I came across the sentence "Fortunately their are a variety of different offerings out there with zounds of features." Disregarding the misuse of "zounds," how would Elizabeth I have pronounced the word? To rhyme with "God's wounds?" Or otherwise?

  • 3
    -1 for (a) asking a question that can be answered by any number of dictionaries and (b) complaining about a downvote.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 0:11
  • 5
    Back when I was doing SCA and Renaissance Faires (a very long time ago), I was told the "authentic" way to pronounce it was zwoonds.
    – Dori
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 3:43

7 Answers 7


It makes most sense to me that zounds should rhyme with wounds. When you take two words and combine them and then contract them, they retain their pronunciation.

couldn't isn't pronounced cowdn't

doesn't isn't pronounced dow-znt

bosun isn't pronounced bossun

Nevertheless, it seems both pronunciations are ok: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/zounds, and /zaʊndz/ appears to be more prevalent: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/zounds

English is weird, eh?

EDIT: See Snumpy's answer. It started off as rhyming with wounds and changed during the Great Vowel Shift to rhyme with sounds


If it's anything like the exclamation, it would rhyme with sounds.

EDIT: It apparently has been affected by the Great Vowel Shift. Maybe someone else can provide a link to exactly how the 16th-17th century version of ou would have been pronounced.

  • your wikipedia link has it: Middle English [uː] was diphthongised in most environments to [ʊu], and this was followed by [əʊ], and then Modern English [aʊ] (as in mouse) in the eighteenth century.
    – gpr
    Commented May 5, 2011 at 23:38
  • @gpr I guess I was hoping for an audio of the [əʊ] diphthong... but I searched through the IPA verbs enough to get an idea of how it might sound.
    – snumpy
    Commented May 5, 2011 at 23:47
  • 3
    The 'ou' was originally Norman-French orthography for 'u'. Thou was said as thu from (OE þu). Wound (the injury) was spelled wund. We still hav this split ... you, group ... but about and house. So we can thank the N-F scribes for screwing up a lot of spelling and causing befuddling spellings that still haunt us.
    – AnWulf
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 10:08

The fact is that back when the contaction of "God's wounds" came into being and common use, the Great Vowel Shift had yet to happen in English. "Wounds" back then rhymed with "bounds" and "sounds" as pronounced today. Therefore, "zounds" also rhymed with "sounds" and "bounds" and still should today. The change in pronunciation for a "wound" in human or animal flesh occurred for that rather commonplace word, but the pronunciation of "zounds" did not change. There are a number of people who say it should be pronounced "zoonds" because "wounds" used to be pronounced "woonds," but I think they're being pedantic. On the rare occasion that I might say "zounds" for humorous effect -- since it is a rather outmoded expletive that now sounds quaint -- I'm going to continue to say it so it rhymes with "sounds" and "bounds."

  • 2
    This is a reasonable answer, but based on gpr's comment above, I think you may have the Great Vowel Shift backwards – all the words used to sound like wounds, but sounds and zounds shifted away from it. Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 5:52
  • Your Great Vowel Shift is definitely backwards one way or another. 1. Wound had a simple /uː/ before the GVS, and so did bound: they rhymed, but sounded (roughly) like wound does today, not like bound. Sound always had a diphthong, probably /ou/ before the GVS, and besides that, it didn’t normally have a d before the GVS, so it didn’t rhyme with the other two at all. 2. Zounds most likely did not really exist yet before the GVS (first OED attestation is 1593, at which point /uː/ had already split to /əʊ/). It would have been nice if it had, though, because it would → Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:37
  • → be quite regular (as regular as anything involving the GVS can be) for wound /wuːnd/ to remain /wund/, while zound /zuːnd/ became /zaʊnd/. Long /uː/ regularly gave /ʊu/, then /əʊ/, and finally /aʊ/, but not after a glide (/w/ or /j/)—so wound, youth, you, etc. still have /uː/, not /aʊ/. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: I don't know if you saw my most recent posts in chat? I searched a digitized version of the Canterbury Tales and found evidence that "soun" (sound) belonged to the same rhyme group in Chaucer's dialect as "toun" (town). It seems to me that this was probably a simple /uː/ at Chaucer's time, and not /ou/. Do you have any evidence for "soun" historically having a /ou/ diphthong in English?
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 19:08

I don't really see how "zounds" can rhyme with "wounds" unless you are pronouncing it


Which just seems silly.

So, I would pronounce it so it rhymes with sounds.

  • ...That's actually how I pronounce it. I've heard others do so as well. Granted I'm a very silly person, but I don't think I'm superlatively so. And in case you're wondering, I do use it relatively often. It works wonderfully when I'm mocking my friends. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented May 8, 2011 at 18:58

Zounds should be a rhyme for Sounds, unless the context is suggesting to another way.


I'd think it should rhyme with "wounds" since it's a contraction of "God's wounds" referring to Jesus's wounds on the cross.

Back in the time when it was used, people would swear on God's body parts rather than his name, thus avoiding breaking the Third Commandment, "Do not take the Lord's name in vain." Essentially, it's an archaic "Holy crap!"

So it would make much more sense for it to rhyme with "wounds," since that's the word it's derived from. However, pronunciation of certain words was wonky back then, and besides, gpr already established that both pronunciations can be correct, so the argument is irrelevent.

Why, then, did I comment? Because I like to impress people with my ability to properly follow links and use Google. And because people kept saying it should rhyme with "sounds" and I wanted to argue with them, because that's what I do.


People mention the great vowel shift - yay! Some may have noticed there's another vowel shift happening at the moment on the streets of London. Anyway, zounds is indeed an abbreviation of "God's wounds" and rhymes with it. What gets overlooked is that 'wounds' rhymed with 'sounds' before the great vowel shift, much the way 'wind' rhymed with 'kind'.

  • 1
    Wound and sound did not rhyme before the Great Vowel Shift. Soun(d) always had a diphthong, while wound had a short monophthongal /u/. Also wind and kind still rhyme, if you use the verb wind as your basis. Commented May 31, 2014 at 11:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Sound always had a diphthong? Can you explain that? I thought "ou" was already monophthongal /u/ in French by the time of Middle English, which explains why the French digraph "ou" was used to represent native English /uː/ in words like "ground" or "down." The ancestor of "sound" is apparently Anglo-Norman "soun"; wouldn't this have been pronounced /sun/ in French and /suːn/ in Middle English?
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 17:59
  • @sumelic No, it was (and is) son in French—the diphthongisation was sporadic and irregular, but it happened in Anglo-Norman or English, not in French. The word never had /u/, neither in French nor in English. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 18:03
  • It's "son" in Modern French, but dictionaries of English I look at confirm "soun" as the source of the English word. "noun senses 1 to 5 Middle English soun, from Anglo-Norman French soun (noun), suner (verb), from Latin sonus." oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/…
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 18:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: whoops, I forgot to ping you on that last comment. Anyway, I don't know if "ou" was maybe a diphthong in Anglo-Norman, but the evidence I can find seems to suggest it was just /u/.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 18:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.