I was wondering what exactly happens when the common English speaker* pronounces /z/ and /ð/ right after, for example , the word - combo "is this ...".
Honestly, for me it's almost impossible to pronounce this combination without making a very small break between the /z/ and the /ð/.

When I hear Americans pronounce this combo, usually hear something like /zdð/ or some sound which comes out in between the /d/ sounds and the /ð/, (as a very soft d, if I try to describe it in words).

I'm pretty sure about what I hear, and I was wondering if someone can verify what I'm hearing and maybe elaborate on the subject.

*As usual, I'm mostly interested in american pronunciation, with a bias toward general american, or at least midwestern accent.

Edit: here are some examples: (wait a second or two for the "is this" combo)

  • Could you provide an example? Or two?
    – Rob_Ster
    Nov 19, 2017 at 14:41
  • @Rob_Ster I gave about seven. in all of the the "th" combination is tainted with a strong d sound. again, I may hear whatever I want to hear.
    – David Haim
    Nov 19, 2017 at 15:09
  • You really should reserve /slashes/ for enclosing abstract phonemes only — not for concrete phonetic pronunciations, which instead use [brackets]. This distinction serves to illustrate a critical difference, since a different phonemic sequence produces a different word (or set of words) altogether, but a different phonetic sequence that merely varies allophones of those phonemes is not a different word at all, merely a different way to say the very same thing.
    – tchrist
    Nov 19, 2017 at 15:34
  • Please realize that there’s no such word as american in the English language. English is case-sensitive, and it’s obligatory to write American. Capitalization counts.
    – tchrist
    Nov 19, 2017 at 16:00
  • 1
    @tchrist English is not case sensitive, any more than it's apostrophe-sensitive. The English language is spoken by many illiterate people and they know what americans are; many of them are americans. English typography, on the other hand, is a technological blood sport, like auto racing, and capital letters are just one more set of hurdles to throw. Nov 19, 2017 at 17:40

1 Answer 1


I haven't found any sources that indicate something special about this particular environment. A stop-like realization of /ð/ as something like [d̪] or [d̪ð] is a common allophone in a number of accents, but it seems to be conditioned more strongly when /ð/ is preceded by a plosive (this can be seen as a kind of assimilation) or when it is utterance-initial/preceded by silence than when it is preceded by a fricative (like /z/). Stop-like realizations of /ð/ are supposed to be more common after fricatives and affricates than after vowels or liquids, however.

  • "Applied English Phonology", by Mehmet Yavas, says that word-initial /ð/ may be assimilated to a preceding alveolar plosive in manner of articulation, and may possibly be completely assimilated/assimilated in place of articulation to a preceding /s/ or /z/:

    unstressed initial /ð/ in words such as the, this, that becomes assimilated (with or without complete assimilation) to previous alveolar consonants (e.g. what the heck [wɑt̪d̪əhɛk], run the course [ɹ̣ʌnːəkɔɹ̣s], till they see [tɪlːesi], how's the dog? [haʊzːədɔg], takes them [teksːəm]) (p. 67)

  • "The stop-like modification of /ð/: A case study in the analysis and handling of speech variation", by Sherry Y. Zhao (2007) seems relevant. I confess I haven't finished reading through it, but the abstract says

    It is found that stop-like /ð/ occurs most often when it is preceded by silence or when preceded by a stop consonant. The occurrence is less frequent when /ð/ is preceded by a fricative or an affricate consonant. This modification rarely occurs when /ð/ is preceded by a vowel or liquid consonant.

    Table 4.6 (p. 46) indicates that in the AEMT recordings that Zhao looked at, stop-like realizations of /ð/ after /z/ occured only 25% of the time (13 out of 52 tokens), which is actually a lower proportion than for /ð/ after /v/, which had a stop-like realization 30% of the time (67 out of 223 tokens), and lower than the proportions for /ð/ after any of the plosives (/p/, /t/, /k/ or /d/).

I haven't analyzed the phonetics of your examples, but I think I hear friction in /ð/ in at least the second and third ones. The first one is too quick for me to hear clearly whether the sound is fricative or stop-like.

  • Phonemically these are different, although a myriad of phonetic allophones can muddy the picture. In verbs whose infinitive ends in /z/, you can tease out a minimal pair between the present and (weak) past tense followed by the word them where the intervening /d/ phoneme changes the meaning: we tease/teased them, we seize/seized them, we size/sized them. Those aren't homophones in most accents or else they would be indistinguishable. But as we so often see with complex consonant clusters like these, some reduction is normal. Maybe that’s why lose/lost, choose/chose have a 2nd feature.
    – tchrist
    Nov 19, 2017 at 15:24
  • 2
    @tchrist I would venture that it’s not uncommon that tease(d)/seize(d)/size(d) them are in fact indistinguishable in regular speech. I can certainly easily pronounce both with [d̪ð], relying on context to supply tensing information. Nov 19, 2017 at 16:22
  • I'm confused. so, is [zd̪ð] is a common pronunciation for /z/ + /ð/? your first paragraph states that ð can be realized as , especially in some environments, while the other paragraphs weaken this claim for z + th
    – David Haim
    Nov 19, 2017 at 16:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I’m sure you’re right that we aren’t really relying on immaculate elocution to distinguish between present and past tense so much as we are on surrounding contextual clues. My own propensity seems to be to skip the would-be stop between the two fricatives/sibilants instead of introducing a new one to separate the words, at least in examples such as We hose(d) / raise(d) them. This seems exactly like what happens with words like sifts, which are notoriously difficult for non-natives because they don’t realize that we virtually never really say [fts] there, only ever [fs].
    – tchrist
    Nov 19, 2017 at 16:38
  • @David Yes, [zd̪ð] is a possible and probably not particularly uncommon realisation. But it’s not the default realisation. As the numbers sumelic cites say, it occurs perhaps one in four times the sequence is pronounced—possible, not uncommon, but less common than [zð]. Nov 19, 2017 at 16:42

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