)

Lesson 19: The Nasal Sounds (M, N, NG)

Lesson 20: F Sound (four, lift, graph, tough) and V Sound (love, knives, grave, vine)

Lesson 21: W Sound (wow, quit, where)

Lesson 22: R Sound (red, sorry, write)

Lesson 23: H Sound (he, behind, who)

Lesson 24: T Sound (top, it, later) and D Sound (do, had, made)

Lesson 25: S Sound (sit, box, cats) and Z Sound (zip, buzz, boys)

Lesson 26: K Sound (kid, talk, black) and G Sound (go, big, dog)

Lesson 27: L Sound: Light L & Dark L (tall, like, English)

Lesson 28: Y Consonant Sound (yes, you, beyond)

Lesson 29: CH Sound (China, century, watch) and J Sound (Germany, educate , judge)

Lesson 30: TH Consonant Sounds – voiced TH sound (the, father, them) and voiceless (unvoiced) TH sound (think, birthday, south)

Lesson 31: SH (shop, chef, special) and ZH (usual, massage, Asia)

Lesson 32: T and TT Sounds (true T sound, D sound, stop sound, silent T)

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