SH – the Whisper Sound
How & When to Pronounce /ʃ/
/ʃ/ is a voiceless fricative sound made slightly further back in the mouth than /s/, the sides of the tongue are touching the teeth, and the lips can be a tiny bit rounded. It is most commonly the SH in FISH and SHOE, the CH in CHEF and MACHINE, and the S in SURE and PASSION. It’s also found in word endings like the TI in EMOTION, the CI in SOCIAL and the CE in OCEAN, altogether now – /ʃ/
Shhhh is the universally recognised English exclamation requesting quiet and is also found in verb form – SHUSH. Originally it came from the verb HUSH, which is also a noun, so a bit of HUSH then please. Of course, there are other options here, SHUT UP, SHUT IT, SHUT YOUR TRAP, or even SHUT YOUR CAKE HOLE are impolite, and contain the /ʃ/ sound. You can request quiet whilst sounding boorish without pronouncing /ʃ/ with the idiom PUT A SOCK IN IT!
Some imported French words are spelt CH and pronounced /ʃ/ like CHEF, CHAMOIS, MACHINE, CHIC and MOUSTACHE, but others are with affricate /tʃ/, like CHANGE and ARCH. So in the popular name girl’s name CHARLOTTE we find /ʃ/ but in its male equivalent CHARLES, it’s /tʃ/ . We’ve also taken MACHETE from Spanish and PISTACHIO from Italian. DELICIOUS!
Sexual Issues (& Schedules)
If you are posh, you may have “sexual issues” without /ʃ/, whereas common folk have sexual issues with /ʃ/. A similar pattern appears in TISSUE, NEGOTIATE and several words ending -CIATE, something we all APPRECIATE. In British English, we tend to say /ʃ/ in SCHEDULE, whereas in American it’s with /sk/, so SCHEDULE.
/ʃ/ is not especially common on the London Underground, though you will find it in Mudchute in the Docklands, which used to be marshland, but is now a nature conservation area. It is also found in Kentish Town in the North, Lewisham in the South, twice in Shepherd’s Bush out West and once in Shoreditch in the East – a portion of London that is very fashionable.
/ʃ/ is famous in English language workshops all over the world mainly through the tongue twister “She sells Sea Shells on the Sea Shore” which is hellish to pronounce, except if you’re a pronunciation professional, of course. Here goes:
She sells seashells on the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
Thank you, that was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
‘Sea Shells’ may seem like gibberish, but it is in fact a celebration of an astonishing woman named Mary Anning, who collected dinosaur fossils on the shores of the English Channel in the 19th century. She was given short shrift by the male chauvinist scientific community of the time, and became ‘suspicious of everyone’, but in 2010 she was officially recognised as one of 10 British women who most influenced the history of science. In Mary’s honour then, let’s say it once more, exceptionally quickly.
This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notes, diagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.